Toney Freeman came out of a six year retirement to place 8th at the 2001 NPC Nationals, and then captured the overall title at the 2002 NPC Nationals, earning him his pro card. Now Toney is three weeks away from his first pro show, the 2003 Night of Champions, and he is ready for his debut that can bring this rookie up to the ranks of the seasoned pros.
I met up with Toney at the Wood Ranch Grill in Thousand Oaks to talk about life, bodybuilding, injuries, training and more. Here are some questions with Toney, including his preparation for the NOC, his talent as a singer, as a male stripper, and more.
Toney Freeman, interviewed by Ron Avidan.
So where were you born?
I was born on August 30, 1966 in South Bend, Indiana, very close to Notre Dame University. I lived in Indiana until I was 13; then in 1979, I moved to Alabama, then to Savannah, Georgia. In 1983, I moved to Atlanta. I've been in Atlanta ever since.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
I have two brothers, Andre and Alvin Jr, and a sister, Tiwanna. My parents are Pastor Alvin Freeman and Fern Freeman. There were four kids in our family, and we were a tight knit family.
What is your ethnic background?
I look black, so I guess I will say that I am African American. However, I am part Indian, part African American. In my opinion, I don't look at color, it does not really matter. Everyone that is living in the U.S. right now is not a pure bred. We all have something else in us, and we might as well face that and deal with that because being prejudice or racist is just a waste of time. My great grandfather was Cherokee Indian. God only know how many other types are in my blood line. My father is 5'7", my mother is 5'4", and I am 6'2". Go figure. You never know what's in your background.
Your dad is a pastor? What influence did he have on you?
He is a Seven Day Adventist Church Pastor. He has a church in Atlanta in the West End which has around 3,000 members. Before he became a minister, he sang in a band. He was the lead singer, and he also played basketball. My parents were very strict. Very firm but very loving. They taught us how to be humble, respectful, and how to be good people. I have total love and admiration for my father and parents. We were very poor growing up but they did their best to provide us with whatever we needed.
You go to church every Sunday?
No, they have services on Saturday, but I don't really go regularly, I just go and visit once in a while.
What sports did you play growing up?
I played basketball and football in high school, all the way up to my junior year. In football, I played quarterback, running back, linebacker, and wide receiver. In basketball, I was a forward.
How did you get into bodybuilding?
Actually, it was kind of like an accident, because I actually hated weightlifting from my experience with it in high school. I was engaged in 1986 to this girl who lived in Savannah, and one of her best friends was a bodybuilder. But before I knew that he was a bodybuilder, they used to hang out a lot, as I lived in Atlanta, and they lived in Savannah. One day, she showed me a picture of him, and he had just received second place in the Mr. Georgia, and as a man, I looked at him like his physique was pretty awesome, and I thought, I needed to step it up or he might steal my woman. So that's how I got started in bodybuilding and lifting.
Did you go to college?
Yes, I went to a private college in Alabama, studying electronic engineering, but then I lost interest in it. I then went to Devry Institute of Technology in Atlanta. I didn't finish, but I did three years of college. I dropped out to work full time. I started doing construction, and I was working on a lot of government jobs that was paying very well. I was basically struggling through school, and I decided to join the work force full time. I had a career in construction for ten years.
So when did you realize that you liked bodybuilding?
When I started lifting, I was 160 pounds, and my first goal was to reach 200 pounds. I just wanted to put on a little size. It took me about a year and a half to reach that goal, actually I got to 195 pounds. That is when I really started enjoying it then. In 1991, I was just under 200 pounds when I saw Kevin Levrone win the NPC Junior Nationals and the Nationals, so in January 1992, I decided to give it a shot, to kind of make a career out of it, so that is when I started and got serious. I started working with this guy named Harold Hoag, who was into wrestling, so in about 2 ? months, he took me from 200 pounds to 255 pounds.
You gained 55 pounds in 2 ? months?
Yes, in about 10-11 weeks.
What was your first bodybuilding competition?
I started to compete in the AAU, in some local shows in 1989. My first show was the Mr. Savannah, which I got 4th place. The Coastal Empire was my second show, and I earned second place there. Then after that, I got basically first places in the tiny shows I was doing. Then I did the 1990 AAU Mr. America, and I placed 4th in that. I thought that was pretty good, as that was the first time that I competed against guys from all over. The following year, I did my first NPC show, and I won my class!
So when did you compete in a national NPC show?
I qualified for the nationals in the 1992 Eastern Seaboard by winning the heavyweights, but I did not use my qualification until the following year. In 1993, I won my class and the overall in the 1993 Eastern Seaboard. Then a week later, I went to the Junior Nationals and won the heavyweights. Then later on that year, at the NPC Nationals, I got 6th place in the heavyweights.
