Monday, March 30, 2015

A Conversation with Former Mr. America and Mr. Universe, Mick Souza. By Dr. Michael Dusa

A Conversation with Former Mr. America and Mr. Universe, Mick Souza.
By Dr. Michael Dusa

MD: Hi Mick. Last time I saw you, I was getting vanquished by you on stage in the AAU Mr. East Coast in Hartford, 1987.

MS: (laughs). Yes. Those were great times!

MD: For some of us, yes (laughs). So, talk of your beginnings, my friend.

MS: Well, my father left the house for good when I was only three years old. It was just me, my mom and my brother, and we went to live with my grandmother.

MD: So, right off the bat, behind the eight ball. Were you an active sports enthusiast growing up?

MS: Well, if you mean team sports-no. Essentially, I partook a bit in track in high school, and had the high school record in the high jump at 6'6". Maybe this portended that college was in the offing-but I hadn't the funds to go. I was also a pro skateboarder, and at one point I had the world record for jumping on a skateboard-4 feet and ten inches...I'd jump over a bar while the skateboard rolled under. Man, I had a lot of injuries doing this. Of course, I'd jump over cars, too (laughs)!

MD: Lifting weights started when?

MS: I was seven years old. I took old paint cans filled with sand, got a broomstick...put it all together...did presses with it. As I got stronger, I'd get bigger cans. I got my first bench in the fourth grade, bought for my brother and I by my mother. You gotta understand, I grew up in an area in Rhode Island where beatings by bullies on me were staggering in their frequency. I HAD to lift weights.

MD: Who inspired you?

MS: Well, at the time, of Course Arnold as well as Roger Callard (scheduled to be interviewed-Dr.D) were in the magazines. I was really coming along. In the tenth grade I was easily the strongest kid in my school-I could bench 300 pounds at a bodyweight of 180-185 pounds. I always thought of competing from early on.
With Arnold and Franco
MD: But up to this point, you were either working out at home or at school?

MS: Yes. The high school had a Universal machine-that was it. But, my senior year was a watershed time in that my friend opened a gym, East Bay Fitness Center. Boy, to this day do I wish that place still existed! I remember I was 17 years old and I squatted 315 pounds the first time I was there by myself-no spotters, none of that. I developed an attitude that was to become very useful for me. It was "Do or Die," I HAD to put in maximum effort. There was no choice, no negotiation. This was my mentality.

MD: That's a familiar refrain I hear from many of the legends I have spoken to. Probably why you all are who you are. So, Mick, take us further along on your journey.

MS: Well, as I said, it was always in the bowels of my mind that I was going to compete in bodybuilding, and I also knew I wanted to go to the Mecca. I used to get out early from school my senior year, noon each day, so I'd work construction and earn money to help my mom with the bills. So, I didn't mind hard work at all. Ultimately, I painted a couple of houses and squirreled the money I earned from this away for my trip to California. My mother? Yes, she was incredulous. "Mick, where are you going to go? Who do you know there?"

MD: But, you had that clear vision...

MS: Oh yes. I bought a one way ticket to Los Angeles. Talk about confidence! I had an advertisement from Gold's Venice in my front pocket. A bag of clothes. I landed in LA at one or two am in the morning, and got a taxi. I asked him to take me to Gold's. Well, I ended up at World's, and he let me out of the taxi.
With Joe Gold

MD: Man-I feel like I am there with you...

MS: Well, World's had a parking garage as part of its structure, and I went into it and basically slept on the ground, right there. But now, I have to depart from this and tell you a funny story. The night before I left home, I was watching television-it was an episode of Charlie's Angels in which Roger Callard was a guest star.

MD: I remember that!

MS: Yup. I was like, wow. Callard. He's really making it! So, there I was, sleeping on hard concrete in a parking garage, 3,000 miles from home, and who comes by as the first guy to show up to train at 4:30 am?

MD: Roger Callard?

