Written by Team MD
22 February 2016


Ronnie Coleman & Flex Wheeler

Two Icons Reflect on Their Friendship



FW: When did we first meet?

RC: Let's see. I did the Olympia in '92 and didn't place, but you had just won the USA a few months before. We met the next year at the French Grand Prix in Paris. You won that and I got 4th. You was eating hamburgers and ham sandwiches every time I saw you. Everybody else was eating grilled chicken, tuna out the can, and rice cakes. You ate all that crap and you were still winning.

FW: Oh, you gotta bring that up, huh?

RC: Yeah, but I remember having a long talk with you in 1994 after taking 15th at the Olympia, and that's when I made some changes. The next year I won my first show, the Canada Cup in Toronto. Right before that, I was about ready to quit.


FW: Was dieting tough for you like it was for me?

RC: I really just did what Brian Dobson at Metro-Flex told me to with the diet. I didn't have a problem with it. I cooked my meals at home, and when I was at work I would go eat at Long John Silver's. They usually fried the fish, but I asked them to bake mine. Then I would get plain white rice from the Chinese place next door, and those were my diet meals at work.

FW: So you won your first pro show, was your money situation getting any better?

RC: A little bit. I started saving up for a house, because I'd always lived in apartments with roommates. I still had a lot of debt from being broke so long. And I wasn't doing that great at other shows yet. I took 11th at the Olympia that year.


FW: But in 1996 you won that Canada show again, and you beat me there. Did that make you start thinking you could be pretty good, because at that point, I'd won the Arnold Classic and had been 2nd at the Mr. Olympia.

RC: Not really, because you beat me a week later in Florida, then again at the Night of Champions. I started thinking I just got lucky that one time. I did 11 shows in 1997 and I only won one of 'em, the Russian Grand Prix.

FW: So when did you really get serious and decide to put everything into trying to be the best you could be?

RC: That was in 1998. After the 1997 Olympia where I got 9th and wasn't feeling too good about doing this anymore, you told me I needed to call Chad Nicholls, who you had started working with and thought would help me out. He didn't call me back! You told me keep trying, and we started talking. The first show I worked with Chad was the San Jose Pro in 1998, where I got second to Kevin. I beat him at the Canada Cup.


FW: I think the Night of Champions that year was when everyone started saying you were going to be amazing.

RC: I didn't buy into the hype, though.

FW: I remember people coming up to me and saying, what did you do, Flex? You got him working with Chad and look at him now! But the way I saw it, if I hadn't tried to help you, if I had tried to keep you down, I wasn't a champion. A real champion welcomes competition. I remember you saying you just hoped to finally make the Top 5 at the Olympia that year. But we all know what happened at the Olympia that year in New York. Tell me about that taxi ride back to the hotel we had after the prejudging.

RC: After we had come offstage, we went to take those pictures for the Weider magazines and Joe Weider had come up to me. It was the first time I ever talked to him. He told me I could be a great Mr. Olympia. I didn't know what he was talking about. I was happy because I knew I was in the Top 5, maybe even the Top 3, but I never thought I was going to win. Joe offered me a Weider contract, and you told me to take it. The timing was perfect. My contract was just up with Met-Rx. I had tried to get a two-year deal with them in '97, but they wanted to see how I did at the '98 Olympia first. Met-Rx was only paying me 50 thousand a year, and Joe offered me more than that.


FW: So next was the night show. People thought it was between me and you, but no one was sure which one of us would win. What did you think?

RC: I was still thinking Top 5 for sure, and beyond that I didn't want to get my hopes up. When they called out 5th and I was still there, I was really happy. I'm thinking good, maybe I'll make the Top 3! Then when it was just me and you, I was sure I had 2nd. When they called your name for 2nd, I lost it. I was just in shock. I don't remember much after that. I know I collapsed and Vicki came onstage to help me up.

FW: I was pretty upset, but I looked over and you were on the ground. So I bent down and whispered to you, I love you man, congratulations. I'll see you at the party later.

RC: I don't even remember none of that.

FW: I remember Joe had offered you a certain amount before you won, and then right after Met-Rx stepped up and offered more. But you didn't know what to do, so you called me up and asked me how much Bio-Chem was paying me at the time. And you said, shoot, I'm Mr. Olympia, I should be making more than you!

RC: Yeah, that I remember. And Joe paid me what I asked for in the end, so thanks.


FW: OK, now people will call me a coward if I don't ask you this next question. You turned pro as a drug-free athlete. At some point you had to make the decision to use more things to make sure you weren't at any disadvantage. I remember staring at the first needle I ever put in my body for two hours before I could take that step. Were you comfortable with doing what the other top guys were?

RC: Not really. But I ain't gonna lie, I had no problem with it after I had that talk with you. You said this is what we're all using, and if you want to be one of the best, you're gonna have to do it too. So I said OK, if that's what it takes.

FW: I know for me, it was mind-boggling to watch how fast and how much my body changed once I started using stuff. Was it pretty crazy for you, too?

RC: Really, I hardly noticed it. I was already real strong. I'd deadlifted and squatted 750 pounds without it. I didn't get a whole lot stronger. I didn't even notice a lot more size. The only thing I noticed was I was a lot harder than I was before. The size came, but it was sort of gradual. My off-season weight eventually went from 270 to 300. But since I was already big and strong, it wasn't like some night and day change or nothin.'


