Muscle Junkies Invade Azerbaijan at World Champs

The Muscle Junkies flew in Baku, Azerbaijan with tired eyes and high spirits, everyone with their own methods for handling such a long flight with food, carbing up and water. We all arrived exhausted from all the travelling and not being able to sleep in cramped up airline seats! The SA Teams bags arrived except for mine and Nalen's one bag! This was a big stress for me, as I knew some of my contest tan and posing trunks were in that bag, courtesy of Turkish airlines, not my favourite airline at all, more so since we arrived Wednesday and I only got my bag on Saturday after prejudging!

Andrew HudsonWe all checked in, and pretty much rushed to get some food in and then a shower and some rest!

The days leading up to the pre-judging were either spent relaxing at the hotel and focusing, or going for a walk around the city, sightseeing or shopping or whatever we felt necessary to get our minds off the stress of this being the biggest show most competitive bodybuilders ever get to compete in.

Mario had a different strategy to most of us, and seemed to be constantly on his way to or from the gym! The food was all provided for by the hotel and organizing committee, and occasionally, getting the right food and the right amount proved to be a challenge. I couldn't help but be shocked at the amount of food some of these people eat! I mean, some of the lightweights and middleweights were eating way more than me! Just packing in bowls and bowls of food!

Friday
The last few days we were all watching our bodyweights very closely, making sure that we were where we needed to be, come weigh-in. Dropping weight is something I am very used to doing, often losing 8-10kg in the last week to make the right weight class. All of the Muscle Junkies were right on the upper limit of our weight classes because it's always better to be right at the top than near the bottom! Some of us were close to 100g under the maximum limit and the topic that was most often discussed at the dining hall or during walks was how we all plan to get in under our respective class weights, how much water to drink and when to drink it, when to start carb-loading, before or after weigh-in, and with or without salt, fat intake and what type of training to do in the last few days. These are just some of the variables involved in making weight and achieving peak condition! We were all constantly strategising and monitoring our weights and then changing strategy according to what was happening on the scale and in the mirror!

Chris Fitzpatrick had an interesting time I must say! He checked his weight a few days before and seemed to be right near where he needed to be but then come the morning of the weigh in, he was nearly 7kg over! With a day of eating and drinking ahead he was surely going to be over! I could see he was super stressed out! No food or water for him and a whole day of walking around should bring him right down! He did just that! Midday he was about 3,5kg over and he had few hours to go! He would do anything to make it, I could see! Frantic calls between hotels rooms started, was Chris going to make it?? He had tried everything! So I told him one or 2 things to try that work for me and when we all met to go to weigh-in he came down with half a smile on his face, he was 200grams under his weight-he had made it!

Quentin Fong at weigh-inThe weigh-in starts with the lightest weight class and ends with the heaviest and everyone has tried to lose the last few kilograms to try be at the top of their class! After weigh-in you can go and do whatever you please, but for most of us it means time to EAT and regain some weight and some muscle fullness in order to look the best we can come show time the next day! Well, a bit of a bad planning by the hotel resulted in no food for us, by the time we had weighed in! Now this is when we need it the most! Anybody who has struggled to get their weight down will need to bring it back up again as soon as possible to make sure we don't look flat come show time! It's extremely stressful now, because you are down a few kilos and now you need to find the right food and somehow get it cooked the correct way with the least energy you have had the whole season! We all just scattered and tried to find our own way of getting in the food we needed to, even though we couldn't read a single thing on the food labels at the supermarket! Anyways, thank God I ran into Nalen, he was sitting at a sushi bar in the mall across from the hotel, he called me over and very kindly bought me a large amount of sushi from the restaurant he was sitting in! Just what I needed to fill out again! I wasn't going to say no to be polite, here was my lifeline and I grabbed it with both hands!

After weigh-in the talk from the officials and everybody involved was that the standard was higher than they have seen in years! Great stuff, that's what I like to hear! All of us Muscle Junkies are fans of bodybuilding just as much as we are competitors!

Saturday
Saturday morning everyone has their game face on, we are here for business, time to show the world what we are made of-I was confident I would be the best I had been the whole season!

At this point Mario told me how the pre-judging works, in our respective categories we all get called onstage, we all stand there in the line and get called out in groups of four or five depending on the line-up. In that callout we are told which 3 compulsory poses we must perform and then we must return to the line. Then the entire line up is called off the stage and they call the top 15 back on for comparisons! So that's it, we have 3 poses to prove we are worthy of being in the top 15 otherwise we are going home! So mentally all of us just want to make the top 15 so that we can get a chance to be compared and fight for a position!

Then we get told on the morning of pre-judging that dream tan will not be allowed onstage at all! I mean we have all been using dream tan for years', it's all I know how to use! Now we can't use it! Apparently it gets said every year that dream tan will no longer be allowed, but this was the first year it was actually enforced and I mean it was enforced. I saw guys backstage in tears because all they had was dream tan and when they tried to go onstage they weren't allowed to! All they could do was try to wipe it off! We all know how impossible that is! Anyway at the end of the day I think it is a good decision for bodybuilding worldwide, it turned out to be so awesome to go backstage, use a little bit of oil and you are ready to get onstage in less than 15 minutes! My tan was still in my bag. Mario and I walked and Chris Fitzpatrick took a taxi back to the hotel to get some tan on that was acceptable to the Worlds standard. Pre-judging had started and we didn't want to miss a thing so we really hurried along!

