2016 Arnold Sport’s Festival featuring Ben Tatar | Critical Bench
By Chris Wilson, Head Strength Coach
1. Chris Wilson: Ben Tatar AKA, Tatar Monster, you have been to every Arnold Sports Festival Event. Of ALL the Arnold Sport Festivals you’ve been to, name the THREE best years of the event and why?
BEN TATAR: Wow, so many have been amazing and the best in their own way. It’s hard to pick a favorite because, in a greater sense, they all become one, all part of a bigger journey. However, I will pick three Arnold Sports Festival Events which I feel were special:
3rd place: The 2007 Arnold Sports Festival! 2007 ASF gets 3rd place because it was before the whole world knew about it through social media which made it more personal. The WPO was in full blast on the main stage; they had incredible celebrities, and I have so many memories with old friends.
2nd place: The 2009 Arnold Sports Festival! I set some records and did the first ever human barbell. I picked the booth girls for booths. The expo and parties were just hotter than ever, and the magazine industry was still really booming. It was just an incredible ASF trip from start to finish.
1st place: The 2011 Arnold Sports Festival! This was the peak. Everyone I knew from multiple periods of time attended. The stars were at an all time high. The event had a hardcore edge, and most of the Critical Bench crew was even there. It was just the perfect Arnold.
I would say the 2016 Arnold was probably one of the biggest Arnold events along with last year’s Arnold. The event had more events, greater attendance with more booths than past Arnolds. I really liked some of the Arnold’s new features like the NFL Hall of Fame.
There were so many things happening, from the Kids Expo to the WWE experience. The event just expands. This was also an amazing year for me as I met so many great people at the Hyatt, Phil Heath Autism Charity Event Party and reunited with old friends. This year’s event reminded me that the opportunities at the Arnold never run out; the friendships are forever.
The 2016 Arnold also had many big name celebrities. Some of the celebrities at the 2016 Arnold included: 50 Cent, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jon Bones Jones, Royce Gracie, Larry Fitzgerald, Phil Heath, Jay Cutler, the Ohio State Buckeyes, HHH, Kai Greene, Kurt Angle, Orlando Pace, Andre Reed, Apolo Ohno (from the Olympics,) Randy Couture, Justin Timberlake, the World’s strongest man competitors, the WWE locker room and most booths had a sponsored champion or athlete.
On top of the celebrities, the 2016 Arnold had a huge list of freaks, thousands of female models, mascots and the event was loaded every aisle you walked. The event also had more events and booths than ever.
People from over 80 different countries and people from everywhere were there. I feel like every Arnold event has been a world victory for me that goes beyond setting world records.
At this years Arnold, I set a record for benching a 235-lbs bandbell bamboo bar 36 times (more than anyone else my size.)I also set a world record at the 2014 Arnold for doing 40 pull-ups while wearing a 50-lbs vest. This achievement made my Iron Man Magazine bio and is featured on the walls of restaurants from around the globe.
The victory of each Arnold surpasses breaking records as each Arnold breaks many different personal records to me in so many different ways. That’s another reason why there must be many favorites.
The Arnold is always a huge victory as a reporter and as a reporter I feel like I’m setting a new personal record at all times in new ways! When I pick the 2011 Arnold as the best ever it’s like me saying “This championship win is my favorite championship win!”
The details of the 2011 event wins like the crazy after parties, the hotel parties, stars at the top, the more personal/yet more hardcore vibe of the fitness culture, behind the scenes stuff and the crazy details which you actually would have to experience in person to really understand.
I am proud of my perfect Arnold streak and I look at every Arnold I have ever attended as an incredible victory & movie. I feel like it continues on during the off season in the hearts with other friends.
2. CW: What’s new and cool at the Arnold, and what’s old and dull?
BT: Lots of things were new at the Arnold. Some include: Baton Twirling, Indoor Cycling Charity Ride, Indoor Triathlon, Tae kwon do, the Arnold Wheel Chair bodybuilding contest and the NFL Hall of Fame. Other events that returned for the second straight year were the Kids’ Expo, Soccer and the WWE Experience. Another cool addition to this year’s Arnold was having 900 booths.
This is a big jump because in 2012 the Expo had 750 booths. There were some negative aspects in regards to the 2016 Arnold. For example, they didn’t have a Bodybuilding dot com booth, BEAST booth or GNC booth.
