Ifesinachi Ibenne, 2015 Champion of Mr. Flex Nigeria Bodybuilding Contest, fields questions from Complete Sports' Sports Planet's anchorman, TUNDE KOIKI. The Fitness Model tells reiterates in this intervie, why he believes that Bodybuilding is a beautiful sports that Nigerians should pay serious attention to. Excerpts….
Sports Planet: For the record, could you please tell us your name and who you are?
Ifesinachi Ibenne: I am Ifesinachi Friday Ibenne, a professional bodybuilder and a fitness model as well. I reside in Port Harcourt but basically, I’m from Iswuikwato Local Government of Abia State in Nigeria. I am the current champion of Mr. Flex Nigeria Bodybuilding Competition for 2015/16.
Tell me, Ifesinachi, how did you get into bodybuilding?
I fell in love with bodybuilding when I was very tender, say at the age of five or six years when I first watched this movie, Canon, The Barbarian. I also watched Predator, Terminator and fell in love with Arnold Schwarzeneger’s physique because he is my mentor. So, I started watching his movies and from there, I fell in love with his physique and athletic looks. Growing up at the age of eight or nine years, I started watching wrestling and I always told myself back then that I would like to be like those wrestlers I saw. They were strong and muscular. I liked their physique. I said when I was small that I was going to be like these guys when I grow up. I didn’t kill that dream, I was with it despite the fact that my parents were holding me down just like it’s normal in Nigeria with everybody telling me to go to school and study, saying you are going to be a bank manager or doctor. I said I would go to school but this is what I love doing, it’s my passion. I’ve been in football, I got to some extent, but the love and the flair was not there. I’ve been a kick boxer all my life, but bodybuilding is something that gives me joy. I started bodybuilding completely March, 2011 and I started working on myself before I met my former manager, the president of Amateur Bodybuilding Federation of Nigeria, Sonye Elekima. He happened to be the owner of the gyms and he told me I had a very good physique, a meso-ectomorph physique, that’s the physique that doesn’t struggle to burn fat. He said to me: "you have lysomax, so why not join the bodybuilding competition?"
Since I love to have this body, I talked to a friend who is like a role model to me, he said okay, since you love doing this, why not make it a passion and lifestyle and even make something out of it? I thought about it and worked on myself for seven months and everybody was like, 'you look this crazy after only seven months of working out, why not go for a competition? I went for my first competition, Men’s Ultimate Classic in 2011, I think I competed in the lightweight category and came third, thereby, winning the bronze medal.
I was like, whao! So I can do this, I tried again in 2012 in the same competition and then, I was getting bigger and participated in the middleweight category and placed third again. 2013 subsequently, I went for another competition, Real Man Nigeria and came third yet again in the middleweight category. In 2014, I decided to get bigger and freakier so I went for Men’s Ultimate Classic in the heavyweight category and placed second, winning the silver medal. 2014 again, I participated at the first Mr. Flex Nigeria bodybuilding contest and placed third but I was like I can’t keep coming second and third every time.
Whatever it was going to cost me, I went back and worked on myself, I came back in 2015, and it was a real battle but with the help of God, not my own efforts alone, it was a real battle, the toughest battle of my life. The judges really screened us but after everything, God gave me victory. I’m happy to be the Mr. Flex Nigeria 2015 champion and will be so happy to represent Nigeria in other countries and other events.
You said you did everything possible in order to make sure that you came first in the Mr. Flex Nigeria Bodybuilding contest after you had earlier come third. Does 'everything possible' include steroids and drugs?
Not at all, it included more hard work and discipline. Bodybuilding is a very beautiful sport and art. People mistake bodybuilders to be thugs, club bouncers and whatever negative name you can give to it, but it’s something different from that. What I mean by being more disciplined is that difference between an athletic bodybuilder and the bodybuilder you see on the street like the bouncers and weightlifters. It's is the ability to condition. And what is the conditioning? Conditioning on their training and diet because what goes inside you is what appears outside, so I mind what I eat like during the off season, I made sure I got the necessary mass I needed, the pre-season, I started losing water, dropping fats and whatever was not needed and during the contest season like three weeks to the competition, I got so disciplined with my diet, I didn’t take oil at all so I wouldn’t look bloated. I didn’t eat salt and magi at all so I wouldn’t get excessive iodine for water retention. I was looking so shredded, and lean yet thick and dense.