One by one the other members of the SA team came backstage after pre-judging shaking their heads, didn't make it, 'next time' was the most common saying I heard. I mean think about it, you spend an extra 8-10 weeks dieting and you travel overseas and you get 3 poses and that's it, home time!

Chris Pillay was the first of the Muscle Junkies to go onstage and the reports we got back was that he's definitely in the top 15! Everybody who saw it and knew us came back and said 'he's in, he's in"! So, you can imagine our disbelief when he came backstage and said he didn't make it! We were all shocked, I mean Chris Pillay didn't make the top 15, how are we going to! That's what was going through my mind!

Chris Fitzpatrick Most MuscularNext up was Quinton Fong, he came back saying "no ways, I should have been in the top 15"! Now I was really thinking I better pose better than I have ever posed before!

Next up, Mario and Chris Fitzpatrick! We were all waiting in anticipation… we hear back stage that Chris is in!! Every one of us was over the moon! I couldn't help but feel for Mario, I know how hard he had dieted and prepared for this show! Francis Benfatto had Mario perform daily, and often twice daily workouts while we were in Azerbaijan! And, this was while the rest of us were resting and taking it easy! Anyways back to Chris Fitzpatrick, he was in numerous callouts which could only be a good thing! After speaking with him afterwards, I asked where does he think he's going to place he told me he doesn't care, top 15 was good enough for him, anything else was a bonus! I agreed, at this show top 15 was good enough!

Mario van Biljon Ab ThighWhile they were onstage I was busy getting ready, the tan situation was actually easy but just stressful at the time because of never having done it before without dream tan! Once the oil was on evenly I was ready to rock and roll, a few warm up poses and it was time! I was super stressed out because of the magnitude of the whole show, didn't want to be late for my line up, hope I posed correctly etc but did I get the surprise of my life! If people were late for their line ups, we waited. If their tan was wrong, we waited and all very calmly there was no screaming or shouting from any of the officials! Something I really appreciated! On the posing side of things also, the judges appreciate a competitor that makes the extra effort to turn and show them all what you have! What a pleasure! This is the IFBB World Champs and it was very clear to me that the competitors were a major priority here!

Andrew Hudson Side ChestBack to my category! When it was our turn to get onstage I knew from the start that I was going to pose my ass off until I couldn't pose anymore or they kicked me offstage! So, from the word go I was hitting pose after pose, all my strongest poses, even when they weren't being called for. I wanted so badly to be noticed so that I could get into the top 15, even if it was to be told to stop posing at least I would be noticed! I stood in the line-up waiting for my callout, my opportunity to show them the 3 poses that were called for! I watched the groups being called out, four people at a time, and I couldn't help but notice the extremely high level of the category, my goodness almost every single person had perfect proportion, perfect symmetry and they were SHREDDED! Top 15 was going to be tough here! Then it came to my turn, I hit all my poses at the best of my ability, turning slightly to show the judges on either extremity of the panel, everything like I had practised back home for hours on end and then it was over, they called the whole line-up offstage and announced the top 15… I was in! I felt exactly like Quadzilla told me he felt, top 15 is good enough for me, anything else is a bonus! Now we were all standing backstage while John Lesley was called out for a tie breaker for 15th place, I was so stoked after seeing that call out, I thought for sure he's in the top 15. I thought he beat the other guys! Unfortunately for him it wasn't the case. John is a real team player and I know for sure he will be back for more at the next World Champs! I re-grouped quickly got my game face on because now it was really time to do battle! When I went back out I was going out for war, not to play games! I got a few callouts and I posed like it was the last time I would ever pose in my life, I had some extra help in the form of Francis Benfatto calling out from the audience if I needed to correct any poses! The legend himself helping me, I was like a kid in a candy shop, it doesn't get much better than this!

Once the battle was over I hurried backstage for water, I was so dehydrated I couldn't talk and I was completely overwhelmed, all the hard work and sacrifice over the last year had paid off! I phoned home immediately to share the good news! Top 15, I was very happy with, I just hoped that I could squeeze into the top 10 that would have been my first place prize! Later that evening the lists of the top 6 in each category are put up, and these are the only people to make it through to the finals. Needless to say everybody that didn't make it into the top 10 now had no reason to stay on their diets! I took a walk to the supermarket that night and it was completely jam packed full of competitors!

Sunday
Breakfast at the hotel on Sunday was an eye opener to the poor waiters. I have never seen so much food consumed in such a short space of time in my life! Well that was for the competitors that didn't make top 6. I saw a few of the top 6 guys sitting with their fellow countrymen just staring at their diet food! That afternoon was the final event. We arrived early to get good seats. The show started off with a guest pose from Markus Ruhl, one of the biggest human beings I have ever seen in my life. Then the show started and line-up after line-up I couldn't believe the quality of the athletes, top 6 in every category was excellent! Overall I came back very encouraged, it reminded me that internationally there is a lot of emphasis placed on the X- frame type of physique-wide shoulders, narrow waist and big legs, to me that can only be positive for our sport! Later that evening we found out that Chris Fitzpatrick placed 15th and I got a 12th. I just missed top 10! We were the only South Africans to place at the event. The next world champs will be held in India.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank SSN and everybody behind the brand for supporting us in so many ways and making this experience possible!