When it comes to the modern era of international powerlifting, few categories have the perennial pull of the -83kg Men’s Open class. The –52s are always hotly contested, as are the -72s and the -93s; the Minsk battle of the 105s was a veritable steam train of hype, but year in year out the drama that follows the -83s rivals the Oscars. Every year the IPF World Classic Powerlifting Championships guarantees a roller-coaster spectacle. For the last 6 years, this class has been inextricably linked to the exploits of one man in particular – the colossus that is Mr Brett Gibbs. It would be impossible to talk about this class without mentioning the bearded king. As we delve into the Past, Present, and Future of the Open Mens -83kg class, we will no doubt cross paths with young Brett.
We start our tale in Suzdal, Russia in the World Classic Powerlifting Championships, a momentous turning point for the sport of powerlifting. The 2013 title went to the IPF stalwart to Alexey Kuzmin, seeing him total 760kg with a lead of 52.5kg above his closest rival Turakhanov Davranbek. To put the exponential growth of the sport into context – Kuzmin managed a 767.5kg total at the 2018 Championships, however, this total saw him take 5th place – 70.5kg behind the gold!
The scene is set, powerlifting has truly turned Raw, the talent pool of lifters is expanding, and records are being broken left, right, and centre. The year is 2014, the bells of Potchefstroom, South Africa have called 498 lifters to their doors. The World Classic Championships, and the Open -83kg class have witnessed Jose Castillo dethrone Kuzmin with a total of 770kg. This is where our story starts to get interesting. Have you got your popcorn ready? The -83kg class witnesses something that would never be seen again. Here we saw a lifter from the JUNIOR competition out-total the Open champion! Deep in the depths of the Junior competition, a 23 year old Brett Gibbs bursts into the spotlight with a total of 770.5kg!
Fast forward a year, the Open crown is seized by young Brett in Salo, Finland with a total of 775kg. Gibbs put nearly 50kg between himself and the silver medallist, Zaitsev Artem, as well as besting Castillo’s 2014 gold total by 5kg. In Gibbs’ first outing on the Open platform, he takes the top-spot at a canter. The sky is seemingly the limit for this exciting young bearded Kiwi. Like Sergey Fedosienko in the -59kg class, we are beginning to see the building of a dynasty.
The year is 2016, and Classic powerlifting has exploded. Everyday gym-goers across the globe are migrating towards the sport, more women than ever are signing up to compete, and ‘raw’ powerlifting is starting to usurp its ‘equipped’ counterpart. The best of the best have started to take on celebrity statuses within our niche corner of the world, and all eyes are fixed on the biggest showdown in Classic history. Kileen, Texas saw the head-to-head that was #HaackGibbs. Fresh from a USAPL Nationals victory, a Junior, John Haack entered his first World Championships alongside Gibbs. What followed was a clash that will endure in our hearts and minds forever. After a barrage of missed lifts and world records attempts – Brett Gibbs boosted his 2015 total by 15.5kg, only to have the superhuman Haack beat him to the gold with a staggering 813kg total.
There have been many rumours of a #HaackGibbs rematch, but as of summer 2019, this has unfortunately yet to come to pass. Haack controversially left the IPF in early 2017, never to return (but we’ll come back to ‘Captain America’ later).
So where does this leave us now? Haack gone, Gibbs’ first real raw defeat; the floor was open. Perhaps ‘Mr Intensity’, the UK’s Owen Hubbard would take some more world records and make a punt for the gold, or perhaps Gibbs would come back with a vengeance and set the 2017 Minsk, Belarus Championships on fire. Surprisingly this competition came down to the wire. Gibbs missed the chance to set a new world record total of 816kg (to beat Haack’s 813kg) by failing his last two deadlift attempts. Ulan Anuar (predicted to come 6th in the pre-competition nominations) crept up from behind and pulled for the win with a final deadlift of 325kg and a winning total of 795kg! Anuar (having previously failed a drug test in 2014) took the gold on his return to Classic lifting, leaving Gibbs with another silver medal.
