If a bodybuilder wins the USA Championship, he wins more than an IFBB Pro League card. He joins a list of champions that reads like a who’s who of the sport. Past winners of this event include Flex Wheeler, Chris Cormier, Steve Kuclo, and Phil Heath. Heath, who won in 2005, is considered the most successful winner ever, having won 7 Mr. Olympia titles in a row from 2011-2017. Derek Lunsford won this show in 2017 and now is considered by many to be the front runner for the 212 Olympia title this coming September.
Long story short, if you win this show, your chances of being successful as a pro are much better. This is a two-day show so prejudging is on Friday and finals are on Saturday, much like the Olympia. The winners of each class this year will earn that pro status. Here is the bodybuilding USA class of 2019.
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Some individual photos from npcnewsonline from prejudging today. I’m happy with what I brought and the improvements made, I think my efforts this year really showed on stage. Looks to be a top 2 finish, we will find out results tomorrow night. Thanks to all who support me in any way, sorry I’ve kept this prep very quiet to anyone who may have wanted more media haha. This one was for me, my coach @_morgan_rice_ my family and my close friends/training partners you know who you are. (Also thanks to sponsor @vaxxenlabs ) #npc #ifbb #npcusas #farbeyondfailure #pghbodybuilding #newcastle #412 #metal
Super-Heavyweight and Overall Champion – Zach Merkel
Just because you’re the biggest guy onstage doesn’t necessarily mean you’re guaranteed to win. You have to have the definition and symmetry of a pro if you want to be one. Merkel left no stone unturned and not only won his class but was compared with the other class winners and was awarded the overall championship. His lats were wide and had big legs which are both vital for pro success. No word on when he plans on making his pro debut as of yet.
Heavyweight Winner – Nathan Epler
You may remember Epler for his win a few weeks ago at the Junior Nationals. He not only maintained his lean stature but was even better here. The flow of his body from top to bottom is what you want to see in a bodybuilder and he appeared confident when onstage. The only reason why he likely didn’t take the overall is because Merkel had those qualities as well. If everything else is equal, size wins every time. Nonetheless, he said on Instagram that he “had a dream to fulfill” and he did.
Light-Heavyweight – Tonio Burton
Every other athlete from this division down will either be in the 212 division or switch to another division like Classic Physique. Burton would do well in either. He has the size to hang with the 212 guys but has the lines to do well in Classic. Second place finisher Michael Kleeves made this win a challenging one for Burton. It’s only a matter of time before he takes a top title and joins Burton in the pros.
Other Bodybuilding Winners
Welterweight – Ronald Poe
Lightweight – Brian Waters
Bantamweight – Eric Salazar