“I Was Poor, I’ve Been Homeless”: Flex Wheeler Narrates Why He Chose Bodybuilding Over Martial Arts

Published 02/24/2023, 6:45 AM EST

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Flex Wheeler is among the finest bodybuilders to ever step on the stage. A star of the 90s bodybuilding era, Wheeler gave two legendary Mr. Olympia winners, Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman, a run for their money. Even to this day, many fans believe Flex Wheeler is among the finest bodybuilders who never won the Mr. Olympia title. However, the four-time Arnold Classic winner was also a martial arts practitioner. In a recent interview with fellow bodybuilding legend Shawn Ray, Wheeler revealed the dilemma of choosing between his two passions and why he chose bodybuilding.

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On February 20, 2023, Arnold Classic winner Shawn Ray sat with Flex Wheeler. During their conversation, Ray remembered meeting the four-time Arnold classic winner shortly after he had begun competing. The 57-year-old then revealed why and how he began competing.

Why Flex Wheeler chose bodybuilding

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During their conversation, the five-time IFBB Ironman Pro winner reminisced how he felt after appearing for his first guest posing. Wheeler said the former IFBB General Secretary, Winston Roberts, invited him to Canada. “That was my first guest appearance. I’m like wow! you can make money at this?” Wheeler told Shawn Ray.

For the four-time Arnold Classic champion, the only alternative was martial arts. In fact, Flex Wheeler began practicing martial arts before he began bodybuilding. However, “there was no Avenue to make money back then in martial arts… no mixed martial arts… no movies or anything so for us,” said the former champion bodybuilder. He also said the opportunities available for martial artists in the movies were “disrespectful.”

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“It was embarrassing we’d get a role in a movie, and a star would throw an overhead haymaker and knock us out,” said Wheeler. Hence, the ‘Sultan of Symmetry’ chose bodybuilding. Wheeler also revealed his decision “was based on money because I was poor, I’ve been homeless and all this stuff.”

So why did Flex Wheeler retire early?

During the interview, the former Ironman Pro champion spoke about why he stepped down from bodybuilding during his prime. In the late 90s, the ‘Sultan of Symmetry’ was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. The disease damages the kidneys and causes long-term circulation issues.

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Despite competing in bodybuilding, Wheeler continued to practice martial arts. During the interview, Wheeler told Ray he had planned to fight Bob Sapp. However, the doctor instructed the champion bodybuilder not to fight. According to his doctor, Wheeler would have died if Sapp stuck him in the kidney area.

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Watch this story | Bodybuilding Legend Arnold Schwarzenegger Shares Valuable Advice with Beginners

Currently, the bodybuilding icon coaches other bodybuilders and athletes. Despite never winning a Mr. Olympia title and retiring early, bodybuilding fans still love and respect Flex Wheeler.

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Written by:

Sagnik Bagchi

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Sagnik Bagchi is a US Sports writer for EssentiallySports. He has completed his Bachelor's and Master's in English Literature from the University of Calcutta. He has experience working as a freelance MMA writer for Sportskeeda.
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Edited by:

Simar Singh Wadhwa

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