THE ART OF DECONSTRUCTION – “Understanding Chris Cormier”.

Having spent the last hour or so of a balmy Wednesday evening (in March 2020) I had poured my eyes over a contract, and was fatigued though excitedly optimistic at the forthcoming prospect. Dinner and drinks with IFBB Pro league judge Natalie Dawson and IFBB Pro bodybuilding champion, Chris Cormier. Having known Natalie for a number of years, it had only been fleeting brief moments of face to face interactions and more substantive communication via social media or via phone conversations or text messages. Similarly, my time as a bodybuilding journalist had afforded me moments to meet Chris in prior years, getting that photo and handshake but exchange no more than a brief pleasantry.

A warmer summer breeze filled the Melbourne air as most hurriedly left their offices, the Melbourne City still lively despite being mid-week and at the cusp of the pre-Covid era, perhaps experiencing a slight decrease in traffic. I stood outside the Princess Theatre on Spring Street as my phone buzzed, with Natalie saying they were on their way. No time to sharpen up with a drink beforehand to calm the excited anticipatory nerves, thus instead time was spent observing taxis converging on this location. Unbuttoning an extra link on my white business shirt, perhaps symbolically denoted my need to relax and ultimately unwind, so as to not be just another ‘uptight suit’ when I meet two IFBB alums.

No sooner than doing this did I view a Jeep pulling up a few metres ahead, an attractive yet familiar lady waved to me enthusiastically. It was Natalie Dawson. This former competitor and Pro League Judge is always known for being glamorous, regardless of whether she is adorned in a suit or bikini, she is a very stunning and eye catching lady. On this night she was adorned in a sleek dark grey dress and high heels, and unsurprisingly solicited stares from the majority of pedestrians – both male and female alike. She briskly walked over as we greeted one another with a hug, almost like two old friends that hadn’t seen one another for years. And as I looked past her, I saw a powerfully built man walk over to us. It was The Real Deal, it was Chris Cormier.

Yielding some surprise, Chris’ outfit was utilitarian by comparison. Opting for a non-descript long sleeve black top and black jeans, his physique was covered from head to toe, all that was visible was his smiling face as he sauntered over. I actually envisaged him in a fitted black t-shirt perhaps similar to Patrick Swayze in Road House. As we shook hands, Natalie presented me with Chris recently released DVD movie, personally signed by the man himself. Needless to say, this further excited me I shook his hand again thanking him as Natalie told me it was his idea to gift this to me. As I directed my guests to my chosen venue (Mezzo Bar), Natalie and I discussed the day whilst Chris was quiet and composed.

Silvio (the owner of Mezzo) was a tall friendly man that presided over us and greeted us as soon as we arrived. Exchanging quips with me, whilst being the ever gracious host to Natalie and Chris. He expressed his excitement and honour at hosting Chris, highlighting the impact of The Real Deal’s contributions to professional bodybuilding. The compliments did not disarm Chris, though he accepted these humbly as we all sat down and ordered pre-dinner drinks. To calm my nerves, I’d opted for a double shot of Hendricks Gin at the suggestion of Silvio; whilst Natalie ordered a cocktail and Chris, a vodka and apple juice.

In a casual setting the whole concept of consumption would afford perhaps a more free flowing conversation. Of course this was not a formal star athlete interview, my journalist kit (comprising of types notes, a voice recorder and pens) was not at hand. This was, for all intents and purposes a social dinner. As Chris was somewhat reserved, I was grateful that Natalie was present, dare I say the ‘rose between two thorns’ albeit one thorn that was a more physically imposing bodybuilding icon from America; the other thorn comparably much smaller from Australia. I removed my suit jacket to ease my anxiety, whilst Chris sat calmly with his hands on the table, perfectly relaxed. Looking at Chris, one could still recognize an impressive muscularity that was evident beneath his chosen attire.

In between my somewhat nervous sips of gin, I’d inadvertedly mentioned movies to him denoting his marketability. My conversational fall back on cinema, and movies in general is as regular as my promotion of my skills in Savate – that is to say, I love movies and it’s a common discussion thread for me. So after quoting Guy Grundy (who once aptly referred to Chris as a ‘cool cat’), I asked whether Chris had ever decided to get into movies at the height of his bodybuilding career. He nodded and said ‘Andrew Bryniarski said I should get into movies’

As soon as he mentioned the name, I inadvertedly interrupted Chris with ‘You know the guy who played Zangief and the guy who played Leatherface?’ (Note: Andrew Bryniarski is a former bodybuilder, who at 6 foot 5 inches, is primarily cast as a menacing villain in various movies)

‘Absolutely, Andrew is a friend of mine’ Chris replied.

‘Whoa’ I exclaimed most likely aping Neo in The Matrix ‘Have you ever played Street Fighter, Chris’

He cocked his eyebrows and beamed, as this comment piquing his interest and quickly confirming his enthusiasm for the legendary fighting game. My mouth was agape as Natalie giggled at this revelation. Across the table from me was one of the true greats of professional bodybuilding, smiling as I sat speechless as his assertion boggled my mind. The Real Deal was a gamer, mind blown.

