Bodybuilding is a unique sport. Competitors’ “skills” are displayed by the physique they bring onstage. Several factors help determine the winner of a bodybuilding contest — definition, symmetry, proportions, posing ability, and, yes, size. If all things are equal between two competitors, then the bigger bodybuilder (almost always) wins.
The 12 bodybuilders below knew size was their greatest strength, and they brought a lot of it. Some may have been more successful than others, but their presence on bodybuilding’s grandest stages will forever be remembered in the sport’s history.
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The 1977 film Pumping Iron was technically a docudrama, with certain aspects of the story being exaggerated for dramatic effect. One fact was true — when Lou Ferrigno competed at the 1975 Mr. Olympia in Pretoria, South Africa, he was the largest elite bodybuilder in the world at that time.
At 6’5” tall, Ferrigno competed at 275 pounds, which was unheard of then. But despite his 40-plus-pound weight advantage, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscle maturity, shape, and conditioning helped him leave South Africa with his sixth Mr. Olympia title.
Fast forward to the 1990s when Ferrigno returned to the sport with hopes of finally winning the Olympia. He finished 12th in 1992 and 10th in 1993, but the latter appearance was significant. He told the late bodybuilding journalist Peter McGough of FLEX Magazine that he was north of 290 pounds the day before the contest. The number may not have ever been verified, but his size was memorable for the fans in attendance and competitors who stood alongside him.
When Kai Greene rose to prominence in the late 2000s, many fans compared his back development to eight-time Mr. Olympia champion Ronnie Coleman. He had the overall size to match as well. At 5’8”, Greene would weigh as much as 300 pounds in the off-season, and he maintained that size as late as 2019, according to RxMuscle.
At the 2014 Olympia press conference, Greene referenced having a 40-pound weight advantage over then-champion Phil Heath. Bob Cicherillo, the Olympia MC, estimated that Greene weighed around 285 pounds. Greene placed second to Heath in 2014, in what would be Greene’s last Olympia appearance.
Greene translated his size, development, and popularity from bodybuilding into success on the silver screen and was featured in projects like Netflix’s Stranger Things and the film Pogaru.
When the late Dallas McCarver took the stage at the 2012 North American Championships, he captured the eyes and hearts of many fans. He won the contest to earn his IFBB Pro Card and was seen immediately as the next great star in bodybuilding because of his size and strength.
In 2016, the six-foot-tall Chicago Pro winner stepped on the scale at 329.8 pounds with clothes and shoes on. “Big Country” McCarver built expectations for multiple Arnold Classic and Olympia wins in the future. Unfortunately, a year later, McCarver passed away at age 26.
Canada’s Greg Kovacs hit the scene in the mid-1990s and became an instant sensation. He was prominently featured in magazines for his immense size. At 6’4”, Kovacs weighed as much as 420 pounds in the off-season and competed north of 300 pounds several times. There is no footage of Kovacs stepping on a scale, but he did measure his arms on camera — a legitimate 25-plus inches flexed, as you can see in this video below from Nick’s Strength and Power:
While Kovacs was an attraction for his size, it never translated to onstage success. His highest placing was 13th at the 2004 Arnold Classic. He passed away at 44 in 2013 due to heart failure.
The competitors chasing six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates in the 1990s tried to match his otherworldly size, but very few were able to until Paul Dillett came along. At 6’1”, Dillett was best known for his unique vascularity and immense frame. He got as heavy as 310 pounds in the off-season and reportedly once competed onstage at 285 pounds.
His signature win came at the 1999 Night of Champions, and his highest placing at the Olympia was fourth in 1993 and 1994. He retired in 2006 and founded the World Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation as a promoter.
Schlierkamp came to the United States from Germany. He was the 1993 World Amateur Bodybuilding Champion and had the potential to make a significant impact at the professional level. However, it took almost a decade after turning pro for him to have success.
After receiving a special invite to the 2002 Olympia, Schlierkamp finished in fifth, showing he had the size to hang with Coleman. Fast forward less than one month later, and Schlierkamp showed up at the 2002 GNC Show of Strength, weighing almost 290 pounds. The judges were impressed with his front poses and rewarded him with a higher rank than the reigning Mr. Olympia in that contest, making him a top contender for the 2003 Olympia.