In 1994, I got 4th place at the Nationals. In 1995, I got 4th place at the Nationals. In 1996, I did not make the cut at all. I also tore my pec in 1995, nine weeks out from the Nationals. After I did not make the cut in 1996, I decided to hang up my posing trunks for a little while.
How did it feel when you tore your pec?
It did not hurt at all, to be honest with you. I had a car accident about four weeks before I tore it, and I was taking some anti-inflammatories because my shoulder was bothering me a little bit, so that's probably why I did not feel any pain. And it was also a partial tear, not a complete tear. I partially ruptured the right tendon that connects the pec to the arm bone. I just was crushed, as I saw my life flash across my eyes. I was 282 at 4% nine weeks out, and I had thought that I had a very good shot at winning it. I still did well, looked awesome. I just kinda screwed up at the end, got dehydrated a little bit, but that happens to everybody. Anything can happen in the last couple of days and it did. As a matter of fact, I messed up in the last couple of hours. When I left the hotel to go to prejudging, I looked unbelievable. But by the time the heavyweights got on stage, it was about 10:30pm, and there was no water left backstage. And so I got dehydrated, and went flat. After prejudging, I had a gallon of water in the car, and I drank a half gallon of water right then. We went to eat at Houston's after that, and I just peaked in the bathroom there, at Ft. Lauderdale.
That was Nationals 1995. What happened in 1996 when you did not make the cut?
I have no idea? I was 263 pounds at 3% bodyfat, so I don't know why I did not even qualify. I did have a little confrontation with an NPC official in 1996 a few months before, and I really did not think nothing of it. Evidently, it was and went a little deeper than I thought, and me personally, I think that had something to do with it, and maybe it did and maybe it didn't.
And then what?
After the 1996 Nationals, I just got a little frustrated. I know there is politics involved and everybody goes through it, but the thing is: How do you go from 4th in 1995, and then not even placing at all in 1996? What did I do? I just felt that I deserved better than that, and I just hung it up after that. I just got tired of showing up every year, doing what the judges asked, and still not getting the payoff. I then took a break from 1996 - 2001, close to six years. I was around but I just did not want to compete, just had no desire. I dropped down to about 230 pounds, and was normal for a while. I was working, personal training, having a good time, nothing special.
When did you fix your pec injury?
Not for five years. I did not get it fixed because I couldn't find anybody to fix it. I went to about 10 different doctors, and no one made me feel confident that they could help me. They usually say if you wait to do it, it may not recovery fully. If you do it immediately, then you have a good chance of 100% recovery. But all of the orthopedic surgeons that I talked to, well, they scared the hell out of me. So I didn't bother. I just didn't do it. But it haunted me every single days of those five years. It drove me insane, it made me depressed, it made me feel less of a man. And then one day, I was doing some personal training at the gym, and my physical therapist happened to be working out there, and came up to me and said 'Hey, Toney, I found someone that I think that can fix your pec'. And I said 'Get out of here. It's been five years. I can't get it fixed'. And he said 'I think you should really go visit this guy.'
So I got in the car, made an appointment, and went and saw him. What really blew me away about this guy is that he actually told me when I tore it. He said 'You tore the pec when you just about 28 years old'. And he was exactly right. I tore the pec on August 1st, just a few weeks shy of my birthday. So once he said that, he felt some relief and some confidence in him, and started to believe in him. He then assured me that he worked on other guys, also some football players that he helped. So I scheduled a surgery. He went right in and attached it like it was nothing.
When was this?
That was September of 2000. I had rehab for 4 - 5 months, and then the doctor cleared me to go back and start with light training in February 2001. I started just messing around, get the feeling back into my pec. It did not feel quite right, but it felt like it was definitely attached. So I was happy! And I thought perhaps it was time to start competing again. However, from my previous competitions, I still had a little gyno. So I went and scheduled a surgery to get that removed, which occurred in July 2001. I then took 4 - 5 weeks to recover from that. So in August 2001, I decided I wanted to requalify and go back into the Nationals.
So I started to work out again. I actually went and did a show, the Coastal USA's in Atlanta, and I came in 2nd in the superheavies, without dieting or hardcore training. That qualified me for the Nationals. Then with 14 weeks left, I started training and dieting for the show, and ended up getting 8th place at the 2001 Nationals. So that was pretty decent.
What do you do for the 2002 Nationals?