It takes five things to win a bodybuilding competition: size, symmetry, proportion, vascularity and density. So, if you can do all these things better and be in good proportion, you stand a better chance to win in your category and overall.
There are people who still argue till today that bodybuilding is not a sport, but just something that people like to do. How would you respond to that?
To me, bodybuilding is the most beautiful sport I’ve ever seen, yet it’s the most strenuous because you can’t compare it to other sports. It’s expensive, quite sure, in the sense that you have to be disciplined on how you live your social life. You don’t spend carelessly, you don’t spend your money on eating junks because you still need to buy things like multivitamins and supplements. You spend wisely so that you can pay your bills as well as to keep the body in good shape. Bodybuilding makes you to be fitness inclined. It takes you off vices such as consumption of alcohol, smoking and womanizing which makes one waste the testosterone that helps to build more muscle and energy. You have to rest well and some other things which make you conscious of being fit and healthy every moment. So I take it to be the best sport I’ve ever seen so far.
How do you react to those people who say that bodybuilders are all thugs, club bouncers, political thugs and never do wells? How do you react to this?
Like me, when I walk past because of my looks, people say I’m a bouncer, but if they say it to my face, I’ll say sorry, I’m a bouncer, I'm a sports person, a professional bodybuilder and a fitness model. I’m not a club bouncer or who you think. If you are the person I can talk to, I will educate you so you can get to know a little about bodybuilding.
Ifesinachi, the truth is bodybuilders have gone on to break bounds and do some tremendous things. I mean you see bodybuilders who are models in adverts, on the runways, some have gone to become actors in movies where they need strong men for the muscle parts and everything. Are you looking at expanding your career towards, probably, modeling and even movies?
Sure, I’m looking towards that. At the later run of my career, I want to go into acting as well. Like now, I’m into fitness modeling jobs.
Now that you are the champion of Mr. Flex Nigeria, what’s next for you? You mentioned a few competitions coming up, can you explain more about those competitions?
Okay, Rosie Classic in South Africa, one of the competitions in South Africa is such that is open.
Let me just stop you there. what I meant to ask is what is your plan for this year? Nigerian bodybuilding champion, Ifesinachi Ibenne, what are you going to be doing in 2016?
This year, I’m going to work on myself to retain this crown, that is the first thing and also to represent Nigeria well by winning laurels for the country internationally.
When you say internationally, what competitions are you going for?
The Rosie Classic in South Africa, NABA international in Holland, Muscle Beach International Classic in United States of America – precisely in Los Angeles, California.
These are major competitions and they will also feature some of the biggest and most well structured humans you can find anywhere on the planet. Are you confident that Ifesinachi Ibenne can stand out among them and even possibly come home with the crown?
I am very much confident because bodybuilding comprises of so many things. For you to win a bodybuilding competition, you need to be very massive and bigger than every other person. There are things they are looking at; the symmetry, how proportional you are. When they say proportion, it’s your quadracep, your legs, your calf and glittle. Are they balanced with the upper body comprising of the back, the shoulder, the peck? Are they balanced with that or is the leg bigger than the upper body and your mid-section? Check if you were able to discipline yourself in terms of conditioning like if you are holding water there, that’s why when you see somebody very big being beaten by a much smaller person. That small guy disciplined himself and was in the best condition. so the small guy had less water and fat compared to the other guy.
It’s not about just being big or looking freakier, somebody smaller can win.That’s why in the highest platform of bodybuilding, Mr. Olympia competition, that’s where you can see people like Phil Heath win somebody like Big Rammy that is so big. Same Heath winning somebody like Dennis Wolf who is much bigger than him because he’s more proportional, he’s thick, he’s densed, he has more symmetry than Den. Then, when you see people like Desel Jackson, he’s been in the game, in the Olympia team for like sixteen years, he’s been a professional bodybuilder for more than twenty years, he is smaller than all these guys but he wins them. Why? He knows how to nail his conditioning and what is the conditioning? Being able to control your diet, water intake and don’t allow the water to appear in your physique.
You said you started professional bodybuilding in 2011 and in just four years time, you are already a national champion. The question I’m asking is how has your family taken your decision to become a professional bodybuilder? What has been their reaction?
