Interview With Powerlifting Promotor Sean "Zilla" Katterle by Mike Westerdal of CriticalBench.com - September 2007
Critical Bench: Sean Zilla, tell us about yourself and your background in the Iron Game dating back to Monster Muscle Magazine when we first met.
Sean Zilla: I've lived my 35 years up and down the west coast, spending most of my time here in Portland, Oregon but also a few years in San Diego, California and in Spokane, Washington (working for PowerMag and Monster Muscle magazines.) My childhood was a dream and I'm really thankful for my parents turning me on to reading books and being social rather than spending my time wasting my brain on video games and television hidden away in my room (of course, back then the internet and mobile phones were unheard of we didn't live in the virtual world.) In my teens and into my very early 20's I got into more trouble than I really had a right to get into. From playing drums in thrash metal bands to living in punk rock pseudo condemned housing (see the 1980s cult movie Suburbia for reference) I pretty much wasted every economical advantage I'd had in front of me and so, when I finally got serious about my future, I had to punch the clock 40-50 hours a week while also attending community college part time for six years like the rest of the blue collar world. I guess in retrospect, it was good for my character but it definitely wasn't good for my bank account!
By the late 1990s I'd gotten myself pretty well established in the lower middle class world and when I wasn't running independent coffee houses and bouncing at nightclubs I was on the internet trying to figure out a way to break into the iron world's niche business pond. Franchise health clubs were just starting to over take the city and the fitness craze was in full swing and I knew that there had to be a money making, very enjoyable employment opportunity for someone who had the business skills but who also was obsessed with the world of strength sports (because the powerlifters, bodybuilders, strongmen and garage lifters were really starting to feel betrayed by the yuppie aerobics wave who borrowed every trick and apparatus they could but who shunned them as "bad for business". How ironic that The World's Strongest Man will be playing on the gym's TV for the treadmill crowd and yet the sign on the wall says "No Chalk Allowed.")
I knew I didn't have the credit or the working capital to start my own retail establishment so instead I looked for something that I could sell wholesale to said retailers. The company I found that really sparked my interest was the HeavyWear gym clothing brand (started by Jake Jones of BodybuildingUniverse.com and Planet Muscle but now owned and part of the House of Pain line.) Jake and I corresponded for months but our working together on that project never came to fruition. But, the following year, Jake recontacted me telling me that he was starting a new powerlifting magazine called PowerMag and that he'd like me to take on the role of commission ad salesman. I jumped at the chance to sell magazine ads on the side and to get my foot in the door and I quickly doubled that publication's total ad sales and incoming cash flow. That got me promoted to Advertising Director (a change only in title but also granting me exclusive rights to all new accounts.)
That job took me to San Diego so I could be within a day's drive of all of southern California (ironically, my truck broke down the first month I moved there, ha!) I worked in San Diego for months, putting in overtime training clients at Silver Strand Fitness in Imperial Beach and bouncing at The Ye Olde Plank (Jesse Ventura's favorite bar when he was stationed with the NAVY Seals at that port.)
Then I got the call from Jake Jones that I didn't want to hear. He'd sold his portion of the magazine to his formerly silent business partner, Wesley Kampen of The Powerlifting Superstore. I got promoted to Assistant Editor so I could start working on articles as well as selling ads (which was great) but Wesley and I's views didn't match up the way Jake and mine did and he didn't have the professional training and skills that Jake had so, after two very stressful and low paying years, we parted ways and after I left the ship, it soon sank without Jake and/or me keeping it clear of the icebergs.
Just prior to my leaving Monster Muscle Magazine, I formed my own LLC, Hardcore Powerlifting. I began branching out and building a gym sports graphic design and marketing business with Leon Josaitis (an ultra talented computer designer based out of Idaho and now working for big bucks corporate sports America.) Leon and Tyler (our one part time employee) had the computer abilities that were above and beyond pretty much everyone in the industry except for a few shining stars in the music and entertainment industry. These were the kind of math gurus who could finish high school at 15, college by 19 and then spend the rest of their days in computer science think tanks if they chose to! These guys live and breath computer design and to this day, even though we only work together a few hours a month now, I'm very, very grateful to Leon Josaitis and to Tyler "The Fu" Fouche for giving me the technical support to put together impressive print layouts, to make my marketing concepts come to life and to produce Ryan Kennelly's Road to the Arnold DVD. They worked with and for me for what amounted to next to nothing compared to the coin they're making now working for the industry giants and I greatly appreciate they're taking the time to help out a motivated businessman who lacked the modern era tech skills it takes to make it in pro sports promotion these days.
