Roughly a year ago at the time, James “Flex” Lewis officially retired from competitive bodybuilding. A seven-time 212 Mr. Olympia champion (2012-2018), Lewis finished his career widely regarded as one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. These days, with the icon perhaps looking to scratch that competitive itch, he may well return to a stage. That is, for the right incentives.
On Apr. 24, 2023, in a video career discussion shared on Lewis’ YouTube channel, the athlete breaks down his feelings about a potential return to professional bodybuilding. Lewis maintains that for a seven-figure offer (at least $1 million), he would consider competing and donning his posing trunks again.
After Lewis retired, it opened the door to former 212 competitor Derek Lunsford receiving a special invitation to compete in the Men’s Open at the 2022 Mr. Olympia. Lunsford would take home a runner-up finish at the contest. Lunsford’s absence as one of the heir apparents to Lewis’ former 212 title reign could mean there’s another opening for the icon to step back in.
However, considering the commitment at a training and nutritional level, Lewis wouldn’t just return to professional bodybuilding seamlessly. As competitions like the 2023 Masters Olympia re-enter the fray for experienced veterans, Lewis’ return would have to come at the right price — a payday of at least $1 million. (Note: Lewis, at age 39, would not be eligible for the Masters Olympia until the 2024 edition when he’s 40 and meets the contest’s age requirement.)
“Obviously, my name has been thrown in the mix this year [for the 2023 Masters Olympia], and I said, ‘Let me dispel this right now, I’m on my own journey, it’s definitely back to the stage,'” Lewis said “… If there was a monetary draw for me, I’m all in. For me, it has to be a seven-figure monetary draw. It has to be because for me to walk away from what I’m doing right now, that’s what my sacrifice is, unfortunately.”
In the approximate year since his retirement, Lewis has maintained a steady influence in the bodybuilding and strength community over various media platforms — even recently serving as a social media correspondent during the 2023 World’s Strongest Man. His status as a legendary Olympia champion seems to offer him a measure of respect for his opinions and thoughts on the current state of the sport.
Being such a big name on paper, Lewis compared his ideal payday to compete as a bodybuilder again to that of more traditional sports.
“I truly think bodybuilding was as fruitful as many of the other sports in the world like golf and basketball and football,” Lewis said. “The contracts these guys are getting paid, it’s insane … Nobody [in bodybuilding] was ever really able to carry the torch into the realm it could be to potentially be one of the sports that are getting huge contracts for sponsorships … Where you’re able to win a show and it’s a seven-figure win for a show or you get seven-figure sponsorships because bodybuilding is, if not one of the hardest sports in the world … It’s 365/24/7. You’re always thinking about what you’re eating and what you’re training.”
The 2023 Masters Olympia has an overall prize purse of $229,000. Lewis now joins seven-time Mr. Olympia champion (2011-2017) Phil Heath as the latest iconic bodybuilder to maintain they would return if the compensation was incredibly lucrative.
Lewis’s position seems to be gaining more steam in the bodybuilding world. As some of the elite athletes continue to push their bodies to the limit, and the sport appears to be growing in popularity, the stars of the sport might want bigger paydays. At the very least, something like that could potentially lure Lewis back to the stage to shine once again.
Featured image: @flex_lewis on Instagram