Written by Peter McGough
17 November 2016


The Pros & Cons of Pro Cards - Tell Us Your Views



Take our poll on allocation of pro cards for men’s bodybuilding and in addition let us know your views on the subject in general.


1) Leave the present system as is: 25 pro cards awarded annually

2) Pro cards only awarded to overall champs at the USA, North American and Team Universe championships.

3) Pro cards only awarded to overall champs at the Nationals, USA and North American championships.

4) At the USA and NPC Championships after the posedown the overall champ and the next best bodybuilder receive a pro card.

5) At the USA and NPC Championships after the posedown the overall champ and the TWO next bodybuilders receive a pro card.


Last October I travelled back over the pond to attend the British Championships; the last one I witnessed was 1990. The event was staged in my hometown of Nottingham and I met a stack of old and new friends. The experience of going home reinforced my understanding of the passion that drives British bodybuilders and indeed adherents all over the globe. That same passion will be on view this coming weekend at the NPC Nationals being staged in Miami, Florida. But a major difference between the British championships and the NPC Nationals is that in the men’s bodybuilding section back in the land of Queen Liz and Benny Hill only one pro card is given out, compared to stateside where the top two in each of the seven classes attains pro status. So the only male bodybuilder from the UK to earn a pro card in 2016 is overall champ Luke Sandoe -- what a phonetically apt surname for a bodybuilder.

Rate that singular achievement of Luke against the reality that via the NPC Nationals, USA, North American and Team Universe contests a total of 25 pro cards for men’s bodybuilding will be handed out this year. In my opinion that’s too many. The three main reasons for that view are as follows.

1) It leads to a host of amateurs being propelled into the pro ranks before they are ready. Once there, their results are often mediocre and they may become disillusioned and leave the sport before they develop their optimum physique.

2) It weakens the ranks of the amateur ranks for the next few years. Of the 14 new pros that will emerge from this year’s Nationals it’s a safe bet to speculate that (as in previous years) the majority will not be ready for the pros and would be better served by staying in the amateurs to work toward improvement.

3) In essence too many amateurs becoming pros too soon dilutes the quality of both the amateur and professional divisions.

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when pro cards were harder to come by many future big names had multiple appearances at the Nationals and USA Championships as they sought their pro card. Here’s a not inclusive list of the number of appearances at that level some big names made: Bob Cicherillo (14), Bob Paris (3), Mike Christian (4), Flex Wheeler (4), Paul DeMayo (4), Chris Cormier (3), John Sherman (5), Mike Francois (3), Don Long (3), Toney Freeman (5) and Tom Prince (5). These regular appearances at the USA and National Championships gave them name recognition and the media and bodybuilding public got to know them and identified them as front-runners in the countdown to the contests.


Having guys of that caliber regularly competing for pro cards and improving year by year increased the quality of the amateur ranks. Given that hothouse of competition those guys didn’t turn pro until they were good enough to be pros. The same should apply today, but with so many pro cards being given out the strength in depth of the amateur ranks is weakened as many top amateurs head into the pros before their time. Better for them and the quality of the amateur division that they battle on and make improvements until they are ready for the big step upward. Sadly a pro card doesn’t always equate to pro caliber. It sometimes seems today that the only thing harder than winning a pro card is not winning one.



A comparison between the two periods (1985-1999 and 2000-2015) and how NPC champs fared as pros makes for interesting analysis. In that first period when only seven pro cards were awarded annually the following 15 emerged from the NPC to achieve a top six spot at the Olympia: Lee Labrada, Mike Quinn, Gary Strydom, Shawn Ray, Vince Taylor, Porter Cottrell, Flex Wheeler, Kevin Levrone, Ronnie Coleman, Chris Cormier, Jay Cutler, Dennis James, Orville Burke, Dexter Jackson and Melvin Anthony.

For the period (2000-2015) with 25 pro cards now on offer the following NPC six alumni gained a top six Olympia spot: Phil Heath, Kai Greene, Shawn Rhoden, Toney Freeman, Branch Warren and Victor Martinez. So during 1985-1999 when only seven pro cards were up for grabs, 15 guys attained top six Olympia placings and three (Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler and Dexter Jackson) were crowned Mr. Olympia. While from 2000-2015 with over three times as many pro card opportunities only six guys (which equates to 40% of the number of 1985-1999 graduates) have managed a top six berth at the Olympia with Phil Heath being the sole Mr. Olympia winner of that group. That could be interpreted as the more pro cards that are available the overall quality in depth decreases, prompting the thought does more pros equate to better pros?

Should the number of pro cards handed out annually be reduced in an effort to boost quality in both the amateur ranks or should things just remain as they are. Take our poll and post your comments about your choice. I’ll step off the soapbox now.