Bodybuilding is often seen as a size game, with the biggest competitors on the stage arguably being the most impressive. But pure muscle mass isn’t the only thing judges consider during a competition. Symmetry, proportion, posing, and confidence also matter, and that’s why the most muscular bodybuilders don’t always win.
Though many of the most successful athletes in the Men’s Open division regularly tip the scale at 250 pounds or more, plenty of smaller bodybuilders throughout the sport’s history proved themselves more than capable of toppling their larger rivals. And below, you’ll find nine bodybuilders under 200 pounds who specialized in doing just that.
9 Bodybuilders Under 200 Pounds Who Were Absolute Giant Killers
- Danny Padilla
- Franco Columbu
- Albert Beckles
- Ed Corney
- Frank Zane
- Samir Bannout
- Lee Labrada
- Flavio Baccianini
- Shaun Clarida
Danny Padilla was the first man to be anointed as the “Giant Killer.” According to Muscle Memory, he stood at just 5’2″ and weighed around 175 pounds during his prime. But that didn’t stop him from winning the 1975 Mr. USA over bigger bodybuilders like Denny Gable and Roger Callard.
Two years later, Padilla won the Short category and the Overall title at the 1977 Mr. America by finishing above Callard (again) and Pete Grymkowski, who won the Medium and Heavyweight divisions, respectively.
Padilla’s greatest achievement as a professional was his fifth-place finish at the 1981 Mr. Olympia. Though Franco Columbu took home the main prize that night (in controversial fashion), Padilla defeated several larger competitors at the show, including the 230-pound Jusup Wilkosz (sixth), Mike Katz (15th), and Ken Waller (16th). Padilla retired from full-time competition in 1991, and his final show was the 2000 Masters Olympia, where he placed 10th.
Franco Columbu is often in the conversation as one of the greatest non-heavyweight bodybuilders ever. The Pumping Iron star began his career in powerlifting, but he made a name for himself in 1970 when he won the Mr. Europe and Mr. Universe titles. That Mr. Europe title is notable because Columbu beat out the far larger Serge Nubret — who won the Tall division — on his way to the Overall crown.
Of course, Columbu is most famous for his two Mr. Olympia wins in 1976 and 1981 — but he also won the Olympia’s short-lived Lightweight title for competitors under 200 pounds in 1974 and 1975. (He lost the Overall those years to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who outweighed the 185-pound Columbu by at least 40 pounds.)
Bodybuilding wasn’t the only sport Columbu beat giants in: He also finished fifth out of eight men in the inaugural World’s Strongest Man contest in 1977. Placing one spot behind him was Jon Cole, who was around 242 pounds at the time, according to Open Powerlifting.
When it comes to ridiculous longevity in bodybuilding, you can’t beat Albert Beckles. The Barbados-born powerhouse was competing in (and winning) shows well past the age of 50, and while he weighed around 220 pounds toward the end of his career, he was comfortably under 200 during his prime.
As a part of the Medium division, Beckles won Overall titles at the 1970 Mr. Europe, the 1971 Mr. Universe, and the 1973 IFBB Mr. Europe. To win those Overalls, he conquered the winners of the heavier divisions in each show. He also competed in the Mr. Olympia Lightweight division in 1975, 1977, 1978, and 1979, though he couldn’t wrestle the title away from Frank Zane or Franco Columbu.
His first IFBB pro win came in 1981 at the Grand Prix England competition. He then almost slayed the ultimate giant at the 1985 Mr. Olympia, when he placed second to Lee Haney. (It’s worth noting that he was competing at over 200 pounds by this point.) His last victory came at the 1991 Niagara Falls Pro Invitational before retiring after the 1992 season.
When talking about the greatest posers in bodybuilding history, the one name that most can agree on is the late Ed Corney. In addition to his notable appearance in Pumping Iron, Corney had a successful onstage career that began in 1968 when he was in his mid-30s.
His first major victory came at the 1971 IFBB Mr. USA contest, where he won both the Short and Overall titles. He followed that up in 1972 with wins in both categories at the Mr. America and Mr. Universe contests. Corney’s most remarkable feat on the Olympia stage came in 1977 when he placed third, toppling 200-plus-pound heavyweights like Ken Waller and Dennis Tinerino. According to fellow bodybuilder Mike Mentzer, Corney only weighed around 174 pounds that night.