What is old and dull? Well, I use my creativity to prevent that from happening. I always find ways to create my own fun. It’s not just about the Arnold, but it’s what you bring to the Arnold.
For kicks and giggles, when I survey people about what gets old, they occasionally tell me that they watch a competition to see which girl can get her breasts out the most without showing her nipple. They complain about having to stand in an hour line for one sample or being stuck shoulder to shoulder in a huge crowd.
Others think that it gets old how the Arnold keeps adding sports that have little to do with lifting.
They are like, “what’s next Guinea pig racing?” Then at the same time, the Arnold is doing a great job at putting outside of the box events in other venues. For what does and doesn’t get old is really a perspective thing.
I would say what gets old is the fact that many people are attending these events almost every single month on a smaller scale.
It’s not like ten years back when there was just the Arnold and the Olympia. Today you have an Arnold sports festival event right after the Los Angeles fit expo or less than two weeks before the Arnold Australia. There seems to be a fitness event each month, but the Arnold USA event is the Grand Daddy of them all.
Every time I step on to that expo floor, there is a huge energy that I feel, and it gets bigger each year. I feel satori, metanoia and numinous eudaemonia! I know that each Arnold Sports Festival Event will always be unique because it has the best of the best in everything! The Arnold is an extravaganza which in its own way is bigger than the Olympics. History is made here.
3. CW: Name the 3 Hottest Women you saw in person at this year’s event and the 3 Most Impressive Guys you saw in person?
BT: Who were the three hottest booth babes? I will have to let the fans vote on that one! In a generic sense I don’t think the fitness models are in their prime overall because before the models were competing for magazines as today it’s more about selling oneself on social media.
On the other hand, there are more types of models today than the past. The good news is, there will always be nines and tens in the fitness culture. There were way more models at the 2016 Arnold than most Arnolds because there were a lot more booths!
The 2016 Arnold did a great job of using models from everywhere! The 2016 Arnold had everything from small town girls from the mountains in the middle of no where to city girls on the beach!
One of the biggest bodybuilders I saw this weekend was definitely Paulo Almeida. This guy is just a true genetic freak from 5%ers. Another choice of mine is Jon Bones Jones because I think he is the most dominate UFC fighter. We actually have developed a friendship over the years. Another incredible person was Orlando Pace from the NFL Hall of Fame. It’s hard to come up with just three because there are so many.
4. CW: Who gets this year’s FREAK award and who is the ALL-TIME Freakiest Guy ever at the Arnold Sports Festival?
BT: Well, there are two freak award winners this year. The biggest freak at the 2016 Arnold was Glenn Ross. Glenn is the biggest strongman competitor of all time. He weighs 578-lbs and placed third at the 2005 Arnold Strongman contest.
He has a 881-lbs deadlift, 881-lbs squat and a 650-lbs raw bench press. Glenn also has done crazy strongman feats before. He is the most massive strongman/freak in the history of Arnold events.
The other freak award this year goes to Brandon Lilly. I put a shirt on him that you gave me that says “Body Weight Beast Champ,” with the Critical Bench Logo on the back. He is not only enormous, but super strong with a 2204 power lifting total which is getting bigger by the minute.
Obviously, for greatest freaks ever…… I’m going to say that in the massive monster category there has been nobody like ED RUSS! Unlike, Glenn Ross, Big Ed has less body fat and has much more muscle mass in his arms. Anytime people see old pictures of us, they can’t help but laugh or have an OMG reaction!
Whenever I’m with Ed Russ, I feel like I’m in a movie like no other, meaning you’re like on another planet. Everywhere fans just line up for pictures! I give a big shout out to Ed Russ because I know he is reading this.
For bodybuilders–My all time King of Freaks king goes to Kenny Gipson from back in 2006. Kenny was just a breed of his own beast. He was like Zeus from the movie “No Holds Barred,” but way freakier, thicker and more ripped. He was Zeus personified.
5. CW: Has the Arnold become TOO big….does the event feel overwhelming like you just can’t get to everything?
BT: I could see where someone could think that. From a person to person perspective no, but from being able to watch every single event perspective, yes. The Arnold has over 70 events which is more than the Summer Olympics with people from over 80 different Countries competing. As the Arnold has grown, the events have gone to many different locations.
