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Ronnie Coleman | Kevin Levrone | Ken ‘Flex’ Wheeler

Ronnie Coleman  | Kevin Levrone | Ken ‘Flex’ Wheeler

As a ‘Golden’ era of bodybuilding, the 1990s are synonymous with the names: Kevin Levrone, Ken Wheeler, & Ronnie Coleman. Dorian Yates would set the tone for bodybuilding in the early ’90s, and names like Nasser El Sonbaty, Shawn Ray, and Chris Cormier would occasionally mix things up; but the Levrone, Wheeler, Coleman trio in many ways have come to define the decade into the early 2000s. The three would start and end their careers neck and neck with each other, in the process, creating some of the most epic bodybuilding competitions in history.

In 1991, Ronnie Coleman was handily beaten by Ken ‘Flex’ Wheeler earlier in the year at the NPC USAs, but they would face off again later in the year at the NPC Nationals. This time, Kevin Levrone was added into the mix as well, where Kevin would emerge victorious, finishing above both Wheeler and Coleman, while becoming the first of the trio to go pro.

Though he lost to Flex Wheeler earlier in the year, Coleman would get an IFBB professional card next at the World Amateur Championships. Flex ended the ‘91 season twice the bridesmaid and wouldn’t turn pro until the following year, in 1992 at the NPC USAs.

Levrone continued his early dominance, making a splash his rookie season as an IFBB pro in 1992, finishing in 2nd place at the Olympia, in front of many seasoned pros. While Coleman would make an appearance as well, he wouldn’t manage to place in the contest.

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This early lead by Levrone was short-lived, as Flex Wheeler would start his professional career with a bang as well the following year; winning multiple competitions, including the Arnold Classic. Wheeler ended 1993 Similar to Kevin Levrone the year prior, landing in the bridesmaid’s position at the Olympia, only behind Dorian Yates as a rookie. Levrone would fall to 5th place.

Following Wheeler’s participation in a near fatal car accident early in the year, that would prevent him from competing for the entire season; the tables would yet again turn back in Levrone’s favor in 1994. It was that year Levrone would win the Arnold Classic as Wheeler had the year prior. Without Wheeler’s participation in the ‘94 Olympia, Levrone was able to improve his placing, landing this time in 3rd. Although Wheeler was unable to compete that year, on a lighter note, he managed to appear in a previously Death Row music video, airing that year, alongside Snoop Dogg and The Lady of Rage

In 1995, Levrone would finish in 2nd at the Olympia and win three professional contests. Wheeler, making his comeback after his accident the year prior, was able to win three pro shows that year too, as well as get second at the Arnold. He landed in a disappointing 8th at the Olympia, and Coleman, who’d won his first pro event that season, in 11th.

In 1996, Wheeler would lose two times outside of the Olympia. Once, to Coleman at the Canada Cup, a contest which Coleman was the returning champion; but Flex would defeat Coleman at both the Florida Pro and Night of Champions that same year. Flex’s other loss in ’96, came at the hands of Kevin Levrone at the Arnold Classic, and it would be Levrone who would again finish the year in the lead of the trio, coming 3rd at the Olympia, with Wheeler in 4th and Coleman in 6th.

In 1997, Wheeler would beat Coleman at every contest he entered that year. Coleman, would get a significant win that year, over Levrone at the Grand Prix Russia, but once again place behind him at the Olympia, getting 9th to Levrone’s 4th. While Wheeler, hyped by many to likely end up second if not possibly defeat Dorian, wouldn’t make it to the Olympia stage; citing a physical altercation that many believe to be fabricated.

1998 marked the beginning of the Coleman era, leaving Levrone and Wheeler’s legacies in his shadow. Levrone would beat Coleman one time that year at the San Francisco Pro, yet every other contest in the season they met, Coleman was victorious. Wheeler, the other major contender, won another Arnold Classic title earlier in the year, which once again had him in talks as a threat for the Olympia, even after failing to make it to stage the year prior.

It was that year’s Olympia; that would serve as a defining moment in the history of bodybuilding, and set the tone of the sport going into the 2000’s. As Coleman, a wildcard of sorts would shock the bodybuilding world with one of the most significant upsets of all time.

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In ‘97, as the heir apparent to the Olympia title, Wheeler beat Coleman at every show he entered. In 1999 however, following Coleman’s win at the Olympia a year prior, the script was flipped; Wheeler was again relegated to second behind Coleman, in every contest he competed. It was this year Wheeler was first made aware of his kidney issues that would plague the end of his career. While Levrone started the decade with an early advantage, he ended it behind both Coleman and Wheeler, landing in 4th at that year’s Olympia.

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Coleman would continue to dominate throughout the early 2000s. But Y2K would be the beginning of the end for Flex Wheeler as well as his lead over Levrone during the late ‘90s. Wheeler would win another Arnold title early in 2000, beating Levrone who’d get 3rd; but Levrone would get the last laugh, placing second behind Coleman at the Olympia and Flex in third. Flex Wheeler would shortly after the Olympia, formally announce his retirement from the sport due to health complications and was absent from the 2001 Olympia; while Levrone, would get 3rd that year.

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2002, a decade apart from his first time getting 2nd at the competition as a rookie in 1992, Levrone would again get 2nd at the Olympia, though his best days were soon to be behind him. For Flex, however, those days had already passed; making a comeback of sorts he would get 7th at that year’s Olympia, and in 2003 would fail to qualify for the contest entirely. That same year, Levrone finished in 6th, a disappointment from the year prior, while Coleman would continue his handed domination of the sport. 2003 was the last time we’d see both Wheeler or Levrone on stage.

At the start of the trio’s careers, Levrone and Wheeler would exchange placings early on, often with Ronnie Coleman waiting for a later callout. However, as a testament to persistence, Coleman managed to stick through the early lows; consequently, Coleman will go down in history as one of the best Olympia champions ever.

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