MS: Yes! That's how I met him. First person I met out there, not including the taxi driver. What are the odds? Still seems unreal to me to this day. He let me work out that very first day, no charge. I did get to know Roger very well. I ended up living at his house for two or three months. He needed some help with maintenance, so it was a trade off. I did give him some money here and there, but only nominal amounts. I learned tons from him, and he opened many doors for me. As you know, Joe Gold owned World's at the time, and I got close with him, too. He never charged me to workout there.

MD: My man, this is starting to sound like the classic Horatio Alger story! Unreal...

MS: Well, it seemed I was charmed, looking back. All I had to do was train. I lived off my savings, however meager. But think of it, I absorbed knowledge from Arnold, Franco, Frank Zane, Dave Johns, Bertil Fox, Tom Platz, Bob Paris, Victor Richards, Samir Bannout, Mike Christian. Today, Mike Christian and I are very good friends.

MD: Like Muscle Builder pages springing to life! I must ask, who made the biggest impact?
"Not one soul trained harder
than Tom"
MS: Listen, and this is the flat out true deal. Tom Platz, I wanted to train with him. That's how I was. All the guys I mentioned, didn't matter who, if I wanted to learn, ask a question or work in with them, I'd approach and ask. Platz especially so. I REALLY wanted to train with him. Compared to anyone ever in my history in bodybuilding, not one soul trained harder than Tom. He was known as the "Golden Eagle," but really, he should have been called "Mr. Intensity." You didn't even have to talk to him to see this. Just watch him. He's the hardest training human. Ever. You know, when you are young and only train alone, like I did up to that point, you don't really know what intensity is. I saw this with Tom Platz.

MD: When I went out there when I was 16, around 1980, I went to World's and there was Platz, going up and down, endlessly, like a high-performance piston, squatting. He was a marvel to espy. But were you competing by this time?

MS: No. Actually, over time, I made the trek out to California about seven times over a period of years, each time bringing a different level of development and learning more. I actually was out your way, Hamden, Connecticut, frequently around these times. I would come out and train with Mike Katz and his business partner and best friend, Jerry Mastrangelo, and train with them. Later, I opened a gym in Newport and Mike arranged the equipment. We worked well together.

Mick competing at the 1992 NABBA Universe. Prejudging video

                                   1992 NABBA Universe. Posedown and results video

MD: World Gym East. Mike's first gym. One of the best ever! Lotsa pro wrestlers went there. Your first show?

MS: Well, there's a little back story to go with that. It was in 84 or 85, the NPC Mr. Rhode Island. Ten days prior to the event, I was driving my motorcycle, helmet-less, when a lady ran a stop sign and I ended up crashing, settling under her vehicle. This earned me 150 stitches in my head, more in my body, several days in critical condition. I was in the hospital the full ten days before the show-which, remember, was to be my first.

Now, here I am, after all the work, with docs and nurses trying to feed me ice cream and typical, non nutritious hospital food, and me...I'm trying to get egg whites and water! Everyone was trying to dissuade me from competing. One friend backed me up. I did go in the show, although the only thing I was able to control leading up to it was my food. Still, I took second. Ironically, Mike Katz was the emcee of the event, and yes, he was surprised to see me!

MD: Like Drago says about Rocky in Rocky 4, "He's not a man...he's a machine! He is like steel!"

MS: (laughs) I did win the show the next year. You remember, Mike, when they had bodypart awards? Well, the year I took this show, there was best upper body and best lower body awards, both of which I won. My class and overall were also won by me. I felt on top of the world.

MD: I know I always like to hear what training and nutrition was like for the stars.

MS: You know, people always think there is a secret. There isn't. I'd break body parts up...Chest and tris Monday, Back and bis Tuesday, Legs alone. So forth. I'd spend about one hour on each body part. But...always very intense.

I mean, sometimes, I'd take 135 pounds and do 100 reps of squatting. Or, I'd take 500 pounds...I squatted this amount 29 times once. I did a little powerlifting in my past, as well.


Egg whites, pollock...very low fat protein sources and, of course, they were cheap. I'd do the 12-16 week diet, low carbs, which consisted of sweet potatoes, pasta and brown rice. Lots of water leading up to a show.

MD: Sounds like the 80's, all right. So you had more success competing...