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What Corney lacked in size, he made up for in grace and presentation. Today, his command of the stage is immortalized at the annual Arnold Classic bodybuilding show, where one competitor is given the Ed Corney Best Posing award every year.
Another competitor under 200 pounds who belongs on the GOAT list is Frank Zane. Even though he stood at 5’9″ and hovered just around 185 pounds on stage, Zane is one of the few people to ever beat Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bodybuilding contest. This went down at the 1968 Mr. Universe, where, according to bodybuilding historian John Hansen, the Austrian Oak measured in at 6’2″ and weighed 240 pounds.
Schwarzenegger may have been bigger, but he couldn’t compete with Zane’s unrivaled definition and posing. “The Chemist” would go on to win three consecutive Mr. Olympia championships from 1977 to 1979, beating out Heavyweight division winners like Robby Robinson (1977 and 1978) and the late Mike Mentzer (1979) for the Overall title. Zane retired after finishing fourth at the Mr. Olympia in 1983.
The last time a bodybuilder won the Mr. Olympia while weighing under 200 pounds came in 1983 when Samir Bannout pulled off the upset in Munich, Germany. According to “The Lion of Lebanon” himself, he was only 196 pounds at the show, but he still managed to overshadow the likes of Bertil Fox, Jusup Wilkosz, and a young Lee Haney, who placed third in that contest.
Going up against far heavier competition was nothing new for Bannout. Rather than rely purely on size, he routinely touted unreal definition on the stage, highlighted by one of the best backs of his era. He eventually increased his stage weight to over 200 pounds, but his showing in 1983 is still one of the most memorable wins at the Olympia.
Lee Labrada turned professional in 1985 when he won both the NPC Nationals and the IFBB World Amateur Championship as a Middleweight. But he really made waves as a pro by winning his first contest, the 1986 Night of Champions. To win that show, he held off men like Robby Robinson and David Hawk, who easily outweighed the young upstart.
Labrada’s most notable achievement came when he finished second on the Mr. Olympia stage in 1989 and 1990. While Lee Haney won the titles those years, the men Labrada finished ahead of reads like a who’s who of the era, including Vince Taylor, Rich Gaspari, Mike Christian, and Mike Quinn.
More often than not, Labrada weighed around 180-185 pounds when he competed, but his graceful posing routines and eye-popping aesthetics proved too much for many to compete with.
Standing just 4’10” and weighing 145-150 pounds, Flavio Baccianini is one of the smallest competitors to ever take the big stage. But that didn’t stop the Bantamweight from achieving his fair share of success.
During his rookie 1991 season in the IFBB, Baccianini placed fourth at the San Jose Pro Invitational and sixth at the Niagara Falls Pro Invitational. Then he made his Mr. Olympia debut in 1993, where he finished in 13th place. That night, he beat out eight other men, including the late Mike Matarazzo, who usually stepped on stage around 245 pounds.
One of the most famous images from this contest is Baccianini standing next to the nearly-300-pound Lou Ferrigno. Though the “Hulk” towered over Baccianini on stage, Ferrigno only placed three spots ahead of him once the results came in.
The man who has inherited the “Giant Killer” moniker from Padilla is two-time 212 Olympia champion, Shaun Clarida. Typically topping out at 175 pounds on stage, Clarida is light even by 212 division standards. But that hasn’t stopped him from beating out competitors who routinely outweigh him by at least 20 pounds. Even more impressive, Clarida has also achieved success with the big boys in the Men’s Open division.
In 2021, Clarida won the Men’s Open title at the Legion Sports Fest Pro by defeating renowned stars such as Regan Grimes, the late Cedric McMillan, and Sergio Olivia, Jr. Then, at the 2023 Arnold Classic, he placed fifth out of 10 competitors and finished just one spot behind Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay, who regularly weighs around 300 pounds.
Clarida has stated that he would like to compete in more Men’s Open shows in the future, so it might not be the last time we see him rising above mass monsters.
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Featured Image Courtesy of the Arnold Sports Festival