One pattern that should be noted here is that after a defeat, our Kiwi antagonist typically comes back to add anywhere between 10-20kg to his total in his subsequent meets. We see this in his local competitions ‘down under’, after a good bout of spear fishing, and spoiler alert, we see it at the 2018 Calgary, Canada Championships.
As has become tradition in the Raw -83kg class, you can always bet on an up and coming Junior to burst onto the scene and ruffle some feathers in the Open class. 2018 saw the arrival of Russel Orhii onto the international stage. Winning U.S. Nationals as a Junior with a Haack-beating squat of 300.5kg, Orhii was pitted against Gibbs in another titanic dogfight. Both set world records in the squat, 298.5kg then 299kg to Orhii and Gibbs respectively. Gibbs pulled away by 24kg in the bench, as predicted, pressing a world record 214kg (which was then bested by Hubbard at 214.5kg). Gibbs then shut the club down in the deadlifts with a momentous world record total of 830.5kg, beating Orhii by 47kg and becoming the heaviest man ever to total 10 times bodyweight. Gibbs finally had his ‘Supermeet’.
And so here we are – 2019, the gang are back together. Hubbard, Anuar, Gibbs, and Orhii have all rocked up to Helsingborg, Sweden for the 9th World Classic Powerlifting Championships. Round 2 of last year’s head-to-head was billed to be even bigger than the first instalment. Commentators were predicting this to be even closer than Calgary. Gibbs was looking strong having overcome a quad injury, and Orhii was progressing at an electrifying pace.
Last year, Team Gibbs’ plan was to match Orhii in the squat, pull away in the bench, and then turn the screw in the deadlifts. 2019 brought about a different action plan. Team NZ conceded some kilos in the squat, allowing Orhii to take the lead. As everybody knows, Orhii is a bona fide squat monster. In Minsk he took a squat world record, this time around he took 2. He demolished the record with a trademark smokeshow of 305.5kg on his second attempt, then went on to tear off the stadium’s roof with an inhuman 313kg successful final attempt. Gibbs had no choice but to concede the gold, and unprecedentedly, Gibbs came 4th in the squat with a 295kg best lift. A perfect start to the competition for Orhii and coach Joey Franzo of Team Flexx.
Gibbs opened the bench on 200kg, well over Orhii’s personal best, and a sure fire way to close the gap. Hubbard and Gibbs had joked on Instagram about opening at 216kg, so a 470lbs+ bench seemed likely judging by the speed of Gibbs’ opener. The previous championships had seen Hubbard and Gibbs passing the bench world record back and forth at will, Orhii was not invited to this club. Gibbs and Hubbard chose 210kg and 215.5kg (a new world record) respectively for their second attempts. This would give Gibbs the lead in the competition, and leave room for him to turn the screw ahead of the deadlifts.
Ready for some drama? Whilst setting up, both Gibbs and Hubbard were told to re-rack the bar by the head ref due to soft elbows. Both lifters re-attempted (with their elbows now locked), got their start commands, but both failed the lift. Now this is understandable, the precision needed to execute a bench press under these gargantuan weights must be immense. Being a mere human being, this writer can’t imagine the effort it would take to rush and attempt to press over 200kg. As expected, both lifters successfully reattempted these weights which were well within their means. However this meant that Orhii had managed to neutralise some of Gibbs’ bench threat. Tactical attempt selection by Franzo and Team USA saw Orhii maintain a 3kg lead with his final bench of 195kg.
This was bad news for Team BG. Losing bench kilos, losing momentum, having a lower lot number, and weighing more saw the ball land almost literally in Orhii’s court.
