Third Division Is a Charm
Referring to Brett Wilkin as a “rookie” is a tad misleading. This was not Brett’s first season as a pro. He earned his pro card back in 2018 in Classic Physique, yet never competed in the IFBB Pro League in that division. Instead, he added mass and did two shows as a 212 bodybuilder in 2019 before disappearing for a full two years to pack even more beef on his frame. When I heard he was making his Open debut at the Chicago Pro this past July, I thought to myself, “Good luck with that.” Hunter Labrada and Roelly Winklaar were the two heavy favorites to win, and it would also be Roelly Winklaar’s first show since the fall of 2019. The Dutch Beast was hungry for a Mr. Olympia qualification, and other heavy hitters like Maxx Charles, Hassan Mostafa, and Mohamed Shaaban would also be out for blood as the Olympia drew near. Top five would be a stretch for Brett as far as I was concerned, but hey, top 10 would be a respectable finish for someone moving up from 212 to Open. Then I saw Brett walk on stage for judging and realized I had woefully underestimated the man I mainly thought of as being the husband of top Figure pro Ivana Ivusic Wilkin. Brett had a devastating total package of mass, shape, and razor-sharp cuts. Wilkin’s muscles looked fresh and full and simply had more “pop” than anyone else’s on stage. He was rightfully in the first callout and put right next to Hunter, where he proceeded to expose the areas he outshined Labrada in: back development and condition. It was a fierce battle with more than a few in the audience and watching at home on pay-per-view feeling Wilkin could and should get the win. In the end, Hunter edged him out with superior upper body mass, more so from the front. But had Brett won, let’s just say there would not have been a riot. But in nabbing the runner-up spot, he became the talking point of the fans and media outlets alike for weeks afterward. We at MD recognized a true rising star and knew we had to tell his story.
From Football to Flexing Thanks to Ivana
Brett was a four-sport athlete in high school, but football was where he excelled. He played for Central College in his native Iowa while earning his degree in science and physical education. Knowing the NFL was out of his reach and with no interest in playing arena or semi-pro football, Brett focused on lifting, getting bigger and stronger for his own satisfaction with no real end goal. At age 25, he met his future wife Ivana Ivusic, at that point already in the early stages of her pro Figure career.
“If it wasn’t for Ivana, I doubt I ever would have became a bodybuilder,” he says. Once they were a couple, he became immersed in the lifestyle, accompanying her to the big shows like the Arnold Classic and the Olympia. The biggest change she helped him make was with his nutrition. “When I started dating Ivana, I was eating three meals a day like the average person,” he tells us. “Once I learned how to eat like a bodybuilder, I immediately saw much better results from my training.”
His physique began looking so good that by 2017 he knew he had to see how it would fare in competition. Having no coach yet and not confident he had enough size for bodybuilding, Wilkin basically starved himself and lost muscle to make weight for Classic Physique to win his first NPC contest in Iowa. The judges suggested he try his hand at the Junior Nationals a few weeks later, and there he placed third in a class of 31. “That’s when I knew I had something and should definitely keep going,” he explains. A year later he returned to the Junior Nationals in Chicago, this time winning his class and the Overall title, graduating from amateur to professional. It was a geographic move that would be responsible for Brett growing into the beast we see today.
The “No Oxygen” Gym
Ivana had been working with the late John Meadows as a coach, but in 2018 she switched to Dylan Armbrust. Dylan is the owner or Armbrust Pro Gym in the Denver suburb of Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Known as the “Mile-High Mecca,” the most famous of the 15 to 20 pros who train there is seven-time Mr. Olympia Phil Heath. Brett and Ivana went to visit for five days in May of 2018 and knew right away this was where they needed to be. They fell in love with the gym and beauty of the mountains, and the timing was perfect. “We were sharing a house with her brother and his wife at the time, and there was simply no bodybuilding scene in Iowa,” he reveals. “We knew we could start fresh in Denver and focus on bodybuilding with no distractions, and the atmosphere and environment of that gym were exactly what we needed.”
Brett also informed me that the members, in a nod to Kuwait and the Camel Crew, jokingly refer to Armbrust Pro Gym as the “No Oxygen Gym.” It’s also a reference to the lower oxygen saturation at their altitude high up in the Rocky Mountains, which other members like Phil Heath have pointed out as an advantage. “40 minutes of cardio up here is like 60 minutes at sea level,” Brett says. “It took me a good month to get used to it, especially on leg day, when it felt like I just couldn’t catch my breath.”
Even something so seemingly trivial as practicing his posing in Denver paid dividends on stage. “Head Judge Steve Weinberger worked the hell out of us in both the judging and the confirmation round at the Chicago Pro. But while the other guys were sucking wind, I was able to hold my poses longer because I had greater endurance.” As a final testament to the power of a perfect and supportive environment, consider that Brett weighed 199 pounds the day he and Ivana moved to Colorado. A little less than five months later he tipped the scales at 242, with almost no added body fat.