Chris soon began enthusiastically discussing his favourite characters (in Street Fighter V) before talking about combo theory, light-to-hard juggles, frame data and other fighting game mechanics. Unresoundingly, it was a pleasant yet unexpected surprise, as up until that point the only mutual element we both had, was Natalie Dawson. Unlike many of you who would read this, I am yet to compete in bodybuilding so some people in the sport may be understandably reticent towards me in the initial phases of interaction.

After ordering some entrees and mains, my further sips of gin became far less frequent as Chris started to open up, as we both discussed everything from gaming and movies, to travel and food. Ironically, the conversation was not focused primarily on bodybuilding (though this was discussed in part, given his competitive career and my journalistic pursuits in the sport); I’d mentioned the film ‘The Hangover’ with Chris telling me about his initial encounters with none other than Iron Mike Tyson in the 90s. It is when Chris did a very brief impersonation of the former boxing champ, did I almost choke on my drink – much to the amusement of Natalie and Chris himself. In trying to regain my composure, I attempted the same lisp but with far less accuracy, though thankfully Chris complimented my attempt.

With the nerves quickly diminishing, the interaction became far more fluid and enjoyable. It was almost akin to two guys sitting at a pub, knocking down beers and having an animated discussion. I sat glued to Chris’, especially when hearing him discuss his approach to the sport and the way he has now become a highly sought after mentor to champions, the world over. He quoted Bruce Lee philosophy, effortless drawing comparisons between the progressive martial arts theory and evolutionary principles in bodybuilding. But it was when he wove this into his personal treatise on life, did I suddenly have that epiphany. The moniker The Real Deal was not just an accurate reflection of his presence on stage, nor was it limited to his powerfully built physique amongst his contemporaries. It was his realness as an individual. There is a clear genuine, open and complete honesty to him; he’s not just a man that is a respected champion in his sport, and a fierce competitor who would easily solicit cheers and enthusiasm from a ravenous audience. Here is a man, that had no airs and graces, no obnoxious ego or entitled demeanour. The Real Deal, was just simply just genuine.  It was that realness that endeared him to me more than his Pro Status as a bodybuilding champion.

As the hours went past at an alarming rate, photos were taken to crystalise the moment whilst I had reminded myself that I’d scheduled dessert and drinks at my favourite bar, The Melbourne Supper Club. Chris opted to take the unfinished bounty with him, and after we all bid Silvio farewell I keenly directed my guests to my favourite bar. This is a venue where I had always taken my favourite people, including but not limited to the likes of IFBB Pro League alum such as Vesna Kouzan, Annaleise Varga, Michael Galley to Jo Jo and Darryn Doble.  It has a very sophisticated memorable interior, an impressive menu and an inviting ambiance that has been my regular haunt since 1999.

The old leather couches afforded extra levels of relaxation, as Natalie keenly perused the menu whilst Chris and I continued talking. Even prior to our definitive orders of more potent cocktails, Chris and I exchanged stories about each other’s family, as well discussing the deeper philosophical topics of hopes, dreams and aspirations.

Thankfully before either of us would become too plagued with sentimentality Natalie ordered for all of us – that included a dessert for Chris; a treat that that he had never had before, a crème brulee.   I’d have shared Natalie’s surprise of Chris’ newfound French dessert, yet months prior at this same location, my own girlfriend Lisa had invited me to indulge in this desert. It seemed like history was repeating itself, as Natalie coaxed Chris into breaking the top layer of this custard treat with a dessert spoon; I had a flashback to my better half, asking me to do the same.

The upbeat arrival of Doherty’s Gym stalwart, David Dauncey and his lovely British partner Lauren helped mitigate my own emotive reflective response – that being to dwell on missing my better half, who resided interstate. Thanks to David, the night concluded with each of us downing a tequila shot, complete with the lemon and salt; and the regretful response afterwards which both Chris and myself expressed. Indeed, I may have been a quarter of this former Pro’s size, but it was satisfying to know we both shared the same ire for this celebratory spirit.

As the evening drew to a close, and the farewell hugs and handshakes are made, the elegant Natalie, prompts me to show some my obscure Savate kicks to The Real Deal. With a steady stream of alchohol coursing through my veins, there were no inhibitions as I freely executed my variation of the Savate Fouette (roundhouse kick).

I retained my balance on the wet pavement as the City lights reflected off the car windows Chris gives me a thumbs up and says ‘That’s really good’

Vance Ang Bio: Vance Ang has been writing professionally in bodybuilding and fitness since 2005, having written extensively for hardcopy publications such as Australian IRONMAN and FLEX; but also for e-publications such as RAW Muscle and online platforms Iron Muscle. He is a Melbourne based consultant with a background in policy and strategy, and is also currently undertaking his post graduate study in Law. In addition to bodybuilding, he is also interested in conservative politics and Savate (French Kickboxing)

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