You Think You Want to be a Pro?
The Fabled IFBB Pro Card
It’s funny how something so important to so many means absolutely nothing to the world at large. The IFBB Pro title is akin to being “Made” in the Mafia, and in 2012 boy did they open the books!
The International Federation of Bodybuilding professional league was almost impossible to become a member of. Before all the new divisions we have today, there was only bodybuilding. Very few IFBB pro cards were awarded a year, but every new pro had a bright future in the IFBB. When I started competing in 2009, the first year of the bikini division, there was only a few shows a guy could turn pro. Only 3 for weight classes under 176; The USA, and The National Championship, and the IFBB World Championship. To even get to a national stage, you had to place second or first at a national qualifier. A national qualifier is the highest caliber of state level shows.
The IFBB pro card is now not as difficult to obtain, for some. With the new divisions of bikini, men’s physique, women’s physique and the other divisions of figure, fitness, women’s bodybuilding, and men’s bodybuilding there are plenty of new IFBB pros. Bottom line; you have people who have a International Federation of BODYBUILDING pro card who aren’t bodybuilders. This has made the prestige associated with the card a bit diminished. To compound the issue most of the female divisions and men’s physique division are awarded procards at Jr. level shows.
In 2014 its a little more balanced:
35 pro cards for bikini
24 pro cards for bodybuilding, plus cards for masters classes
34 pro cards for figure, plus cards for master classes
30+ pro cards for men’s and women’s physique, plus master classes
Women’s bodybuilding and fitness are being phased out and few participants exist for these divisions. Subsequently there are few cards awarded.
There is a misconception as to what the term professional means. Professional means one is financially reimbursed for doing something. IFBB pros get money for competing if they place well. An amature is someone who is not financially reimbursed. So the olympic athletes are officially amateurs, despite some of them making millions in endorsement deals. In the case of the IFBB the prizes are ridiculously small. All but the heavyweight bodybuilders make a pittance with prize money. For instance the winners of the female divisions, 212 bodybuilding and the Men’s Physique division make about $25,000 at the Olympia. This is the biggest show in the world. All the divisions can do multiple shows a year, but it is quite a bit harder on the body to be as shredded as a pro bodybuilder, so they tend to do only one or 2 if they can.
In some cases popular amature bodybuilders make more in endorsements then many pros. For the most part only the male bodybuilders make much in endorsements. So a popular amature bodybuilder may make more in deals than most female pros, regardless of their division. Most pros do not have endorsements and do not win prize money. There are a handful of athletes in the world that win all the shows and make all the prize money. Being marketable is the most important part of making money at the sport and is the true way to be a professional at bodybuilding. Is not the amature who makes $100,000 a year at bodybuilding more of a professional bodybuilder than the IFBB pro who makes nothing?
Despite making less money at the sport the non bodybuilders have a few advantages. One is they can compete many times a year without harming their kidneys. The other is that they can compete as pros if they win their pro cards. In bodybuilding if you don’t have enough mass to stand a chance you can be told not to compete, there is a pre pre judging if you will. The powers that be will save you the embarrassment of career ending defeat. With the non bodybuilding divisions how you look the day of the show has more to do with diet and presentation, but for bodybuilding you have to have mass.
Thus if you turn pro at under 176 pounds you have little chance of ever competing again as there is a 212 and under pro class and an over 212 pro class. Since there is little money in the 212 class turning pro at anything less than 198 pounds with room to grow is the equivalent of being forced into retirement. Not so with other divisions. Bikini for instance can turn pro and win the Olympia all in one season if they are better than the rest of their competition. In bodybuilding this won’t happen. Decades of work go into winning the Olympia. Jay Cutler for instance has been competing since some of these Bikini Olympians were being toilet trained. Thats why the heavy class bodybuilding prize money is 10 times the other purses.
The Bigger Problem
In the non bodybuilding divisions there is little health risk and little social stigma. These incredible human specimens fit into society when they wear loose clothing and there is no drug requirement. But to win an IFBB pro card as a bodybuilder you have to get muscular enough to where you can’t blend in. You have to get so large clothes can’t hide you. To do this you have to take supplements in an amount which in most humans is toxic. So you sacrifice a great deal to attempt to win a pro card. Few ever make it to a national stage. Even fewer ever place top 5. Even fewer win. Even fewer ever qualify for a pro card. Even then you have to APPLY for a card and you can be rejected despite winning. No other sport is this hard to turn pro. This may be a controversial statistic but my opinion is you have a greater chance of dying from the attempt to turn pro than you do at actually turning pro as a bodybuilder in a lower weight class. Perhaps not while you’re trying, but from complications later in life due to the damage to your kidneys and cardiovascular system attempting to turn pro.
Be a true bodybuilder: build the body you want to have. Learn to be happy with the body you want. If you feel like competing meet with a state judge or reputable coach. Have them help you select the division that’s right for you. Stay aesthetic if your goal is to be a professional. Your income is dependant on marketability not on a IFBB pro card. If you’re a giant freak then you either have to be the best in the world or you just sacrificed your health and looks for no income. And the card is never a guarantee. Look the way you want to look and if its a look people want you will be paid for your pictures. The card is a wallet sized trophy, not an income amplifier. My clients don’t know what an IFBB pro is, they know I’m a champion bodybuilder and that’s enough for them. One couldn’t find North America on a map. Seriously. Your titles really mean nothing to people.
Dave Palumbo never turned pro, neither has John Meadows. They both make enormous amounts of money at the sport. But so many unknowns have turned pro, and make nothing…. get my point?