The two were quite evenly matched for the deadlifts. Gibbs had the higher competition PB of 321.5kg, but recent YouTube footage of Russwole suggested that the scales were tipped ever so slightly in the US’ favour. Our nails had been reduced to stubs at this point. Much like the 2018 squat battle, camp Orhii elected to match Gibbs, rep for rep. With Gibbs having the weight and lower lot disadvantage, he would have to pull 5kg more than Orhii to win. Both attempted 302.5kg, both succeeded. Both jumped to 315kg, both succeeded, although Orhii looked likely to have more in the tank than Gibbs. Would this be redemption for Orhii? Or would the King defend his crown? At this point, it was no longer a contest between lifters; the coaching teams were locked in battle. Team NZ put in an attempt of 350kg, waiting to see if USA would blink first. Franzo and Arian Khamesi however have extensive coaching experience and knew that they could likely sit back and wait to see what Gibbs did next. Gibbs was forced to pull first; he loaded up 322.5kg, meaning that if successful, Orhii would have to hit 326kg (a new world record) in order to take first place. In hindsight, this was probably within Russ’ grasp.
The crowd were on their feet. Chants of “BG!” filled the hall as Gibbs stepped onto the platform. This for the title, this to take the lead. The bar broke quickly off of the floor, moving up Gibbs’ shins, up to the knees, and then … down. Brett just didn’t have it in him on the day. It really was a valiant effort, but this failed final deadlift would ultimately see Gibbs finish second. Unbeknownst to Orhii, USA takes the gold. Franzo loads up 325kg nonetheless and Orhii boosts his total to 833kg, taking the Open world record total from Gibbs as well.
Orhii’s first 9 for 9 meet in two years can only be described as a Supermeet. Weighing in at 0.45kg lighter than in 2018 he was able to add almost 50kg to his total. He recorded new competition PBs in all lifts- 12kg, 5kg, and 12.5kg respectively. It truly was a flawless performance, and the mother of all comebacks.
So what lies ahead for this tumultuous class? It goes without saying that next year will be riveting. We can reliably predict that Gibbs and Orhii will be fighting for podium positions, as well as another customary Hubbard bench world record. Other than that, it may be too close to call. Gibbs will bounce back, as always, and Orhii will continue his ungodly progression. There is only 2.5kg between their Supermeet totals; who knows what could happen. Given the momentum that Orhii has gained with his injury-free lifting time, it would be hard not to back him as the leading horse going into 2020.
Although his bench pales in comparison to that of Gibbs, the year-on-year improvement has been a vital component of his rise. Another quiet 5kg increase could be the key to victory. Could Gibbs push his bench to 220kg+ in competition? He may not have a choice. We’d love to see a pre-worlds Arnold showdown to add fuel to the fire. If you came here for wild unfounded speculations you’re in luck. It’s going to go down to the wire next year, but we can see Orhii pulling for the win again to chip Gibbs. What do you think? Please send your hate mail to the address below.
Who will come third? Hubbard? Potentially. But there are others to account for in this exciting tale. Sean Noriega is definitely one to watch, he’ll make the US national team, he’ll push Gibbs in the squat, and he’ll beat Orhii in the bench. As the youngest of the lot you just know that Hamstring Papi’s progression will continue to sky-rocket.
While this year’s Junior Worlds competition produced the lowest winning total for the last 6 years, we can’t write-off any of the younglings just yet. None of them are pushing the Open leaders outright, but Dylan Nelson has been teasing us all with breaking the 300kg squat barrier, and Chido Nnoli is inches away from out-pulling the seniors. It would not be preposterous to predict that these two chaps could take these Open world records before the year is out. There seems to be somewhat of a curse hovering over the -83kg junior class, with none of the previous classic worlds lifters graduating to make a dent in the Open class (barring Gibbs and Hubbard), and most of the Junior podium finishers never returning to compete here on the world stage ever again.
So many ifs, buts, and maybes. Will Taylor Atwood make the jump from the -74kgs? Will any of the big bois cut down? Will John Haack ever return to the IPF? Since the 2016 Kileen showdown Haack has ascended into a new realm of strength, piecing together his 890!!kg!! PB total! John Haack is inevitable. Flirtations of a #HaackGibbs rematch have blue-balled us for so long now that it seems unlikely to ever happen.
So there we have it, a Gibbs-Orhii threeapeat in 2020, and a likely 6-man royale rumble for the 2021 crown are our predictions. One thing is for certain, we’ll be watching.