Mohamed Makkawy: Giant Killer

Some short bodybuilders have defeated men who dwarfed them. It was one thing for 5’2″ Shaun Clarida to win the 2020 212 Olympia against guys three or four inches taller and 40 lbs. heavier. But a year later he won an open pro bodybuilding title against guys 10 inches taller and 100 lbs. heavier. The self-proclaimed Giant Killer slew a whole lineup of goliaths. It happens, sometimes. We’re delving into the history of giant killers, those bodybuilders who successfully defeated much taller and heavier competitors despite measuring 5’4” (163 cm.) or less. Because we’ve limited our focus to short bodybuilders defeating big bodybuilders throughout history, some recent greats missed our list as they’ve racked up wins against their fellow lighter, shorter bodybuilders in the 212 pro division, notably Kevin English, Jose Raymond, Charles Dixon, and Ahmad Ashkanani.

In chronological order, here’s our top 11 Giant Killers of all time.

ED THERIAULT (1920-2003) 5’1″

Because bodybuilding contests were still rare in the ’40s, Canadian Ed Theriault earned his nickname “The Little Giant” before he ever stepped on a stage. He was the first employee hired by Joe Weider and adorned Weider magazine covers 14 times between 1941 and 1962. Noted for both his hand-balancing and thick physique (especially his legs), Ed Theriault won the overall 1949 IFBB Mr. Canada as well as the short classes in the 1950 IFBB Mr. America and 1959 IFBB Mr. Universe.

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Ed Theriault strikes a pose on “Muscle Power,” Dec. 1952.

JOHN CITRONE (1943- ) 5’4″

For over 40 years, Englishman John Citrone won a lot of short classes (including four NABBA Mr. Universes, 1966-69, losing the overall to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the final three) and, while consistently peeled, a whole lot more masters overall trophies (and as recently as 2005). But his greatest giant-slaying accomplishment was taking the 1966 overall NABBA Mr. Britain (future legend Al Beckles was fifth). Check out his Instagram page: John Citrone still trains five days a week at 80, and he’s still jacked!

short bodybuilders John Citrone
John Citrone at the 1967 Mr. Universe with 20-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger.

WILFRED SYLVESTER (1944-2006) 5’3″

Right behind Citrone was another Englishman. Raised in the Caribbean before moving to London at 18, Wilf Sylvester won the overall 1967 NABBA Mr. Britain (Beckles: third), and finished second to Citrone in the short class of the Mr. Universe that year before winning it (over Franco Columbu) the following year. Noted for his thick yet aesthetic physique, Sylvester won the “Most Muscular” award in the 1967 Mr. Universe. In 1984, he took the IFBB World Championships lightweight title, which qualified him for the Mr. Olympia. At 43 in the 1985 Mr. O, Wilf Sylvester finished 13th out of 24, beating a lot of giants as well as the next guy on our list.

short bodybuilders
Wilfred Sylvester winning the short class of the 1968 Mr. Universe.

DANNY PADILLA (1951- ) 5’2″

With a tight waist and superbly symmetrical development, New Yorker Danny Padilla had one of the most aesthetic short physiques of all time. He earned his nickname “The Giant Killer” as an amateur when he came out of the short classes to win the both the overall 1975 Mr. USA and the overall 1977 Mr. America. Also in 1977, he defeated the next guy on our list to win the short class of the IFBB Mr. Universe. Competing in the IFBB Pro League from 1978-90 (and, later, two Masters Olympias), the original Giant Killer never won a pro show, but Padilla was second three times (once in his rookie year, once in his final year) and in the top five in 15 of his 24 open pro shows, including a fifth in the controversial 1981 Mr. Olympia, when, at a peeled 160 lbs., he arguably deserved the title. In his rookie year of 1979, he beat Mike Mentzer, who won the heavyweight class of that year’s Mr. Olympia. Even in 1990 at 39, Danny Padilla was third in the prestigious Night of Champions pro show, ahead of 26 competitors, still slaying giants.

Danny Padilla short bodybuilders
“The Giant Killer,” Danny Padilla, circa 1980.

MOHAMED MAKKAWY (1953- ) 5’3″

“The Magic Egyptian” was an illusionist. A master poser with one of history’s most aesthetic physiques, Mohamed Makkawy cast a spell on stage that made you forget he was only about a buck-sixty even as he conquered men who towered over him and weighed 50% more. Born in Tanta, Egypt, he entered and won his first bodybuilding contest, the 1969 Mr. Egypt, the year he turned 16. Then, living in Canada, Makkawy climbed through the amateur ranks, winning the short class and overall Mr. International in 1975 and 1977 and the lightweight Mr. Universe in 1976 (Padilla was second). He struggled at first in the pros, but then won two shows in 1982 and four in 1983. He was also second in the 1983 Mr. Olympia, the fifth time that year he beat rookie Lee Haney. Mohamed Makkawy was second again in the 1984 Mr. Olympia, behind only Haney, and fourth in 1985. Only 31, Makkawy then retired at very near the top, though he did make a comeback in the late ’90s.

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Mohamed Makkawy casting a spell in the ’80s.