My company's story unfolds on our website, HardcorePowerlifting.com and it's been a great string of magazine articles, commentating for BenchAmerica on Fox Sports Net and Comcast Sports Net, working as an announcer all over the country, co-directing Kennelly's documentary, designing websites and print materials for some terrific companies in the powerlifting world and now finally getting to take the wheel and produce and promote two of the greatest pro powerlifting events in the world; MHP's The Clash of the Titans at The Bodybuilding.com Europa Super Show Expo and MHP's The Kings of the Bench at The Mr. Olympia Expo!
Critical Bench: That's quite the journey. You've been working hard and it's paying off. You are co-owner of Hardcore Powerlifting LLC. Tell us a little more about the company and why you started it.
Sean: I started Hardcore Powerlifting because I saw, and still see, the world of strength sports as being partially ran by people who have a lot of passion and commitment to the sport but no real polished business skills. I love powerlifting and I'm a huge fan of bodybuilding, strongman and highland games and I knew that I could take my business skills and competitive drive and really hammer out a place for myself in the sport that would both bring my company success and that would help the sport to finally receive the professional status it deserved. The fact that powerlifting's captains couldn't get it together in the 40 years time prior was to my benefit because building a business in the multi-million dollar world of pro football, baseball, etc. would have been darn near impossible. In 2004, I saw powerlifting having close to the same potential the UFC had in 1993. How strong you are is almost as popular as how tough you are and powerlifting was another fringe sport that had serious fan base growth potential. I mean, how many hundreds of thousands of men in the USA alone bench press on a regular basis? And this sport's about who's the best at it!
Critical Bench: I'm going to have to agree with you there. I know I've been obsessed with the bench press since high school. Sean, give us some highlights from the Clash of the Titans event.
Sean: Our first Clash of the Titans event came off wonderfully! I owe huge thanks to MHP (MaxPerformance.com) for being our title sponsor and for providing us with the working capital that we needed in order to even have the event at all. They also sent over Trish Warren (pro bodybuilder Branch Warren's wife) to be our card girl and I think that she drew as many audience members as our platform powerhouses did!
If I had to pick the most exciting moments of the show they'd have to be Brandon "C4" Cass's 800 @ 228 pound deadlift (that's got to be one of the biggest all time wraps n belt only squat ever for someone weighing under 230 pounds), James Searcy's 800 opening deadlift. The only time I've seen 800 pounds come off the ground that easily was when Gary Frank pulled it at The Show of Strength and Andy Bolten's openers! Pitbull Searcy is a true human hoist and he really came thru for us as I believe that it's important for any pro powerlifting contest to have at least one 800+ pound deadlifter in the group because that's such a tough barrier to cross, especially after max squatting! In the benches, Al Davis' 605 overall winning bench rocked and I was also amazed by Rock Lewis going 580 @ 244, Gunny Green hitting 530 @ 225 and then Chase Martin posting a 380 @ 174 and at only 20 years of age! A 380 raw bench is a good bench for a college varsity lineman and this guys' doing it at 174 pounds! In the 405 pound reps challenge, all three of the competitors impressed the heck out of me as (after max benching) Rock Lewis got 14 reps, Chip Edalgo got 15 reps and Al Davis beat Siders' Olympia record by getting 18 reps!
We're really excited about The Clash of the Titans II which will take place at The Super Show Expo, again being held at the Dallas Convention Center and in the fall of 2008. Thanks again to our sponsors, MHP (MaxPerformance.com), APT Pro Powerlifting Gear (ProWristStraps.com), Anderson Powerlifting, House of Pain Ironwear and to our media sponsors BodyTalk Magazine, Southern Muscle Plus and Jeff Everson's Planet Muscle Magazine and to all the people who helped me to run the event. I could not have done it without your support and hard work and I really do appreciate it.
Critical Bench: Your other big competition is the Kings of Bench II event in Vegas. What's unique about this event?
