Written by Ronnie Coleman
10 May 2017


From First Contest to Pro in 18 Months

By Big Ronnie Coleman, 8x Mr. Olympia



Most people don’t know too much about my early days of competing before I turned pro, so here’s how it all happened. I first walked into Metroflex Gym in December of 1989. I had just started working for the Arlington, Texas, police department and had been using the little gym at the station. Some big guys there said I had to go check out Metroflex, where they trained. The first day I walked in there, the owner, Brian Dobson, took one look at me and said, “You have got to compete in bodybuilding!” He said I already looked better than most of the guys who did compete already. I told him I wasn’t interested in that. I’d heard you have to take a bunch of drugs, and they were real bad for you. But I came back every day. On the fourth day, Brian said he would give me a free membership if I would compete. Since I didn’t have much money at the time, that sounded pretty good to me.


He wanted me to do the AAU Mr. Texas on April 7, because that was a show he did every year, and he was doing it again. I didn’t know anything about dieting. Up until just before this, I had been working at Domino’s Pizza for a long time. For a while, I ate only pizza. I couldn’t afford anything else. Then my buddies and I figured out we could trade the pizza for burgers or KFC, because we were all pretty sick of eating pizza. From eating two or three times a day, Brian had me go up to four to five meals a day with chicken, rice and tuna out of the can. It was about as basic as it gets. I didn’t have much fat to lose anyway. Not too long before this, I had tried out for the FBI. For my height of 5’11”, they said I couldn’t be any heavier than 188 pounds. I starved myself, but the lightest I could get was 205. I started my contest diet out at 210, and wound up being 215 for the show. Eating more definitely made me gain muscle. I didn’t do any cardio for that show, or for any of my shows as an amateur. Metroflex didn’t even have any cardio equipment. I remember once I turned pro, I bought my own stationary bike that I had outside at my apartment. Later on, I bought all the cardio machines for Metroflex. I should mention that a man named Marvin Meinstein taught me how to pose. Brian would bring me to his house three times a week, and he had all these mirrors set up in a shed behind his house that we used.



April came, and I did the Mr. Texas. Since it was my first contest, I entered the novice division, where I won my class and the overall. A short guy named Kelly won the open, and I think he was pretty glad I didn’t enter the open division. I would have beaten him pretty easily. People were freaking out at how good I looked and couldn’t believe it was my first show. I did a few more shows that year: the Metroflex Classic at the UTA campus, the Lone Star Classic, the Mr. Dallas-Fort Worth and the Western Cup. I had to take a plane to El Paso for that one, and it was the only one I didn’t win! I got second.


Brian said I was already good enough for the NPC Nationals, and I was qualified, so I did it in the fall of 1990 and got third place behind Jerry Rodgers and Edgar Fletcher. It was drug tested that year. I beat a lot of good guys, including Matt Mendenhall, Bob Cicherillo and Chris Cormier. Flex Wheeler was walking around the show all big and fat, talking about how he was going to win it the next year in 1991.


In 1991, I did the USA in July and got 14th place. The next show I did was the Nationals again. It was a huge heavyweight class of 43 men. I got fourth place behind Kevin Levrone, Flex and Paul DeMayo. They told us if we could go take a drug test and pass, they would send us to the Universe, the actual name being the IFBB World Amateur Championships. Out of all those 43 guys, I was the only one who went and took the test! That meant I was off to Katowice, Poland with team USA: bantamweight Earl Snyder, lightweight Jose Guzman, middleweight Yohnnie Shambourger and light-heavyweight Ron Coleman. Lucky for me, Ron was my roommate— because the place they had us staying was terrible. We couldn’t even get rice or chicken. All they had for us was deli meat and bread! Ron’s wife had packed a bunch of frozen chicken, and he was kind enough to share with me. We got ready for the Universe on chicken and pancakes. I won my class and turned pro, and so did Jose. Team USA also won the team competition for a group posing routine we put together at the last minute.


Maybe the funniest thing about all that was that a few weeks before, I went to Orlando for the Mr. Olympia to help out and work security for the IFBB and promoters of the show. A bunch of people were asking me if I was competing in the show. I told them all the same thing:

“No way, those guys are way ahead of me! I’ll never be able to get that big.”

But I sure did!


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