In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ronnie Coleman and Ken “Flex” Wheeler had a great bodybuilding rivalry. Of his eight overall Mr. Olympia victories from 1998 to 2005, Coleman would best Wheeler for four of them (1998-2000, 2002). The closest Wheeler came to toppling Coleman were consecutive runner-up finishes in both the 1998 and 1999 editions. The 1998 contest, in particular, holds a special place in bodybuilding history as Coleman’s first Olympia win. It’s that very same contest in which Coleman believes Wheeler gave him an initial advantage.
On Apr. 12, 2023, Coleman discussed parts of his bodybuilding career in a segment of a conversation with current bodybuilding star Derek Lunsford. Coleman and Lunsford recently trained together in a meeting of past and present superstars. In his discussion with Lunsford, the legend revealed it was Wheeler who introduced him to iconic trainer Chad Nicholls and changed his nutritional outlook.
According to Coleman, when Wheeler introduced Coleman to Nicholls sometime before the 1998 Mr. Olympia, he altered the course of bodybuilding history.
His eventual rival helped turn Coleman into the all-time legend he’s now known as.
“A lot of people don’t know it but Flex Wheeler is pretty much the reason why I won the [1998 Mr.] Olympia because he turned me on to Chad Nicholls,” Coleman told Lunsford.
At first, Coleman had trouble reaching Nicholls. However, that was only a minor and expected impasse in the pair’s training relationship. Eventually, they’d get together, and Coleman’s dynastic run would start soon after.
“He [Wheeler] gave me his number and I called Chad [Nicholls] but Chad didn’t pick up the phone,” Coleman explained. “I said, ‘Flex [Wheeler] why’d you have me call this guy Chad, he didn’t pick up the phone.’ He [Wheeler] says, ‘Nah, he’s just like that, man. Call him again, and he’ll call you back.’ He [Nicholls] called me back and the rest is pretty much history. I won my first Olympia that year  by hooking up with him.”
How did Nicholls change Coleman’s Olympia preparation approach? Per Coleman, among other tidbits, the trainer revamped his nutrition, eventually having the athlete eat almost a full pound of food in every meal.
“He [Nicholls] changed everything I was doing, everything,” Coleman said. “I went from doing, like, an hour of cardio a day to two hours. I went from eating half a pound of food with every meal to a whole pound. I went from training maybe 45 minutes to an hour a day to about maybe an hour, an hour and a half, sometimes an hour and 15 minutes of training because I was trying to do some of everything.”
In recent years, long after after his work with Coleman, Nicholls is perhaps most notable for his partnership with former two-time Mr. Olympia (2020-2021) Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay. The trainer’s son, Morgan, is also an ascending powerlifter.
Even while he never beat Coleman for a Mr. Olympia title, Wheeler can still boast four Arnold Classic (AC) victories (1993, 1997-1998, 2000) as well as a runner-up placing in the 1993 Mr. Olympia, behind six-time winner Dorian Yates. With his competitive record, Wheeler is often considered one of the greatest bodybuilders to never win the sport’s most prestigious title. With both legends’ careers now in the rearview mirror, the former rivals each have something to hang their hat on. It’s ironic, then, that without Wheeler’s training intervention, Coleman perhaps never ascends to bodybuilding prominence.
Featured image: Ronnie Coleman on YouTube