Moving to Open
Brett had made such substantial gains that there was simply no way he could make weight for Classic, which at 5-foot-9 would only be 200 pounds. Not feeling he was big enough for Open, Wilkin instead decided to give the 212 division a go. “I looked my very best a few weeks out from the Toronto Pro at 225, with my glutes in and all that, but I had to lose all my fullness and pop to get down to 212.”
After his second and final 212 show weeks later in Puerto Rico, Wilkin sat down with his coach Matt Jansen and discussed moving up to the Open class. Matt agreed, as did NPC and IFBB Pro League Vice President Tyler Manion when Brett reached out to him for advice. “I knew I looked better the bigger I got, so taking away the weight restrictions and seeing what I could do was clearly the way to go,” he says. Taking his time and doing it right, Brett spent all of 2020 growing, eventually reaching a bodyweight of 280 while managing to keep his midsection small and tight. “I did that by eating seven to eight meals a day, even waking up at 3:00 a.m. to get a meal in every night for well over a year, but never eating to that point where I felt full and uncomfortable.”
We did get a foreshadowing of the storm he was about to unleash when Wilkin guest posed at the Junior Nationals four weeks before the Chicago Pro, sharing the stage with Jansen’s two most accomplished clients: 212 Olympia champ Shaun Clarida and New York Pro winner Nick Walker. No one had seen Brett on stage since his 212 days in 2019, and it was apparent he wasn’t even remotely that same bodybuilder anymore. “I wanted to see how I looked next to two massive guys, and I think I held my own pretty well,” he says.
That Fateful Chicago Pro – in Tampa
It may have been his third pro show, but as far as most of us were concerned, this was the first time we would see Brett Wilkin. I certainly had no memory of him as a 212, and I was at that Toronto Pro where he made top six. While he had made zero impression on me then, the Brett Wilkin that walked on stage in Tampa for the Open judging at the Chicago Pro could not be ignored – in fact, you couldn’t take your eyes off the stunning physique he displayed. He was 244 pounds, with excellent shape and structure and crystal-clear cuts from head to toe and front to back. In that first callout, it was obvious the show would come down to him and Hunter. Roelly was downsized and far from the massive beast we knew and loved, and no one else could match Brett’s seamless package of mass and perfectly peaked condition. Though Hunter had superior size in the shoulders and arms, they were evenly matched in the lower body. Brett had the better back and edged Labrada out in terms of deep cuts. Head Judge Steve Weinberger put them through grueling rounds of the mandatory poses over and over again, shuffling the top five men around in every possible combination, and the crowd nearly lost their minds watching the flexing showdown and screaming support for their favorites.
“I’ve never been to a show where the crowd was so loud and boisterous,” he notes. “Security actually had to step in a couple of times and sit people down because they were getting so excited and vocal and were almost rushing the stage!”
In the end, the judges gave it to Hunter. In my eyes, another 7 to 10 pounds of upper body fullness, mainly in the delts and arms, would have given him the winning edge that day. Though Wilkin wanted first place, the experience was still very much a win. “I beat some great bodybuilders, even a top three Mr. Olympia competitor,” he states. “I felt like I had arrived, but the crazy part is I know I can still get so much better.”
When Will We See Him Again?
Since the Tampa show was only two weeks after the Chicago Pro, there was hope among fans that we would see Brett there. Alas, he sat it out, and would be attending the Texas Pro to support his training partner Martin Fitzwater in his pro debut. For a minute, I was afraid he might disappear again for a year or two to grow and improve. Luckily it won’t be that long. “I will be competing next year for sure,” he reveals. “I’m going into an off-season now to focus on putting on 8 to 10 pounds more stage weight and will come back next year.”
It’s too early to say when and where that next version of Brett will surface again, but right now he is seriously considering the prestigious New York Pro show. In the meantime, you can follow him on his own social media as well as the GASP Official YouTube channel, IRON WORLD, as Wilkin trains his heart out and leaves nothing behind on the gym floor. This rising star turned pro at 195 pounds and has added a full 50 pounds of stage weight in only three years since. How much bigger and better can he get? I suppose we will have to wait and see!
Brett “The Butcher!”
I saw on Brett’s Instagram that his nickname is now “The Butcher.” I didn’t know if this had been in use for a while or was a new moniker, so I asked him to clarify. “The butcher nickname comes from friends that started calling me that after my Chicago Pro stage debut for the cuts and conditioning I bring to the stage,” he explained. “Plus, it just rolls well with my first name and nicknames are important to reach the top!” I do love a good nickname, and I agree with Wilkin, this one fits!
2017 NPC Junior Nationals – Third, Classic B Class
2017 NPC Nationals – Sixth, Classic B Class
2018 NPC Junior Nationals – Classic B Class and Overall Champion
2019 Toronto Pro – Sixth, 212
2019 Puerto Rico Pro – 10th, 212
2021 Chicago Pro – Second, Open
Ron Harris got his start in the bodybuilding industry during the eight years he worked in Los Angeles as Associate Producer for ESPN’s “American Muscle Magazine” show in the 1990s. Since 1992 he has published nearly 5,000 articles in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, making him the most prolific bodybuilding writer ever. Ron has been training since the age of 14 and competing as a bodybuilder since 1989. He lives with his wife and two children in the Boston area. Facebook Instagram