Sean: What's special about MHP's Kings of the Bench is what's also special about MHP's Clash of the Titans. It's a return to real powerlifting and power benching! This is old school, real deal, no bulls**t, classic powerlifting where it's muscle against weight in a battle to see who's really the strongest. We only allow wraps and belts to be used and the taking away of the bench shirts and super suits as allowed the powerlifting world to test who's really the best amongst them. As Ryan Kennelly once said in an interview I conducted with him, when the shirts get banned, the shirt specialists will take up miniature golf. I understand the frustration of the gear specialists. They're not strong enough without the gear to win against our events' champions and they're dreading all the hard work it's going to take to get themselves to that strength level. It's so much easier for them to simply continue to strap on the trampoline suits and to put on an artificial strength exhibition than it is to put in the work rebuilding their stabilizers and building up their muscles to a true professional degree. So, rather than belittle them, I will continue to build our events so that the most prize money and the best publicity comes from being a part of our shows and I'm hoping that those rewards will make the hard work worthwhile.
I want to make something clear for all the lifting fans who don't know. No one has ever squatting 1,000 pounds. EVER. Many people have suit squatted that amount of weight but they all end up in the 700-mid 900s range when the suit's not worn. I want to see the 1,000 pound squat barrier get officially broken! I'd also like to see Andy Bolton or one of our sports' other top deadlifters pull 1,000 pounds without the aid of a deadlift suit. Andy was so close, pulling in the mid 900s and there's no doubt that the suit gave him the numbers boost to break that barrier and when someone, some day breaks the same barrier sans suit, Andy will still be credited with being the first but people who know the difference will recognize that the first no suit 1,000 pound deadlifter was either better or better fulfilled his potential. I think that Bolton can still accomplish this so I'm hoping that he changes up his training and does just that but he's a gear distributor now so that's not as likely to happen anymore.
In the bench I'd like to see more people join the fabled 700 pound bench club. Only 2 men in history have ever benchpressed 700+ pounds! Think of how rare and legend building that lifting feat is! Only 2 dozen have even claimed right to the 600+ pound club and lifters have added their name to that elite list at both of our events to date. And, finally, it would be amazing if someone could ever break the 2,500 total barrier. I believe that Don Rinehoudt was the closest with a mid 2400s back in the day but no one's yet put those numbers together. I think that as our prize money and positive notoriety increases, we'll see the giants of the gym begin training for these goals and if the money's there, someone, at one of our upcoming competitions will become legends forever in the world of iron sports in each of these vaulted lifts.
I truly believe that our version of the sport (a return to old school lifting) has the best chance of making it professionally and I feel very strongly about this issue and I'm prepared to do what it takes to make this dream of big time powerlifting promotion a reality. The millions of general weight lifters can relate to our version of strength sport and they can really appreciate what our pros are capable of and our winners are becoming heroes to thousands of people around the world and I think that that's the way it should be as they're deserving of their newfound pro status and notoriety.
Critical Bench: Are you oppossed to gear lifting? Want to set the record straight once and for all?
Sean: I don't oppose gear lifting, I just want it to be called what it is; shirt benching and suit lifting. A shirt bench is not a benchpress. A suited squat or a suited deadlift is not a squat or deadlift. If people would be honest and say I shirt benched such and such then I wouldn't have so much of a problem with it. But when a 400 pound bencher talks about benchpressing 700 pounds, then to the uneducated fans on the street, it sounds like they're stronger than Bill Kazmaier who could take their real benchpress of 400 pounds and rep it out 20 something times! It's the deception that I don't like. It's the falseness of the lifting claims, which are false through intentional lack of clarity in the details of the lift. Also, I see gear lifting like point karate and classic powerlifting like MMA. Both take a lot of training, dedication and skill but only one's really what it is (strength or fighting.) And, just like the national point karate champion would look foolish in the octagon, many of today's gear lifting champs wouldn't even be close to the winners of our events unless they trained for them for months if not years. Before the UFC people (who weren't street fighters or collegiate wrestlers) believed that these karate guys were the toughest fighters on earth. They believed the martial arts movies were real; that Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme could easily take anyone in a fight and that fights were pretty much stand up acrobatics.