You know justice always takes a process and there is no easy road to success. I believe in this, it takes extra work. I had to work hard to convince my family. At the initial stage, the support was not there, they were like this thing you are doing, you are just going to the gym, every day after work, you stress yourself, look at the way you are changing your physique, turning yourself into an animal. They called me different names. Some said I looked like an ape while others said I looked like chimpanzee. When I went for any competition and then came back with a good position, they expected me to come back with huge amounts of money. I told them I do this thing for the love I have for it, it’s not about money, I don’t do it for money. It’s something I love doing.
They criticize me, but when I go for competitions, I do everything possible to make sure I come back with a medal, even if it’s silver or bronze. At least, I don’t come back empty-handed. Nobody supported me all the while till last year when I became the national champion, after which they were proud of me and my mother who was not really in support of the whole thing started calling me names like my giant, the only son that is equal to five sons and all the rest (Ifesinachi bursts into laughter). Yes, that is it.
It’s a fantastic story, but Ifesinachi, I listen to you speak, you are very intelligent, you speak well, you seem to know your sport and craft very well. Can you tell us about your educational background?
Ifesinachi has been intelligent all the way with the grace of God. I’m a secondary school dropout, I dropped out when I was in S.S 2 (Senior Secondary School), I didn’t even write my WAEC exams (West African Examinations Council), but I read a lot. When I look at great men in the world, many of them are not really educated. People like Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, he is a dropout and a think tank. I know there is always time for me to go back and further my education. This doesn’t stop me from reading and acquiring knowledge, I read a lot.
I’ve done researches. I try to be better than whom I used to be on a daily basis, and I tell myself the difference between a BSC holder and me is just the certificate. When I talk, you will never know that I don’t have a degree. I decided to work on myself. I read, I do researches. I’m always on the internet trying to see what I can always get. I learn at every point, even as I’m talking to you, I’m learning things. I observe, I learn from everywhere I go and everything I see.
Ifesinachi, it’s been an honour speaking with you, but finally, as the Nigerian champion of Mr. Flex, the defending champion, someone who has overcome a lot of tribulations to get to where you are today. What advice do you have for aspiring bodybuilders out there who are still thinking whether to do it or not, those whose families are still against them and those who still continue to abuse bodybuilders as thugs and dropouts? What advice do you have for people in general?
The advice I have for people that are thinking of joining bodybuilding is that bodybuilding is a beautiful sport. It will really help them as persons. Like me for example, growing up, I was a very stubborn boy. I lived life like I didn’t care, but bodybuilding helped me to stop drinking alcohol. And now when I go the gym, when I read articles on health and how to grow more muscles, I know that consuming alcohol and living the other way round will never help me to attain my goals in bodybuilding. I started changing those things. Bodybuilding made me to become a more disciplined person compared to the way I was some six years ago.
Now to the people criticizing bodybuilding, my advice to them is that they shouldn’t judge from distance but they should try and come into the game. If they can’t do it, they should try and associate with people around and see the positive side of bodybuilding. We are all human beings of different temperament and are being controlled by different policies, that is certain.
Being a bodybuilder doesn’t have anything to do with your personality, but I believe bodybuilding that I do, if you do it properly and not the other way round, the negative side, it will help you to be a better person in life, to the community, nation and the world as a whole.
But what about the women, they like men who have big chest, who are muscular. How do you manage to overcome all the temptations that come with being a fitness model and the Nigerian bodybuilding champion?
The temptation must always be there. They say wherever there is sugar, ant must gather, that is a true proverb but it’s all by the grace of God, that is one. Two, when you remember where you are going to, you don’t allow anything to draw you back. So I have my vision and my goals, that’s more important to me. I always tell my girlfriend whose name is Christabel who always accuses me of not giving her much attention that you don’t drag a bird when you don’t have the language to keep the bird. Now is my peak of time as a young man, I have to achieve many things. You have to work on your goal. It’s more important because as they say, it’s business before pleasure. So, let’s keep all fun aside till we get to a better day and much better things. Having my vision in mind and being a champion, I know I have to represent this big country, Nigeria. So girls shouldn’t be my priority for now. I put them by the side and pursue my goals first.
Ifesinachi Ibenne, thank you so much for finding time to talk to us.
I appreciate it, Babatunde
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