At 6’1”, Schlierkamp reportedly competed north of 300 pounds on more than one occasion. He placed fourth at the 2005 Olympia, won by Coleman. He never got as close to the title again and retired in 2006. Since his retirement, Schlierkamp has appeared in numerous films, including the 2006 movie Beerfest.
No bodybuilder may be as known for a signature pose as Markus Ruhl was for his version of the crab most muscular. Ruhl was considered by many to be the freakiest bodybuilder of the 2000s because of his tremendous trapezius, shoulder, and arm development. His upper body generally stood out in any lineup he was in.
According to Ruhl, he weighed 280 pounds at the 2000 Olympia and would stay in that range for most of his career. He got as heavy as 320 pounds in the off-season. He retired in 2010 after two pro wins, the most significant being the 2002 Night of Champions.
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No article on the biggest bodybuilders can exist without a mention of eight-time Mr. Olympia, Ronnie Coleman. But he wasn’t actually considered a mass monster until he placed second to Schlierkamp at the 2002 GNC Show of Strength. Coleman went to work that off-season and showed up at the 2003 Olympia weighing 287 pounds at pre-judging, according to his coach, Chad Nicholls, and reported by FLEX Magazine. It was a contest that Coleman dominated.
One year later, Coleman returned to the Olympia even bigger. When his music started for his posing routine, the voice of Olympia promoter David Pecker can be heard announcing the champion as 5’11” and 295 pounds. Once again, Coleman won with a perfect score.
Coleman retired in 2007 with eight Olympia titles and is still considered by many to be the strongest bodybuilder of all time.
Rich Piana never competed in a professional show. Still, he accumulated a large social media following thanks to his size, diet habits (which included a pint of ice cream every night), and his intense training methods, including an eight-hour arm workout that went viral.
Piana held nothing back when talking about how he developed his physique, which was around 315 pounds at his biggest. When he would diet down for photo shoots, he would reach a weight of 290 pounds.
In 2017, Piana collapsed and entered a medically induced coma; he passed away about two weeks later at 46 years old.
Jamie “The Giant” Christian
In a sport dominated by men under six feet tall, Christian, aka “The Giant”, is 6’5” tall and is still actively competing at the time this article was written.
As of July 2022, Christian, who calls himself the tallest IFBB Pro League Men’s Open athlete, reported weighing 315 pounds while prepping for the 2022 Yamamoto Cup Pro in Italy. His coach and fellow IFBB Pro bodybuilder, Miloš Šarčev, feels Christian has more potential to grow.
You can say you won the size game when you’ve been recognized by the Guinness World Records. The organization credited Olivier Richters as the world’s tallest actor and bodybuilder. At 7’2”, the “Dutch Giant” has a lot of muscle on his frame, weighing 342 pounds when he was measured for the Guinness honor.
Richters is more active in the film world than in bodybuilding, appearing in hits like Marvel’s Black Widow and The King’s Man. He doesn’t consider himself a competitor, but it’s hard to omit him from a list of notable mass monsters when he holds the Guinness world record.
Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay
Last but certainly not least is the two-time reigning Mr. Olympia, Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay. Big Ramy made a big first impression in his pro debut at the 2013 New York Pro. Some competitors avoided standing next to him because they didn’t want to appear dwarfed by the massive man from Egypt.
Elssbiay is reportedly 5’10” and has weighed as much as 341 pounds in the off-season. He has competed on the sport’s biggest stage, weighing above 300 pounds. He tipped the scales at 316 pounds at the 2015 Olympia, but the extra size didn’t help his cause: Phil Heath won his fifth of seven Olympia titles that year while Elssbiay finished in fifth.
Elssbiay focused more on conditioning in recent years but still carries a lot of muscle. The 290-pound ripped version of Big Ramy was impressive enough to win his first Olympia in 2020. He defended his title one year later with five additional pounds on his frame. Time will tell if he tries to compete at or above 300 pounds again, but he remains one of the most successful big men in the sport’s history.
Featured image: @theofficiallouferrigno, @ronniecoleman8 on Instagram