Well, then I got really fired up, as I said 'I think I can definitely beat these guys'. So I collected my thoughts, took a little time off, as I still had a business I had to run, which was not doing too well, and wanted to build it back up. Then in 2002, on May 1st, I started preparing for the Nationals, with my diet and training regiment, and went the whole 7 months to prepare for it, and it turned out in my favor. I ended up winning the whole show.
How did you feel when you won?
I was very overwhelmed. It was an incredible experience. It was one of those experiences that it really very hard to describe. You just have to experience it to really understand how it feels. Especially since I had such a long hard road. People said to be that I was washed up, I couldn't do it. I had started to believe that myself. I never gave up. I allowed myself to take a break, and I am glad I did. It turned out to be a blessing it disguise. I allowed my body to heal. I felt brand new. And here I am.
Now you are training for your first pro show!
I am pretty excited about that! Actually, I went back on my diet right after the Nationals because I was trying to get an invite for the Arnold Classic, but I didn't get it. So I took the month of December off, and January 10th, 2003, I started my contest prep for the Toronto and NOC shows. They cancelled the Toronto show, so I am putting it in all for the NOC.
What does your training schedule look like?
I change it throughout the year, but for the Night of Champions, I started off doing seven days a week because I was so hungry, but I cut it back to '2 on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off'. Now I am back on a seven day a week schedule. I am not doing a double split every single day, but I will do legs and back on one day, and I will break shoulders and chest and arms on different days. Sometimes chest in the morning, then bi's or tri's in the evening. Tomorrow I am going to do squats, around noon. And the next day, I am going to rest, and work on my posing routine. The next day, I will work on my shoulders, and the next day after that, some deadlifts and hamstrings.
I know you are 6'2" tall. How much do you weigh right now?
I am about 265 pounds right now. I have been traveling a little, so I am a little light right now. I have been holding 273-274 for eight weeks now, so now that I am here in California, I will go back to 270, and I will ride that out until the last week. I will do my little carb and water manipulation and see where I land. I probably will be around 265 pounds on stage at the NOC.
Why did you come to California?
I live in Alpharetta, which is in North Atlanta, Georgia. I came to California because I am training with Author Rea. I have been with him since January 10th, although he did help me out before the Nationals. You know how it is in the last 3 - 4 weeks, when things get a little hectic and shaky, and you might screw up, and I just did not want to take the chance of all this contest prep that I have been doing, and blowing it. I have been holding less that 4% bodyfat for about 4 weeks now, and I just don't want to screw up at the end. I felt like if I came out here to work with him on a daily basis, he could keep an eye on me, and make sure that I am doing the right thing, and I can dial it in perfect, because that's what it's going to take in order for me to do what I am planning on doing at the NOC? I plan on leaving California the Tuesday before the show on the red eye, rest Wednesday on until the show where I will be ready.
Where are you training now?
I am training at a little gym in Ventura called Maverick Gym. It's pretty cool.
Tell me about your NOC diet?
Just high protein, low carbs, moderate fats. I love buffalo. I've been eating bison for about a year and a half now, so that is my main source of protein other than whey. I eat chicken and fish for variety, but mostly just bison. 12-20 ounces per meal, and also maybe a baked potato and lots of veggies and salads too. I started January 10th, with a cheat meal every day, and every week from that point until now, I would take a cheat meal out every week, so by the time May 1st came about, I was very strict. I just flew out here to California on May 10th, saw my coach on the 11th, and when he saw me, he said 'Dude, you are there! Do what you have been doing'. Right now, I am less than 3% right now, and I have 19 days to go, so I don't want to flatten out or lose too much weight right now. I don't have to watch everything so closely right now or measure things like I was before.
How do you feel being a rookie at your first pro show?
Well, I don't feel like I am a rookie because I have been doing this since 1993. Most of the guys that will be up on stage with me, I have already competed against them. So I don't feel like a rookie. I am 36 years old. I know what I am doing. I know what I am bringing to the table. It's just a terminology to me. I will be up there, doing my first pro show. I feel the NOC is like a couple of notches up from what I was doing at the Nationals.
Even with 42 competitors at the NOC?
Well, that is what I am used to at the Nationals. There was 33 competitors in the Super Heavyweights, so that is not too far from there. I am looking forward to a pro show with only 15 or 20 competitors there. It's going to be a long day, I know that.
How do you feel with the advice some seasoned pros give to the rookies?
Well, I think the seasoned pros want us to feel like rookies. And that's cool. But because of my age and experience, I just don't feel like a rookie. I do respect everyone, and I am not going to say that I am better than this person or that person, but I am definitely not going to bow down either. This is an individual sport, like the movie 'Any Given Sunday' so, whoever shows up the best that day, barring some political nightmare, should win the show.
