Walking off the stage in Atlanta with a third place trophy at the 2003 Show of Strength, Kevin Levrone
knew that it was his last time competing. It wasn’t the fact that he finished behind both Dexter Jackson and Jay Cutler or that it was his 58th professional show in 11 years. The reasons went much deeper than that.
“I was just done,” Levrone said. “I reached a point where I said to myself no matter what I do they’re not going to let me win the Mr. Olympia and I’m not going to stay here and keep doing it when I could be doing something else.”
The frustration began in 1992 when Levrone – in his first year as a pro – finished in second place to Dorian Yates, who won his first of six consecutive championships after Lee Haney retired. It would be the first of four times that the Baltimore native would be the runner-up in the most prestigious bodybuilding
contest in the world.
Looking back on the great men that he lost to, Levrone couldn’t help but give credit to them.
“What sticks in my mind about competing on the Mr. Olympia stage is dealing with Dorian Yates,” he said. “The guy just had a phenomenal aura about him backstage when he’s sitting there getting ready. He’s all covered up and is the last guy to walk in. You know that there’s a mystique about him.
“Nothing about Yates was fancy,” continued Levrone. “When he came on stage he was on point. His routines were powerful and awesome. The guy didn’t crack a smile and wasn’t there to just hang out and BS.”
In six tries against Yates, Levrone had four top three finishes and never did worse than fifth.
“Yates really pushed me,” he said. “We all pushed each other and knowing that I had to go up against him (all those) years, every time I was in the gym I was thinking, ‘How in the hell am I going to take this English guy out? I’ve got to bring him down.’ That was my focus and driving point.
“I had tons of respect for him,” added Levrone. “He attacked his workouts and routines in the gym. He was a beast and a true professional and a unique, one-of-a-kind individual. We will speak to this day and every time I see him it brings back great memories.”
Even after Yates left the sport, Levrone had a new person to contend with, one who showed more perseverance than even himself.
“I remember when Ronnie (Coleman) would walk on stage and finish dead last,” Levrone said. “Then he beat me at the (1998) Night of the Champions and that was the turning point in his career.”
Coleman went on to win the Mr. Olympia that same year and eventually match Lee Haney’s record of eight consecutive championships.
“To see this guy hang in there and not give up, to go through the pro ranks finishing in last place and to finally come out on top and win it was just mind blowing,” admitted Levrone, “and it was very humbling at the same time. You never know … as long as you never quit. Ronnie Coleman is a true example of grinding it out, the type of guy that had a true vision and walked into his destiny.”
Although he would never take away the credit towards Coleman, Levrone felt that he should have defeated “The King” on at least one, if not two occasions.
“It was in 2000 and he had the extended gut and everything,” he recalled. “I remember I worked him over pretty good during the pose down and my objective was to point out all of his weaknesses on stage. I felt that the show was mine.
“Everybody says that (my best show) was in 2002, but in 2000 I think hands down that I mopped the stage with Coleman without a doubt,” Levrone said frankly. “I’ll never deny the fact that I believe I should have won the Sandow that year.”
After doing all he could to take the title and still come up short, Levrone approached a man that he looked up to for advice.
“I talked to (NPC President) Jim Manion, who has always been there for me,” he said. “He was the first guy when I was backstage at the Junior Nationals to come up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and say, ‘Kid, you have a lot of potential,’ and told me to come to the Nationals. I’ll never forget that. He had been the driving force in my career.
“I asked him what they (the judges) were looking for. He told me that he didn’t know but that I had to be a little bit tighter.”
Levrone’s bodyweight fluctuated from 238 at the European tours to 246 at the Olympia. “I was all across the board trying to figure out what they were looking for and I never found out,” he said. “I still think the judges haven’t found out to today’s date. What they do is start judging personalities. ‘How is this guy off stage? Do you want to go with someone that is going to be safe, someone that we can control that’s not going to wild it out and be a good representative for the sport?’ I think a lot of things come into play mentally when those guys are sitting down and judging the sport, the political end.”
Although he never won the Olympia, Levrone did take home two Arnold Classic first place trophies.
“It was such a big honor to have Mr. Jim Lorimer and Arnold Schwarzenegger inviting me to do the 1994 Arnold Classic and actually win the show for the first time,” Levrone recalled. “It was like a dream come true.” Levrone was able to live that dream twice when he reigned supreme in Columbus, Ohio again two years later.
In 2008, the Arnold Classic celebrated its 20th anniversary and all the former winners were invited on stage in a ceremony like no other.
“I remember when I competed against guys like Richie (Gaspari), Lee Labrada and Shawn Ray,” said Levrone, who stood on stage with them and the rest of the past champions next to life size cardboard cut-outs likenesses of themselves.
“When you’re in the gym you can’t reap the benefits from it,” said Levrone. “When you’re competing as a pro you can’t step back and enjoy it because you’re still that person, and it’s not until you step out of that body, that physique that you really know what’s going on around you. Standing with all of those previous winners…the sport that gave me a launching pad and was like one big family and the kind of support that the IFBB gives was a tremendous feeling.”
Although Levrone is not involved in competitive bodybuilding these days, he is still doing what he can for the sport that he loves by bringing it into the mainstream. Now living in California, the 44-year-old is involved in the film industry, not just as an actor also as a producer.
“I wanted to be involved in the whole process of the business, putting something together and I found out it works best for me that way because being from bodybuilding, you dive into everything 100 percent.”
Levrone realized that he had to make physical changes to be respected as a businessman in the movie industry.
“I couldn’t walk into a room with a bunch of casting directors at Warner Bros. or anywhere else at 240 or 250 pounds,” he said, also noting that he currently weighs approximately 210 pounds. “I didn’t want to be labeled in Hollywood as the bouncer or the tough guy. I didn’t want that so I said to myself that I’m going to take on a whole other approach with this.”
Two films, “Redline” (2007) and “I Am” (2008), have, according to Levrone, “gotten my feet wet.” He said he is working on a few more that will be released starting in June.
Perhaps his biggest victory came when the man known as The Maryland Muscle Machine was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame as part of the 2009 class.
“Looking back, I never won the Mr. Olympia but I really tried and did my best,” he said. “I won 22 shows and finished in second place 18 times. Every time I lost the Olympia it gave me so much more drive to go back into the gym and compete. It made me like a raging bull to win (the next) contest. If I had won it in 1992, I wouldn’t have kept going.
“Now that I’m retired and looking back, I never won the big one but what I did walk away from the sport with is the best overall record in IFBB history, and that’s what I went into the Hall of Fame with.”