It's such an ego rush to be able to be seen as the toughest or the strongest that I understand why it takes years for reality to take hold. These paper champions have worked very hard to get where they got in their chosen sport and when these sports get revealed for being more a test of coordination and technique than toughness or strength, they lose some of their star power and it's their ego and competitiveness that makes then lash out at the promoters who are knocking down the smoke n mirrors of their specialty (just look at how many people have tried to stop Dana White in his promotional efforts over the years!) It's taken the UFC 14 years to get where it's gotten so far and we're only 12 months into our live shows so I've got the mind set and the patience to build our events each year and to eventually get them on pay per view and into the mainstream sports fans consciousness. This year, at only our 2nd Kings of the Bench championships, we're already going to be on internet TV worldwide via Bodybuilding.com's website so we're getting there!
Photo Credit: Bill Carpenter, 2004 Arnold
Critical Bench: You've written a ton of bench press articles for various magazines including Body Talk. Which one are you proudest of?
Sean: I'm proud of just about every article/interview I've put together. It's been great working with Ryan Kennelly on so many interviews but I've also really appreciated getting to spend time talking with all of the pro lifters I've gotten to work with. Also, it's been awesome getting to put together the layouts with Jake Jones, Josh Winsor, Leon Josaitis and Tyler Fouche. It's their design talents that really bring the articles to life! I also appreciate all the publications who've spent the money on the publishing and distribution that's allowed me to get my writing in front of so many people; IRON MAN Magazine, Jeff Everson's Planet Muscle, BodyTalk, Monster Muscle, Southern Muscle Plus and Powerlifting USA.
Sean: For about three years I really spent a lot of time running around with Ryan Kennelly. Ryan's justifiable a very guarded person, so most people don't get to see the real him and when his guard his down, he's one of the funniest people I've ever met! Kennelly's outlook on life is refreshing and he's a great conversationalist and humorist. Also, I doubt that there's been more than a handful of people in the history of the sport who've been as focused, committed and dedicated as he's been over so many years. Unless someone followed him around day in and day out they just couldn't grasp how many hours of each of his days are consumed by preparing for the next benchpress competition.
Working with him on his DVD really wasn't much different than the other training sessions and competitions I'd spent time with him at. In fact, most of the filming sessions weren't as exciting because, Kennelly, being rightfully protective of his image, was on good behavior in front of the camera. He and his crew are way more insane off camera than our documentary revealed!
Critical Bench: What's new in the life of Sean Zilla that's not related to powerlifting?
Sean: We recently moved into a great 2 bedroom basement apartment that's right in our favorite downtown neighborhood. Now I've got my own home office room (rather than taking up the living room like I've done for the last 6 years) and we've got a gated patio area that's back in the alley and looks like a side street in an antiquated, European city complete with stone slate tile, brick walls and black iron and stone balconies running 4 stories high and giving us some nice shade from the summer heat. The neighborhoods filled with coffee shops, independent retailers and rock n roll nightclubs and we're right down the street from the 2nd largest bookstore in the country and from the heart of the city so it's a great place to live.
To add to our family, we recently adopted two new kittens; a Siamese named KimChee and a beautiful snow white domestic short hair named ChaiTea. These cats are really high energy so they add light to our lives and they're both cuddlers so they're great destressers as they're lap cats and it's very calming for me to sit and pet the kitties while watching my favorite shows after a long day at work. I don't have the patience and ability to self sacrifice enough to be a family man so our cats allow me to be a parent on a level that I'm comfortable with and I've really fallen in love with them.
Critical Bench: Nice to see you have a relaxing place to take a break from the Internet trolls. How do you feel about the USAPL replacing the WPO at the Arnold?
Sean Zilla: I tried to get Kieran Kidder to pay off his past due prize money and to do away with the layers of powerlifting gear. He failed to do either in time and so the WPO's been removed from The Arnold Classic, The Super Show Expo and from The Olympia Expo. They're still at The FitExpo but that's only through Scot Mendelson allowing them to sanction his event. Scot's the biggest raw bencher off all time so I'm hoping that he'll alter his contest's rules to match our two productions but, if he doesn't, I'll understand as he's got to build his show how he feels best about building it.
