The movie Pumping Iron made the careers of a number of body builders. The most notable household names that became huge stars from the Pumping Iron movie are the previous governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the man who went on be become the name we most associate with The Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno.
Next to Ferrigno, probably the one body builder who was well known for having the biggest chest in this field of athletics was Mike Katz. Much of the human drama that made Pumping Iron a great movie that touched people beyond the bodybuilding discipline is a struggle between Mike Katz and Ken Waller that is documented in the first half of the movie.
Mike Katz was truly the man with a big chest and a big heart. He did not make it in the bodybuilding without a serious effort. As he trained for the competitions, he worked as a junior high school gym teacher. He always had his eye on the top prize in the profession and his unwillingness to give up on that quest went on to inspire some of the greats in the sport. He held down a number of jobs as he continued to struggle to get noticed on the bodybuilding circuit including playing professional football for the New York Jets.
The apex of the career of Mike Katz is captured in the first part of Pumping Iron. One reason that Pumping Iron is such a compelling movie is that it isn’t about actors who are portraying body builders who are involved in the most intense competition of their sport. It is a very real interaction between men who have powerful bodies and the powerful wills to have gotten so far in their chosen sport.
The first segment of Pumping Iron documents the final competitions for the title of Mr. Universe and those who had made it to the ultimate contest were Mike Katz and Ken Waller. We come to understand more about the hearts and minds of these two great competitors as Katz shows his unassuming and even humble side as he approaches the challenge ahead. His competition, Ken Waller not only is arrogant and obnoxious, he is not above using dirty tricks to try to win. The audience witnesses as Waller finds and hides the possessions that Mike Katz brought to the competition just to unnerve his opponent and make it more difficult for Katz to compete.
This is a heart breaking confrontation for the audience because after the final pose-down it is Waller who comes away with the title of Mr. Universe and Katz had to leave this biggest competition of his life with only a fourth place prize. This seemed almost impossible because Mike Katz had earned the title of the greatest chest in the sport with a massive frame of 60 inches. Only Lou Ferrigno surpassed the powerful frame dimensions of Mike Katz.
In the final frames of this part of Pumping Iron, the audience sees what is often referred to as the agony of defeat. When Mike Katz realized that he had been eliminated before the final pose-down that would determine Mr. Universe, the camera catches him fighting back tears of defeat and frustration.
This would be his last chance to try for that title because he had attempted the title the maximum number of allowed times. But while Mike Katz may have had to leave the Mr. Universe in fourth place, the camera reveals the heart of a champion living in the body of a man with a very big chest.