MOHAMMED BENAZIZA (1959-92) 5’3″

Algerian-born Mohammed Benaziza turned pro by winning the lightweight World Championships (under 154 lbs.) in 1987. Just a couple years later he was over 30 lbs. heavier but just as high-def, and hanging with the biggest pros. He was an eye-opening fifth in the 1989 Mr. Olympia, and in the top five (and as high as second) in the seven shows after that O. Then, the next year he won six pro shows. In 1992, Benaziza won two more shows, was second in the Arnold Classic, and again fifth in the Olympia. Noted for his density and crisp conditioning, Momo is one of only two men (the other: Lee Haney) who beat Dorian Yates in the pro league. What’s more, he also beat Ronnie Coleman (like Yates, Coleman was a rookie). Tragically, Mohammed Benaziza was severely dehydrated because of diuretics and died just after winning his final show in 1992.

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Momo in the early ’90s.

STEVE BRISBOIS (1961- ) 5’3″

As a lightweight, Canada’s Steve Brisbois won the overall 1986 Canadian Championships. He struggled his first couple years in the pros. But with his symmetrical shape and pleasing proportions, Brisbois started making pro posedowns consistently in 1989. Over four years, he placed in the top six of 12 pro shows, including the 1990 (5th), 1991 (6th), and 1992 (5th) Arnold Classics. He was also 11th in the 1992 Mr. Olympia, ahead of Lou Ferrigno, Ronnie Coleman, and nine others. When his friend Benaziza died at a contest just after that Olympia, in which Steve Brisbois was fifth, the 31-year-old Canadian retired from competitive bodybuilding.

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5’3″ Steve Brisbois slaying 6’6″ giant Ralf Moeller, the tallest pro bodybuilder ever, at the 1990 Arnold Classic.

THIERRY PASTEL (1959- ) 5’2″

France’s Thierry Pastel won overall WABBA titles before switching to the IFBB, where he won a pro show in 1990, his second year, defeating Benaziza (2nd), Padilla (7th), and a lot of giants. With his tiny waist (with superb abs), broad X-frame, and stunning arms, when standing alone Pastel looked much taller than 5’2″. Thierry Pastel never won another pro show, but competing frequently (12 times in 1991), he was almost always on-point and in the top six—30 times over his seven-year pro career! His best Olympia finish was eighth in 1991. The list of legends Pastel defeated includes Ronnie Coleman, Lou Ferrigno, Kevin Levrone, and Nasser El Sonbaty.

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The classical aesthetics of Thierry Pastel.

FLAVIO BACCIANINI (1959- ) 4’10”

Italy’s Flavio Baccianini, who turned pro as a bantamweight (143 lbs. or less), became the shortest-ever Mr. Olympia competitor when he made the stacked lineup in 1993 and finished 13th out of 22 men. At around 145 proportional pounds, he was also third in a pro show that year. Still, Baccianini may not have made this list as a giant slayer if not for his performance as a masters (age 40-and-over) competitor. In both 1999 and 2000, the perpetually smiling pro was second in the Masters Olympia behind only Vince Taylor, defeating 16 men in the first Masters O and 14 in the second. Like the three men ahead of him on this list, Flavio Baccianini also conquered rookie Ronnie Coleman in 1992.

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6’5″ Lou Ferrigno & 4’10” Baccianini backstage at 1993 Mr. Olympia.

LEE PRIEST (1972- ) 5’4″

The son of a bodybuilding mother, Lee Priest was a phenom, winning his first contest in his native Australia at only 13. After dominating Australian bodybuilding while still a teenager, Priest made his pro debut at 20. At 21 in 1994, he finished fourth in the Ironman Pro and seventh in the Arnold Classic, showcasing two of bodybuilding’s best arms. In the highly competitive ’90s, Lee Priest made pro posedowns regularly. At around 200 lbs., he was sixth in the Mr. Olympia three times (1997, 2000, 2002) and seventh (1998) and eighth (1999) in two others, beating such legends as Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Dexter Jackson, Flex Wheeler, and Chris Cormier. The outspoken Lee Priest left the Pro League in 2004, the year he won his third IFBB Pro title, only to win three more titles in other organizations. Over his career, even against much bigger men, “The Blond Myth” frequently sported the highest caliber guns on stage.

Check out our interview with Lee Priest.

Lee Priest Ironman
Lee Priest winning the 2006 Ironman Pro.

SHAUN CLARIDA (1982- ) 5’2″

Born in New Jersey, Shaun Clarida was a bullied 98-pound weakling before discovering bodybuilding when in high school. Clarida first competed in 2005, and by the next year he won an overall natural world championships—as a bantamweight! Switching to the NPC, he won the bantam class of the Nationals in 2012 and turned pro two years later. Over the next five years, he won three pro 212 titles, but never finished higher than seventh in the 212 Olympia. Still, Clarida kept growing and refining. After an eye-opening third in the 2019 212 Olympia, he won the title in 2020. Then, two weeks after finishing second in the 2021 212 O, he entered the Legion Sports Fest. At 175 lbs., Shaun Clarida successfully battled giants, some fresh from the Mr. Olympia stage, to become the rare pro to win his open debut. The newest Giant Killer also tied Thierry Pastel as the all-time shortest winner of an open professional bodybuilding title, proving once again that height and weight are just numbers; it’s the totality of the physique that matters.

Shaun Clarida giant killer
Shaun Clarida in October 2021. / Instagram

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