As for the USAPL taking over the powerlifting at The Arnold, I don't really have too many thoughts on the matter. I'm planning on coming out and covering some of the lifting but I'm really only interested in their raw division and in seeing Brad Gillingham in a deadlift only competition. I don't believe that drug testing means drug free and there's too many politics involved and too many winners know how to beat the drug tests so I'm not a fan of drug testing outside of the public schools (I think that all drug testing efforts should be channeled into keeping teenagers clean.) And single ply gear isn't that much different than multi ply gear so the lifting's still artificial and will look as such. The USAPL does have a talented athlete pool though and they've got some really attractive women (which always helps to draw a crowd) competing in their federation so I think that if they banned all powerlifting gear except for wraps and a belt that they'd be the best federation to match up with that tradeshow and with the political climate Schwarzenegger has to thrive in.
It would have been great if Lorimer Productions would have asked my company to take over that portion of his sports weekend and I'm hoping that we'll be allowed to do so but that may be after Arnold gets out of politics and I certainly don't want that to happen as I think the more influence he's got in politics the better! Out of all the politicians I follow (with the limited time I have to watch the news) he seems to be the one with the best and more productive ideas in regards to the enviornment, the economy and our nation's need for healthcare. We'd be happy to instigate some form of drug testing at that particular trade show if it's needed to protect Arnold's image and I still think that even with that compromise, we could make the powerlifting more exciting than it's ever been in Columbus so hopefully one day we get that call back and we can add that expo to our event calendar. We'd also really like to work something out with The FitExpo and our sponsors are also sponsors of that trade show so that's definitely a possibility in the near future and there's room in the L.A. Convention Center for an additional stage so we're open for negotiations and we're really excited about that promotional possibility!
Critical Bench: How's your training going, what kind of program are you doing?
Sean: My schedule limits me to only 3 days in the gym but I'm very happy
with the progress I've made within those limitations. When I turned 35 years
old a couple of weeks ago I was the strongest that I've ever been (not that
I've ever been that strong in the first place, ha!) but then I caught the
worst flu I've had in years and after a trip to the hospital and 10 days bed
rest I've lost about 10 pounds of bodyweight, feel like I'm made out of
jello and am kinda off track on my competition training plans.............
but that's life.
At 6' tall I'm weighing in at 237 pounds right now (down
from 247) I'll be competing at The Oregon Classic Powerlifting Championships
(BigBearsGym.com) on the Oregon coast this November and I'll try and come in
right at 242 pounds and hopefully at a better body composition. I'm going
for a 405 pound raw bench and, if I can recover from this flu fast enough, a
500-600 pound raw deadlift. If I can hit those numbers I'll sign up for the
3 lift contest the following winter and go for a 1,500+ pound total (my
squat is my weakest lift.) Being of very average physical genetics I think
that a 400+ pound contest bench is a real accomplishment and if I can pull
200 pounds more than that then my critics won't call me a chicken legged
bencher, ha! My current training program looks something like this:
Sunday: Two of the following lifts: box squats, box squats w/chains, squats w/chains, front squats or deadlifts. I work these for warm-ups + 3-5 working sets of 1-4 reps each. Then, I follow up with two of the following exercises: Leg Press, T-Bar Row, Bent Over Rows, Hammer Strength Rows, Linear Squat Machine or Stiff Leg Deadlift. I work those for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps each.
Monday: Two of the following lifts: benchpress, 2, 3 or 4 board benchpress or benchpress with chains. I work those for warm-ups + 3-5 working sets of 3-5 reps each. Then I complete that training day with two of the following exercises: floor press, dumbbell floor press, incline dumbbell press, standing barbell behind-the-head triceps extensions or seated dumbbell shoulder press. I work those assistance lifts for 3-5 working sets of 6-12 reps each. If I'm still motivated to lift more after that I'll finish up with some calf and biceps bodybuilding but that's probably only half the time so I'm only specifically training biceps or calves twice a month.