I am in the NOC to win it, and to compete against myself. To out do myself from the last time I was on stage. I refuse to waste my energy worrying about whose going to be standing next to me, because as soon as I give them anything of myself, I am taking it away from myself when I worry about them. I wish everyone the best, I hope everybody comes in the way they plan on coming in, but that's as far as it goes. If I was to bow down to someone just because they have been there before, then I am wasting my time. I might as well buy a ticket and sit in the audience.
How do you feel when you read that some pro's think you are arrogant?
Well, I did not want to step on anybody's toes, and I certainly do not want anybody to feel that I am arrogant or conceited or anything like that. Bodybuilding is an individual sport, and you have to put your best foot forward. You will never hear me say 'I just want to do well or place well'. Because if you aim for the stars, you might hit the moon. But if you aim any lower than that, don't expect to get higher than that. I am not saying that I am going to be the next Mr. Olympia or whatever, but I want to be Mr. Olympia. I am training to become Mr. Olympia, so if it happens, it happens. I feel like I can have the physique in the future that it Mr. Olympia worthy. If I can compete in the future at 285 in razor sharp condition with my symmetry, that is Mr. Olympia qualities right there. If I pull it off, and I do what I am supposed to do, it can happen for me. I have just a good as chance as anybody.
Some people are unrealistic in their aspirations, but when I look in the mirror, I know what I see. I have been doing this for 14 years, and anytime you do something for that long, you are supposed to be good at it. I have 100% confidence in myself, I am working with Author Reas, my physique has seen tremendous growth just in the past five months, and they will see it at the NOC. All I want to do is continue to improve, and come to the shows 10 pounds heavier every year, until I reach my peak, maximize my potential. A lots of guys never reach their potential for one reason or another. Ronnie Coleman came in very humbled, took a lot of years to get to the top, but once he got there, he was the man. If he can do that, then I can do that.
Which bodybuilders influenced you in your life?
A lot of people mistake me for Flex Wheeler. Ever since he won the USA in 1992, I was a big Flex Wheeler fan because we had similar physiques, but also because we were both skinny little kids when we were younger. And the fact that he took his physique to the level that he did, that was a great inspiration for me. I am a huge fan of the sport, period.
Back in 1993, I went to see Lee Haney a week before I went to the Junior's, and he said to me 'You've got what it takes. Just keep your head on straight and focus', and I did. I liked Dorian Yates, too. And Jay Cutler. I met Jay Cutler when he was 19 years old. I am up in Worcester, Massachusetts. I was in his gym squatting, sets of 15 with 405 on the squat, and he came over to him and was giving me props. And I told him 'One day, you are going to be great'. And lo and behold, there he is, perhaps the next Mr. Olympia.
So if they can do it, it can be done. I am the type of person which has the attitude, the perseverance, the work ethic. I feel like I have a chance to do it. That is where people might of misunderstood what I have said before. I don't consider anyone competition because I am not going to waste my energy worrying about another competitor. I am spending all my energy on me. I will take their energy and use it against them.
I hear you have had some interesting jobs in the past?
I did construction for a while. I was a bouncer for a while. And I was a male exotic dancer for a while, but over 10 years ago. I have done a lot of things, including personal training. I love bodybuilding, and I would like to get into the movies eventually. I am using bodybuilding as a stepping stone, and hopefully, I will become famous and then I can pick up where Arnold left off.
A male exotic dancer? How was that?
It was pretty awesome. I had to force myself to quit. The money was good, the girls were good, it was fun, but there was no future in it. I did not want to be 35 years old, and still trying to strip. I quit when I was 23.
I hear that you are a singer? Is this true?
Yes, I have been singing since I was talking, I guess. I used to have a group when I was a teenager. I think because my dad was in a band, and he knew all the stuff that came with the music industry, he kind of steered us away from pursuing it was a career. He just did not want me to get caught up with the stuff that he experienced, and he is probably right, because I probably would not have been able to handle it, especially looking at the entertainment industry today. So as a young kid growing up in a Christian world, and you get cast off into the world, and start performing, you can get caught up in stuff really easily.
I had an Acapella group, a quintet and we sung Gospel. It was pretty cool. I actually have a CD that we recorded. It was never mass produced though.
Do you have any kids? Do they like bodybuilding?
I have a 13 year old son named Nico. I got married when I was 21. We were together for about 3-4 years before we split up, but we are still good friends. Nico is a shy kid like I was, but I think that he is very proud of me. I show him the magazines that I was in, the videos. I am not trying to push him that way at all. He is a brainiac, a very smart kid, and very good looking too. I just want him to focus on what he has going for himself. I prefer him to not try and follow my footsteps, but follow his own path in life.
