Lewis thinks Lunsford is on track toward history.
Derek Lunsford could be the next heir apparent to true bodybuilding greatness. Already a former 212 Olympia champion (2021), Lunsford shined in his Men’s Open debut at the 2022 Olympia, finishing as the runner-up to the titanic Hadi Choopan. With more seasoning under his belt, some members of the bodybuilding community think he’s on the precipice of a genuinely unique achievement.
On July 17, 2023, James “Flex” Lewis posted a video to his YouTube channel where he had a conversation with Lunsford about his current place in bodybuilding. With Lunsford now a full-time Men’s Open class member, Lewis endorsed his peer’s chances at becoming the first bodybuilder ever to win in two separate Olympia divisions (212, Men’s Open).
A seven-time 212 Olympia champion (2012-2018), Lewis enjoyed a friendly rivalry with Lunsford toward the tail end of his reign, most notably overcoming the young runner-up during the 2018 edition of the contest. That might make Lewis more equipped than most to understand what Lunsford is capable of at bodybuilding’s highest levels.
Lewis maintained he’d kept a close eye on Lunsford since his sole 212 title in 2021 and that he unquestionably sees him as the athlete to beat in November in Orlando, FL.
“Going into this year’s Olympia , I said to so many people, ‘Derek Lunsford is the one,’” Lewis explained. “That  Pittsburgh Pro, that blew my mind and everyone else’s. I thought to myself, ‘Thank god that guy’s not in the 212 [division] anymore.’ I also said to myself, ‘Thank god I am not competing in the Open class against this guy.’ I also said, ‘whoever is going to be standing next to that guy is in for a handful.’”
Beyond talking about Lunsford’s physique, Lewis all but painted him as the inevitable first-ever “champ-champ” — the first bodybuilder in history who could win a title in two major Olympia divisions.
With a victory at the 2023 Olympia, Lunsford very well might live up to this billing.
“What you’ve done since the 212 is honestly so inspiring,” Lewis told Lunsford. “You say that you were never able to dethrone me, but you know what I can say about you, is, I might have beaten you in the 212 class but now you’re going to be, in my eyes, the first ever champ-champ.”
Lewis expressed that one of the goals of his competitive career was to win an Olympia title in two divisions. The icon never competed in a division outside of the 212 at the tentpole bodybuilding contests. Now that those days are behind him, he will live vicariously through Lunsford’s exploits.
“It was my motivation to be the first-ever two-division champ-champ,” Lewis said. “You now, whether you thought about it or not, it was consuming for me … I’ll never be able to achieve that now that I’m retired. I want to see you go to the moon and back.”
Lewis isn’t the first bodybuilding legend to put his faith in Lunsford at the 2023 Olympia. Eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman (1998-2005) and long-time trainer Miloš Šarčev have both previously expressed their belief in the young superstar’s chances at historic success.
Now Lunsford will just have to live up to the hype.
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