Thursday: On this day I work heavy partials and I do a mix of deadlift power rack lockouts, 3 and 4 board presses, power rack squat lockouts and/or power rack barbell shoulder press lockouts. This is basically the day that I work with my contest weight and above on the bar so my nervous system is used to dealing with a certain amount of weight prior to trying to lift it in competition. As the contest or max day of a cycle approaches, I either raise the weight as far above my full range contest weights as possible or I increase the range of motion in each lift so I'm closer and closer to repping full range with the weight I'm going to try and single at the event or on the training cycle max day. There isn't a sets n reps scheme for this training day. We just lift for an hour or two until we're feeling wiped out and then I spend the rest of the day sleeping and eating as much quality food as possible (that's my day to watch the Net Flix DVDs I got in the mail that week and right now I'm really into The Sopranos and catching up on the UFC, Pride and Kings of the Cage events I missed on pay-per-view.)
Critical Bench: What do you think about the powerlifting message boards? Is it a place where people get bashed or a good place to inspire debate and share ideas?
Sean: I think that it's both of those things. I'd like to see a message board that only allows people to post using their real names and with their identity being public or at least certified with the forum moderator. I'm the forum moderator for House Of Pain.com and we're looking into doing that with our forums over there. It will be the closest text forum to a public talk show where the people doing the talking will be representing themselves and responsible for their comments. The cowards and immature teenagers will shy away from posting because they won't be able to hide behind their keyboards and that online community will be better off for it. House of Pain's got a great forum going now and I also still post up on Powerlifting Watch as I think that Jon does a good job there too (though I would like to see writers have to identify themselves and not hide behind their self appointed nicknames.) I think that it's great though that the internet's allowing powerlifting to post up videos and pictures and to get the contest results up for the public to check out faster. It's really brought the powerlifting community together even if it has allowed some undeserving people a share of some of the online limelight.
Critical Bench: Powerlifting Watch is cool, you get an overview of the whole sport in one spot. Where do you see the sport of powerlifting 10-years from now and why?
Sean: In less than ten years I see powerlifting being a regular staple on cable tv and/or pay-per-view. I see powerlifting being the 2nd largest draw at every major fitness expo in the world (being still outdistanced in popularity by the physique contests but right next to pro strongman.) I see pro lifters making at least enough money that they only need part-time second jobs to be in the middle class income bracket. I think that powerlifting will get into more and more schools and I think that personal trainers will become more knowledgeable on how powerlifting can help some of their clients achieve their goals. Also, I think that as competitive as the print media world, I think that most of the bodybuilding magazines will add powerlifting sections to each of their issues so that they can stay competitive with the online publishers and with each other. In addition, as the prize money increases in pro powerlifting, I see a lot of cross over happening with the pros from other strength sports. This is an exciting time to be a part of powerlifting and I hope that more of today's top pros lose their unneeded artificial crutches and join us in building the sport to the pro level it deserves to be at!
Critical Bench: Thanks for the interview Sean! Any last words of wisdom or anyone you want to thank?
Sean: I'd like to thank House of Pain.com for allowing me to run their message boards. I'd like to thank MHP (MaxPerformance.com) for being our contests' title sponsor. I'd also like to thank APT Pro Powerlifting Gear (Pro Wrist Straps.com) for making the best wraps and straps in the industry and I'd like to thank Bodytalk, Planet Muscle, Southern Muscle Plus and Powerlifting USA for continuing to print my writing.
Off the cuff, some words of wisdom would be to never drink or party the night before work or school. Avoid fast food and keep your intake of candy and junk food to a minimum. Protect your joints and wear neoprene type elbow, knee and waist sleeves/wraps when you train (my favorite are the Kono Bands.)
And, finally, please do business with our sponsors (listed above) as they really are the jet fuel that will take powerlifting to the next level of professionalism and success. Every strength athlete should be using MHP's products because not only are they the # 1 supplement sponsor of powerlifting and strongman, they're making some of the best strength building products in the world (Ryan Kennelly's officially endorsing them now too and Jeremy Hoornstra's been using them in his preparation for The Kings of the Bench II and they're also endorsed by Joe Mazza, Brian Siders, Brian Schwab and World's Strongest Man winner Phil Pfister!) I hope that lifters also test drive APT Powerlifting Gear's knee wraps, wrist wraps and strongman lifting straps and I think that they'll find that one of their many high performance styles out performs whatever they're using currently - drop them a line and see what they've got that will work best for you!
Thanks for taking the time to interview me and hopefully we can chat some more sometime soon. Everyone's favorite topics are themselves and their projects and I'm no different, ha!