FW: Going into the 1999 Mr. Olympia as the defending champion, were you a lot more confident?

RC: Yeah, but I was still working at the police department, still just eating and training the same. With the contest, I said now I'm in the driver's seat. Now it's about those guys all trying to beat me, and I don't want that to happen. I liked being Mr. Olympia!

FW: I know for me, my years as a pro went by in a blur. I never really took time to sit down and think about everything going on, because it was always about the show I was getting ready for, then the next one after that. Was it like that for you?

RC: It was exactly like that. And on top of everything else, the training and the eating, I had a full-time job. Not a lot of time to sit back and ponder.

FW: You won again in '99, and then do you remember going to Italy for the grand prix show after that and it was really close just like at the Olympia? I told you the crowd was cheering louder for me, but I thought they were gonna give me 3rd and put Kevin 2nd.

RC: Yup, I said you can't do no worse than 3rd, or else these fans gonna tear this theater apart.


FW: And after the judging, you came up to my room and asked me why I didn't look too good. At that time, I wasn't very experienced with diuretics and you gave me some good advice. Then we went to England next.

RC: I won again, you got 2nd again. But you looked a lot sharper. You almost had me there.

FW: I noticed over the next couple years, you came into your own as a Mr. Olympia. When did you start to think you might be able to go after Haney's record of eight wins?

RC: I'd say after I won the third time in 2000. Until then I was just going year by year, but after three wins I was like, hey, maybe I could keep winning this for a few more years.


FW: When did you retire from being a full-time police officer, and why?

RC: It was in 2003. Gunter had beat me at the GNC Show of Strength. I nearly lost my mind. I was in shock. I was like whoa, did that really just happen? That's when I decided it was time to be Mr. Olympia full-time and put everything into it before some of these other guys got me. I was like, if these guys want to go to war, I'll take 'em to war, and they ain't winning.

FW: That's when you started being known for some of those unbelievable feats you did, like those walking lunges out in the 100-degree parking lot with 315 or 405 on your back.

RC: Yeah, 315. I was doing sets of deadlifts with 700 pounds just about every week.

FW: I remember telling you to stop being so crazy. You’re already there, you don't need to get no bigger. I was terrified you would hurt yourself with those sick-ass weights. That's when you made your catchphrase, ‘Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but nobody wanna lift no heavy-ass weight.’

RC: But I do! (laughs) Yup. Everybody started sayin' that. That and 'Lightweight, yeah buddy, nuttin' but a peanut!'


FW: Fast forward to 2006. You had eight straight Mr. Olympia titles, tying Lee Haney's record, but in the end Jay Cutler beat you there and got his first win. Going into that Olympia, did you feel like you were on target?

RC: Not only that, I thought it was the best I'd ever looked. Getting 2nd place that year was as big of a shock as getting first in '98. I was just stunned.

FW: You had been so dominant in your wins for a few years before that, but this time did you get a sense from the callouts or anything that it might not go your way?

RC: Nope. I thought it was all good. I believed that as long as I kept showing up in great shape, I would keep winning until I stopped. Ten wins would have been the ultimate. Nice round number.

FW: But I remember I was backstage before all that was announced because I was presenting one of the checks, and you had already been told you were going to take 2nd. What was going through your mind as you had to go out there and give up your title to Jay?

RC: How could this be happening? How could I lose? I just didn't understand it.


FW: So you lost your title, and you start training again for 2007. What was on your mind?

RC: I gotta get that title back! I gotta come back like I was in 2003, when I just showed up and it was game over. No questions asked. I trained hard and heavy, like I always had. I do remember having problems with my back, though. I'd had pain from a herniated disk for years, but about four months out from the '07 Olympia, I finally noticed you could see the difference with my lats on the left side. I couldn't see it in the off-season, only when I got real lean.

FW: I know when I was getting ready for shows, even posing in the mirror every day I would miss things that I would later see in pictures from the show. Was it like that for you too at that point?

RC: Yeah, once I saw the pictures I knew I was done. It didn't look right. I had to get surgery that I'd been putting off all those years, and I didn't see myself competing anymore. Fourth place was rough. For a little while I thought about maybe coming back once I was healed up and try to win again, but eventually I decided it was time to go. You helped me decide, I remember.

FW: You had nothing left to prove. Now what was it like going from a guy who couldn't afford to eat to traveling the world and driving a Bentley GT?

RC: I felt like I'd finally made it. I worked hard and I trained hard, and I was enjoying it. I never had any money growing up, so I appreciated it.


FW: OK, so where is Ronnie Coleman at now?

RC: I'm traveling the world posing and doing seminars. I actually travel more now than I could when I was competing. I won't lie, I enjoy not having to get ready for shows.          

FW: I want to end this by giving you the floor to acknowledge and thank anybody you'd like to.

RC: Basically I want to thank my family, God, and my fans. Thanks to God for giving me a gift that helped me get to where I am today, to my family for all their support, and to the fans for making me who I am and what I am. I want to thank BSN and all the other sponsors I've had for letting me get to the next level and take care of my family all these years.