For example, if you want to attend the Arnold swimming event, you would have to travel in traffic to get to the Courtyard by Marriott in New Albany Ohio. That is over an hour drive. If you want to attend soccer, you would have to travel to Stars Indoor Sports in Columbus, OH. If you wanted to attend the Pro Boxing, you would have to go to the L.C. PAVILION.
The Arnold Sports Festival weekend has become so big that they now even have a separate Expo for kids! As you can see, just having me list the different locations makes it seem overwhelming, and you’re right that it has gotten physically impossible to get everywhere. They do give you maps and have made an effort to help people navigate.
I must admit there have been times when I wish the Arnold Sports Festival was two weeks long like the Olympics and didn’t just go from Thursday to Sunday. This would allow me to actually compete or attend and cover everything. However, at this point it doesn’t matter because I know where I should be during every single Arnold event and if there is anything I miss, I can see what happened later!
The event has just gotten so huge, and there is actually something for everyone! It doesn’t matter if you’re a nine year old boy singing in a “Kids Got Talent Show,” or playing chess or if you’re a beast competing in the MAS wrestling event.
6. CW: It appears that Arnold himself truly loves this event…he’s always present and the first one to congratulate the winners. Does his celebrity and enthusiasm for his own event make it that much bigger and better for those in attendance? Is Arnold himself the driving force behind the events monster success?
BT: Excellent question, but I feel there are so many other factors to the success of the event than just having Arnold there. For example, where else can you find friends from around the world all located under one roof at the biggest iron extravaganza? Think of the booth models! Where else will a guy enter one venue with thousands of booth models who have something in common with himself?
Think of the other celebrities, whether it is UFC fighters, WWE wrestlers, NBA players or movie stars? Fans who aren’t bodybuilders appreciate this. There are so many big bodybuilders, strongmen and Olympic athletes who are in their prime, and fans like engaging with them.
It’s in our blood to compete, and people will compete even though most know they won’t be going out for lunch with Arnold during Arnold weekend. I think the event now has so many different driving forces behind its success that goes well beyond Arnold.
At one time, I do think Arnold was a huge factor for the success of the event! Arnold got the ball rolling but once he did, the success just grew off of everything else!
7. CW: We’ve talked about this before but who cares…if you could choose an ALL-ACCESS pass for either the Arnold or Olympia, what would you pick and why?
BT: The Arnold because it has four times the amount of people and seven times the amount of events. The Arnold has 190,000 fans and the Olympia has 45,000 fans. The Arnold and the Olympia are such different monsters.
If you have an ALL-ACCESS pass to the Arnold, it’s far more beneficial because your media credentials can help a greater range of people. You’re there for the people in anything and everything you want! This means you can be there for people in the 5k run and pump or the Powerlifting competitions.
You’re there for the families….. You’re a whole support to the whole entire Arnold Sports Festival Nation and not just the bodybuilding nation. I think the ALL-ACCESS pass to the Arnold runs a lot broader and a lot deeper.
The Arnold and the Olympia bring in different types of people. The Arnold brings in true iron fans and the Olympia brings in more socialites or social climbers. One of the Arnold Booth workers said “The Arnold fans are more impressed with everyone they engage with and feel like they are in for something special.
The Olympia fans are more competitive social types and even if they didn’t have a pass they would tell people who have passes that they are more famous than or successful than them. It’s just a different mentality.”
I think the pass is more relevant during Arnold Weekend. I think the Olympia has more bodybuilding freaks, maybe hotter booth models and bigger name celebrities than the Arnold. The Arnold has way more energy and intensity because you have the World’s Strongest Man contest going on the main stage, loud music, The WWE experience on another side of the expo, way more people and the intensity of the Arnold just destroys that of the Olympia!
The Arnold also has more random freaks and a higher powerlifter-strongman culture than the Olympia. The Arnold also has way more NFL players and Olympic Athletes than the Olympia. The pass at the Arnold mostly is more important than a pass at the Olympia because the lines at the Arnold are way worse!
The Arnold pass is also instant access to the after parties and at the Olympia you don’t need a press pass to go into any of the Vegas parties. For the Vegas parties…you just need to get tickets early to avoid the lines.