MS: I did. I also won the AAU version of the Mr. Rhode Island. I went into the Mr. Southern New England, won my class, but the overall winner was Victor Terra of Massachusetts. He was a terrific bodybuilder. We became great friends, but I have not been in touch with him for years.

MD: Your physique....its interesting. You are not a Zane, not an Arnold. I'd say more like a bigger version of Samir Bannout.

MS: Wow...thanks for that. Samir was a great friend back then. I was able to maintain detail with out the expense of shedding too much muscle. I also must say that because of learning from the best in history, I never got injured in anyway lifting weights. Outside the gym? Oh, yes. I have had my share of injuries with surgeries as a result. But uninterrupted, smart training was hallmark to much of my success.

MD: And then came the big victories...

MS: In 1989, I won my class in the AAU Mr. America. Matt Dufresne won overall, and Casey Kucharyk was also a class winner. It was a very tough show. In 1990 I came in 7th in the NABBA Mr. Universe, and in 91 I took 4th in the same show. Well, around this time, I was contacted by a representative of the World Sumo Championships. Newport is a "sister" city of Japan, and they hold the "Black Ships Festival" there every year. The Japanese National Sumo team comes and gives exhibitions at the festival. I happened to be the fellow, without any Sumo wrestling experience at all, who beat their guys in exhibition. After I did the same the following year, that's when they contacted me.

They invited me to Japan as the first continental USA representative to go to Tokyo and Sumo wrestle in one of their premier events. You must understand, in Japan, this is as big, or bigger, than the NFL and MLB in the USA. The crowds are enormous.

I was treated very well upon my arrival and throughout my stay. It was really a great honor. I won my first match. My following match was against a guy who was about 450 pounds. Now, I was 265, and kind of like in guest-posing shape. I carried it well...I was fit. A camera man and an interviewer approached me and pointed to my opponent and told me he said he was gonna eat me for breakfast. I told the reporter to go tell him that I was gonna have him for not only breakfast, but for lunch and dinner, too (Both laugh)! He wasn't happy to hear this, but I did beat him. I ended up winning a bronze medal, and I was on all the TV stations and newspapers, too.

MD: That is extraordinary! But professional Sumo was not on the horizon, I take it?

Winning the NABBA Mr. Universe
MS: Oh, no. I still wanted to win the Universe. And I did win, in 1992, the NABBA Universe, Tall division. It was bittersweet, to say the least, because my mom had passed away shortly before this.

MD: I'm sorry. You have had to thrive under extreme circumstances.

MS: Yes, well, don't we all? I must say, I have derived a lot of good out of bodybuilding. Discipline. Dedication. I work with and help people. I've learned from the best in the world.

MD: And now, I know you as one of the premier trainers in the northeast.

MD: Thanks Michael. I sold my last gym about 8 years ago, and I have owned several over the years. The gym business? I enjoyed it years ago...there was camaraderie and friendliness, respect. Now? All arrogance among the younger crowd. So, when I built my house, I equipped it with my customized gym. It's where I train my clients. The best thing is I pick and choose whom I train and work with. They have got to understand, it is serious, it is difficult. It's hardcore. Sure enough, these are the folks I attract. I do no advertising. Don't have to. I had a client call me from her car phone. She had to pull off the road as she was driving home after her workout with me. She had to rest because she had worked so hard. But she was not flummoxed by this...she was heartened.

I have a diverse clientele. I have a clent who is 82 years old from Boston and she rides horses. I have Shannon Petralito, who is really rising and took 3rd in the WBFF Pro World in Vegas, the same show Monica Brant won the previous year. I have a dear client who has been with me for 22 years. She is now 67. When she started, she could barely climb a flight of stairs. Now she skis and even owns a home in Maine.

MD: Your wife, Carla, and you have a successful company outside of the personal training business. Tell me about that.

