There are nicknames, and there are ones so iconic they personify the greatness of the athlete.
There will only ever be one “Babe” (George Herman Ruth), one “Magic” (Ervin Johnson), and one “Dr. J.” (Julius Erving). And in competitive bodybuilding, there will only ever be one “Flex.”
Considered by many as one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, James “Flex” Lewis is a former Welsh bodybuilder who won seven consecutive 212 Mr. Olympia titles. And while he stopped competing in 2018 and officially retired in 2022, his legacy and work in the sport remains as strong today as ever.
Yet, as perfect a nickname as it is for a bodybuilder, that’s not where he actually got the name.
Instead, he grew up playing rugby and earned the moniker at age six because he was very flexible in getting out of tackles. It wasn’t until age 12 he even thought about lifting, and only after discovering a book on Tom Platz his aunt had purchased while attending one of the bodybuilder’s seminars.
The image of Platz’s big legs stuck with him, especially since Lewis was a rugby player, and he soon after began secretly lifting weights he’d found in his family’s shed, as his parents didn’t want him lifting. Doing squats every night eventually started to show results, and his parents caught on, taking back the weights. Still, the foundation had been set, and at age 15, he stepped into his first gym to help him put on some size to continue his blossoming rugby career.
Little did he know that move would actually spark a different career, as Steve Naylor, a local bodybuilder who frequented the gym one day, approached him and suggested that he had the potential to compete. He immediately started training with Flex, and a year later, a 19-year-old Lewis won the Junior Mr. Wales.
His career never looked back, as he immediately found success competing in the United Kingdom before making the move over to the U.S. in 2008-09. A few years after, he won his first of seven consecutive 212 Mr. Olympia titles in 2012, placing him among the greats in the sport and arguably the greatest 212 competitor of all time.
During that streak in 2014, Lewis also started branching out to other endeavors, most notably his Dragon’s Lair Gym in Boca Raton, Fla. The private gym became a refuge for bodybuilders, professional athletes, and celebrities to work out and train. In 2018, he moved that gym to Las Vegas, where the state-of-the-art, 12,635 sq ft facility is considered one of the best in the country for amateurs and professionals alike.
He also continues to be one of the most outspoken advocates for the sport of bodybuilding and health, in general, as he continues to use his clout within the community to raise awareness on issues and help teach the next generation in the safest, most positive way.
Hence why he is truly a legend in the sport. A one-of-a-kind competitor. The one and only, Flex.