8. CW: Will the new attention paid to the “Men’s Physique” division help events like the Arnold and Olympia going forward?BT: We live in a changing society which I will discuss in my future article, “The metamorphosis of the fitness industry.” I don’t want to just comment on “Men’s Physique,” but as a whole you see changes in philosophy when it comes to physique.
Ten years ago the mentality was “Bigger is better and if it’s easy, it has no value.” Back then there would be big lines for the freaks and the 6’1 160-lbs fit lifters would be labeled as peons.Today you have 5’9 300-lbs bodybuilders with only about eight people in their lines.
There are fitness models who are almost 6 inches taller and over 100-lbs lighter with very-very long lines! Some old school bodybuilders have expressed anger because they had to get known before social media existed and they aren’t getting the attention today. Some people feel the new motto of the industry is “if it’s easy, more people will do it and more people are doing it.”
This statement is in reference to being cut, fit, aesthetic and not super big or strong. Fitness models and fans at the booths often take pictures, use hash tags, and post on social media. That’s huge publicity!Perhaps this is healthy because it promotes health, gives mainstream people hope and keeps people connected.
So, the answer to your question is that it’s subjective. Part of the reason the industry is growing is that it’s open to more types of people who possess different fitness interest.
9. CW: Who’s the NEXT big star in the world of Bodybuilding? Who’s the new, young hopeful emerging?
BT: All the winners were people who I have heard of before. Most of the freaks at this year’s Arnold were freaks who I already knew from past events. Akim Williams from the Muscle Meds booth could possibly be the next Kai Greene or a true bodybuilding freak of the future. There are a number of people who are emerging in different fields of fitness.
10. CW: Name your three favorite events at this year’s Arnold Sports Festival?
BT: I enjoyed way more than three events and it’s hard for me to compare events that are so different and that are a part of me in very unique ways.Three of my many favorites are: The NFL Hall of Fame – I just loved the athletic skill competitions, the question & answers with NFL Hall of Famers. I felt that it was a new feature that really added to the event.
The Arnold strongman contest – In my eyes, this is always unique because the events are creative, world records are set, and it’s more based on brute strength than the WSM you see on TV. They did a great job even giving Eddie Hall who placed last in the strongman competition a chance to break a record and Brian Shaw a chance to break a record by creating fan interested events!
The WWE Experience – The reason I choose this one is because it really helps the event grow. Many kids would like to be the next big WWE star; here is their chance. I love all the events. Even when I’m 80, I will probably be playing pickleball at the Arnold. Maybe I will be setting a world record as an 80 year old man and competing in multiple sports as well as covering the event!
11. CW: As we wrap up this interview, is there anything else you would like to say?
BT: I would like to say that I’m impressed with how much stronger everyone keeps getting. At every Arnold, it seems like a New World Record keeps getting broken. The top powerlifters keep getting stronger! I feel that the present isn’t just competing with the present but also with the past. It’s also always an amazing adventure each year that brings in powerful memories that you can’t get from anywhere else.
In closing I would like to thank Mike Westerdal & Chris Wilson “Coach Chris,” from Critical Bench for the press pass. I have to thank Rob Jones from the GLC2000 booth and New Age Performance Booth who I shot some past and future stars with. Rob introduced me to so many incredible people all weekend.
I would like to thank Grace Grimes for the hook up at the Phil Heath Makeitfit Autism charity event who was a big factor in regards to why the Arnold weekend was so special. I give thanks to Lindsey and Janice McLaughlin who are incredible people and for helping me with some of the transportation!
Special thanks to everyone I partied with at the Hyatt, you know who you all are! There are just so many great people in the industry. There is more that happens at these events than I can possibly write. I had quite the agenda. On Thursday I did shoots with old stars and stars of the future.I also partied with many booths and I bar hopped downtown. On Friday after the Expo, I went to the Phil Heath Make it Fit Charity party for Autism and then partied with the stars at the Hyatt. On Saturday I went to the Party with the Pros event and it was a spectacular event.
There wasn’t a dull moment at the expo and at the Hyatt Hotel it all just continues without the fans there! The whole weekend was incredible.With all that said, I know that my next ASF USA event will be even better! Why you ask? Ed Russ will be back, the King of Freaks!
I will see most of you again and the moments, experiences and all will just expand with history included and beyond. Critical Chris, thank you so much for the great interview questions.