With wife Carla
MS: You can learn about it at Well, my wife, Carla, actually has been making her own clothes since she was seven years old. She is very skilled at this. Of course, many of my clients are training for competition, and they'd invariably order posing suits from all over the place, and they'd basically either not fit well or be unflattering to their form. So Carla has taken on custom designing posing suits. She is the consummate perfectionist. Her creations are fantastic. And, you know, she has so much business that sometimes, she has to turn down requests for suits. The athletes put a lot of money into posing suits. Carla averages a solid 5-6 solid hours of work on a single suit. But, just like I don't train anyone athlete has to come see me personally so I can physically assess them under lights...Carla requires the athlete to come to her personally to get fitted. She has put the "personal" back into custom and personal.

MD: Congratulations on the success. Business ain't easy. Any business. Tell me, briefly, about your opinion on what I, at least, see today as far as some personal trainers being in need of personal trainers themselves.

MS: Yes, I know what you are saying.I'll keep my response simple. Anyone can pay $500 and take a 2.5 day, weekend course to become a trainer. This may make them certified. But it doesn't mean they are QUALIFIED.

MD: Exactly. Mick, anything you'd like to add?

MS: My faith, Michael. When my mother died, this was a very big turn of events for me. Is there a heaven? Did my mother's life matter? I was struck by these thoughts that plagued me. I knew I needed to become a better man for her life to be significant. For her to be proud of me. I didn't have any male role models growing up-as I said, my father left very early on. I certainly was well versed in destroying relationships I had had in my life. After all-bodybuilding was all about me. Bodybuilding made me so inept in having a humanistic side...of maintaining a good, deep relationship.
"Now, I do it God's way for the next 40 years"
I give numerous talks to various groups. I will put my right hand up, and announce, "This was my bodybuilding side...I was great at it." I'll put my left hand up and say, "This is my idiotic behaved like an idiot." I'd say I was an Idiot Savant (laughs). I'd put up walls in most aspects of my life, except in my bodybuilding life, where I was succeeding. I'd hide my emotions, never want anyone to hurt me. You know, up until a certain point, I had never had a good relationship, really.

I picked up a bible. It was the first book I had ever read in its entirety. My goal was to read the entire King James version. To now, I've read it all the way through, 18 or 19 times. It's what I like to call the instruction manual for life.

I underwent a fundamental shift. I am now a religious education teacher at the Church of Saint Barnabas, a stewardship leader, and am also the president of the board of the church. I teach kids that "God is cool." I tell them that yes, for the first 40 years of my life, I did what I wanted to do. Now, I do it God's way for the next 40 years. The kids will listen to me...I've done it both ways.

In my life, I made money, I was a world champion. I found myself with a hole, with the question of what was next. I use this in my talks. We are born with a "God Hole," and we fill this hole with money, drugs, women, sex, what have you. The wrestless heart stays restless until it rests with God. These premises have given me peace, and now, my values are so very different. I understand that peace and happiness are not tangible entities. They are the RESULT of a life well lived. Its a can't go and just get them.

MD: My friend, you are blessed, as well as a blessing to many. And, on top of it, it appears you have stayed in great shape.

MS: Carla and I train together four times per week. I weigh in the 218-220 range, and in what I'd call relatively good shape.Like I tell my clients to do...we will have a cheat meal for one hour each week. In that one hour, have anything you desire. But just for that one hour!

MD: It's done me well to speak with you Mick. Oh, before I forget, I will e-mail you some photos from 1987 of you and I onstage together...there's one shot in which you appear to have a tattoo on your pec. That's actually me, standing in front of you!

MS: (Both laugh) Very good Mike...I'll be looking for it. Thanks so much!

Mick Souza competition history (Source:

Mr USA - AAU, Medium, 7th

Mr America - AAU, Medium-Tall, 1st

Mr USA - AAU, Medium-Tall, 3rd

Mr America - AAU, Medium-Tall, 2nd
Mr Universe - NABBA, Medium-Tall, 4th

Mr Universe - NABBA, Tall, 1st


Mr USA - AAU, 2nd

Thank you Dr. Michael Dusa and Mick Souza for this fantastic interview
Best regards from
©,2015. Bodybuilding Mauritius. Any reprinting in any type of media is prohibited. Interview article published with permission from Dr. Michael Dusa (North Haven, Connecticut). 
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