By Fred DiMenna
The 1995 season opened with a return to Atlantic City as 17 men did battle in the second coming of the Pro Natural U.S. Cup. This contest was noteworthy because it involved the first installment of a battle that would define the era, and have judges wearing out their erasers in the process. Kai Greene and Eddie Hernandez had made their debuts five months earlier at the Worlds with ninth- and sixth-place finishes, respectively; however, this time, they were first and second. Greene did not compete in the other two shows of 1995 which opened the door for Hernandez to beat 16 and 19 bodybuilders winning the Universe and then World Championships. The latter victory, which took place at the prestigious Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, made Greene the sixth male World Champion in the organization’s first six years. At the women’s Universe, Sky Wild Dixon improved upon her runner-up outing of the previous season by defeating 11 women including ‘94 Universe and Worlds winner Kathy Unger. At the ’95 Worlds, Unger came back to best 19 women including Dixon (fourth place) and Linda Dunham.
The Greene-Hernandez first-second duel was reestablished for two of the three shows of 1996 as Kai garnered his second U.S. Cup title and became yet another male World Champion with Hernandez in the runner-up slot both times. Greene also completed the sweep by winning the middle contest of ’96, the Pro Natural Universe with Hernandez was relegated to fourth place behind Joe Patterson and Dave Goodin. For the lighter-weight Goodin, this was his second straight third-place finish at the Universe, which served as a testament to his ability to hang with the big boys. For the ladies, Dunham won the ’96 U.S. Cup and Universe, but had to settle for third at the Worlds as Australia’s Femmy Ayegun pulled the biggest upset to date by defeating 15 women in her pro debut. The ’96 Worlds was also noteworthy because of the $31,450 in prize money that was offered, which exceeded the previous high by more than $10,000! In addition, eight countries joined the U.S., and were represented by the 35 bodybuilders competing.
The Universe led off 1997, and for the first time in five years, the show was held outside the New York Metropolitan area. As the WNBF invaded Texas, this contest was also notable because it began the implementation of weight classes for all shows other than the Worlds. In the female division, a lightweight, Kayoko Nakano-Nunez bested heavyweight Tina Weber, while heavyweight Joe Patterson claimed the men’s title over lightweight Goodin and middleweight William Owens. The second show of ’97 saw a new title up for grabs as the Pro Natural International was contested. Once again, entrants were divided into classes and this time, 13 women and 15 men did battle with lightweights Debbie Smith and Nigel Davis taking home overall championships over heavyweights Linda Dunham and Julius Ayinla both by tie-breaker. The final show of ’97 saw the crowning of yet another male World Champion as Eugene DeVito beat 25 other bodybuilders including former Worlds winners Hernandez, and Mike McCloud. For the ladies, the anticipated battle between two-time Worlds winner Unger and ’96 champ Ayegun was upstaged by Nancy Andrews, who claimed the $4000 top prize by defeating those two and 13 other women. With fourth- and eighth-place finishes on her resume from her first two contests, Andrews’ victory was a bit of an upset, but from that point forward, Nancy reigning supreme would be the norm rather than the exception.
In 1998, the Universe found its way to the mountains of the Poconos making Pennsylvania the 10th state that had played host to the Federation. Sixteen men were on hand to celebrate the occasion with ageless wonder Carmi Smith dominating the heavyweight class before earning a unanimous decision in the overall. The women’s posedown was more competitive as debuting Stasi Longo bested Dori Frame by split decision. Frame would also take a backseat to the heavyweight after winning the lightweight class 14 weeks later at the International; this time, it was the debuting Laurie Dady who claimed top honors. Conversely, the lightweight would shine in the men’s division as Jean Theodore took the overall title by defeating heavyweight Desmond Miller and middleweight Dave Hamlette. Clearly, 1998 will always be remembered for the World Championships, which saw an all-time record turnout of 60 competitors (40 men and 20 women) that had to be whittled down to a men’s and women’s top 15 before prejudging even began! Indeed, this created so much difficulty for judges that the no-weight-classes-at-the-Worlds edict was retired for posterity the coming year. Moreover, the ’98 Worlds marked the Federation’s third and most successful show in Atlantic City with 1,226 spectators packing The Showroom at the Tropicana Casino and Resort. The biggest eye opener at the ’98 Worlds was that after a day of grueling competition that saw champions like DeVito, Hernandez, Smith and Jose Guzman lock horns, Dave Goodin walked away with the $6,000 first prize becoming WNBF World Champion number nine. Goodin’s win was not without controversy, however, as runner-up Hamlette was a clear-cut favorite with a vocal segment of the audience. A new female World Champion was also crowned in ‘98 as the debuting Tracy Bacon defeated a number of pre-show favorites including Andrews (sixth), Frame (fourth), Dady (third) and ’97 third-place finisher Cassandra Floyd, who was the runner-up.
The Universe was staged in Arizona in 1999 and this show is remembered for the quality of female competitors. Indeed, the five-person heavyweight class included no less than three World Champions with Andrews beating Bacon and Dixon, who took second and fourth, respectively. Nancy went on to win the overall title by unanimous decision and the heavyweight winner also ruled the roost in the men’s division as Jeff Primm took home overall honors. Next came the International where a 39-person field tied the record turnout for a non-Worlds show. This contest served as a reminder of the competitiveness of the previous-year’s Worlds as heavyweight Reggie Smith defeated 20 other male bodybuilders to take the overall title. For the ladies, an unprecedented event took place as overall winner Kayoko Nakano-Nunez failed the IOC-standard urinalysis test that all competitors were required to consent to on the day of the event. Nakano-Nunez was not the first competitor to be disqualified after the fact due to a urinalysis failure, but she was the first to suffer this fate after claiming an overall victory. Consequently, no overall champion could be determined for this show and lightweight Floyd and heavyweight Kim Guzman were named co-winners. The golden age of the WNBF then came to a close when 36 men and women were each divided into two classes for the first time at the Worlds. The 10th male champion was crowned when Carmi Smith won it all. Carmi’s posedown victory came at the expense of lightweight Antony Hall, who defeated Goodin and Hamlette. For the ladies, it was another repeat performance as Nancy Andrews defeated eight other heavyweights and lightweight winner Floyd to join Kathy Unger as two-time World Champs.
With the close of the millennium, the WNBF’s record book reveals that 890 entrants had competed in the 30 contests. These ranks included 348 different drug-free bodybuilders with 81 men and 58 women sharing in the $434,550 that was distributed. As far as individual accolades, the king and queen of money earners were Eddie Hernandez and Kathy Harrison, who took home $19,650 and $13,000, respectively. Also topping $10,000 for the ladies was Nancy Andrews ($11,600) and Kathy Unger ($11,500) while eight men in addition to Hernandez earned that distinction including Mike McCloud ($15,450), Carmi Smith ($13,450), Dave Goodin ($11,750), Kai Greene ($11,500) and Doyle Washington ($11,250).