Tell me something I don't know about you?
You don't know that I am naturally shy, but I have overcome that being as a performer as a kid. People have a misconception of someone who is big and built. They think they might be a bad ass, or got a bad attitude, or think that they are God's gift or whatever, but I come from very humble upbringings. I was a skinny kid when I grew up, and if I stop bodybuilding, I will be a skinny old man. A lot of people might think I am very cocky, but that if definitely far from the truth. I am very confident in myself though.
Tell me something you don't like about yourself?
I am too passive. I let people take advantage of me a lot, and I am working on that. I am a very giving person, and a lot of people mistake your kindness for weakness. It's not a bad thing, but I would like to work on that in the future.
What are your best and worst bodyparts?
I have to say my best is my legs, and my worst if my calves. I am 6'2", I have about 10 inches of leg bone from having high calves. I am fighting like a dog to make my calves one of my better bodyparts.
What is your favorite and worst exercise you like to do?
My favorite is squats, and my worst is one arm dumbbell rolls, only because oxygen deprivation is just humongous when you do those. For some reason, being tall, it just kills me.
How do you feel when people stare at you when you are this big?
Well, if they did not stare or notice me, that I would have more of a problem with that. Because we do what we do. I am trying to be a freak, so I want to be treated like a freak. I dress a certain way, because I like to look at my physique. I am my own worst critic. If I look at myself in the mirror, and I see something lacking or falling short, I immediately try to go into the gym and take care of it. I like it when people recognize what you are putting out.
What do you tell to someone who wants to compete in a bodybuilding contest?
It's just like anything. I think you should start by doing research. I think you should go to a show, and see what it's all about. Maybe hire a trainer, perhaps somebody who has actually done it before not just somebody that says they know what they are doing. People can't give you direction to something that they have never been to before. You might as well get a map and find it yourself. So if you are trying to compete, then go meet someone or approach someone that has actually done well as a competitor. Seek advice from an expert and prepare your mind for the task at hand because it is not a joke. People think that just because they go to the gym, just because they do cardio, that they are supposed to be a good bodybuilder. There is more to it than that. It is also a mental game. It's just like a recipe. You have to have all the ingredients in it to get it right.
Bodybuilding is all about trying to get close to perfection as possible. When you train, you should train for quality, and symmetry. If you don't have good symmetry, then you should photograph yourself and get advice from others on what your weaknesses and your strengths are and focus on your weaknesses and maintain your strengths.
On the posing routine, I have a couple of people that are giving me tips and pointers, because I am a little rusty from not competing for so many years. But right now, I am practicing my posing, focusing on my physique, and making sure that I dial it my conditioning. The more you do it, the better you get.
So are you working in any supplement company right now?
Yes, I just signed a contract with VPX Sports. I am their first pro bodybuilder that they have ever signed, and I feel very privileged and honored to be that, and they are taking care of me.
What kind of music do you like?
I like everything. I love R&B, Country Western, Classical. I love everything that I can sing to, but I also love the creativity of each individual artists. There are some things out there that you just can't really consider music, but things that sound decent, that has a rhythm to it, and that makes sense, I enjoy it. Like R. Kelly, Master Seven, Craig David. I like the old rock groups like the Bee Gees, Led Zeppelin, I like classic music.
What kind of movies do you like?
I like action movies, like the Matrix, and the X-Men. I like love stories, as long as they don't get too crazy or mushy. I just don't like movies that are just so far fetched that just go a little too far, that makes things too unbelievable. I think that all of these superheroes movies that they are making are somewhat disappointing, because the guys that they use just don't look like superheroes. All my life, I have been reading comic books, and watching super hero cartoons, and now they have to use computer generated or special effects to get the point across. These guys are just regular actors. Small, 5"7", 145 pounds, picking up cars and throwing them down the street. It just does not make sense to me.
What kind of women do you like?
I like a confident woman with a tight body, or a potentially tight body. Now, some women don't really work out, so they don't realize what kind of physique they could have if they train. I never judge a person by the way they look at that moment, but always the potential of the person.
What kind of women turns you off?
I don't really like women who think that they are just 'all that'. I like humility in a woman but also confidence. I have met quite a few women in my life who turn their nose up at you for whatever reason. Some women think they are 'the shit' and they may or may not be. You can be all that, and not portray to the world that you are untouchable or unapproachable. The polite thing to do is to make eye contact with everybody and be nice.