William ‘Bill’ Kazmaier is an American former world champion powerlifter, world champion strongman and professional wrestler. During the 1970s and 1980s, he set numerous powerlifting and strongman world records, and won two International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Championships and three World’s Strongest Man titles. In the 1980s, Kazmaier became famous for his claim to be “the strongest man who ever lived” by equaling and surpassing spectacular and versatile feats of strength of famous strongmen of the 20th century. He is widely considered to be one of the all-time greatest competitors in strength competitions.
At the 1978 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) National Championships in Los Angeles, California, Kazmaier squatted 782 lbs, bench pressed 534 lbs, and deadlifted 804 lbs in the 275-pound weight class, which immediately placed him in the top rank in his first national powerlifting appearance. In 1979 at age 25, he set a world record with a bench press of 622 lbs on the way to winning his first IPF World Powerlifting Championship in Dayton, Ohio. His winning lifts included an 865 lbs squat, the 622 lbs bench press and an 804 lbs deadlift for a 2292 lbs total. He repeated the success in 1983 by first winning the United States Powerlifting Federation (USPF) National Powerlifting Championships in July and later the IPF World Championship in November for a second time. He won this IPF World Championship despite two major injuries. He had a severe pectoral injury, from which he never recovered completely, and shortly before the IPF Championships, had torn his hip flexors in the squat.
The world record bench press in early 1979 was 612 lbs, held by Lars Hedlund. Kazmaier moved the world record stepwise up from 617.3 lbs in July, 1979 to 622.8 lbs in November 1979 to 633.8 lbs in May, 1980 and finally to 661.4 lbs at the USPF West Georgia Open Powerlifting Championships, held in Columbus, Georgia on January 31, 1981. In this competition, Kazmaier officially became the first human to bench press 300 kg (661.4 lbs) (raw) in an IPF-sanctioned meet* and recorded his lifetime best three-lift-total of 2425 lbs (1100 kg), a powerlifting world record that remained unsurpassed for more than a decade. His winning lifts were: a 925.9 lbs (420 kg) squat, the 661.4 lbs (300 kg) bench press and an 837.8 lbs (380 kg) deadliest. The bench press and deadlift were done raw (unequipped), while the squat was performed with wraps and a marathon squat suit. His powerlifting performance is regarded as one of the best of all time. In November 1981, Kazmaier became one of the few lifters in history to hold world records in three of the four powerlifting events at the same time by setting a new deadlift world record at 402 kg (886.7 lbs) raw in competition. From 1981 onwards Kazmaier’s career was affected by multiple muscle tears and injuries, preventing him from setting the bar even higher. He sustained chest, shoulder and triceps injuries, ruling out further records in the bench press.
Kazmaier’s greatest fame came from his victories in the World’s Strongest Man contests, competing in six of them. In 1979 World’s Strongest Man, he came in third after leading throughout much of the competition and beating powerlifting icon Don Reinhoudt in the car lift by deadlifting a 2555 lbs car. In the following years, he dominated the competitions in 1980, 1981, and 1982, winning all by an exceptionally large margin. He was the first man to win the WSM title three times and remains one of only two men ever to win it three times in a row. In his 1980 title win, Kazmaier won five of ten events and tied for first in another. He won the log lift, the engine race, the steel bar bend, the girl squat lift, the silver dollar deadlift, and the final tug of war. The runner-up in the competition, Lars Hedlund, was over 28 points behind. During Kazmaier’s title defense at the 1981 World’s Strongest Man he won the squat event with 969 lbs (440 kg) (on a smith machine) for a world record, just after tearing his pectoralis major muscle while bending cold rolled steel bars in the bar bend event before. After this tear, he lost more than one-hundred pounds off his bench press, making his 1983 IPF world championship win all that much more significant. Following his win in the squat he went on to win the silver dollar deadlift with a 940 lbs (426.4 kg) lift. Of 11 events he had five wins, two second places, one third and a fourth. His wins included the log lift, deadlift, squat, loading race and engine race. In the 1982 World’s Strongest Man competition Kazmaier won the first three events. In an interview during this competition he stated: “I am the strongest man who ever lived.” A notable performance in this WSM was his 1055 lbs silver dollar deadlift.
Despite being the reigning champion, the organizers decided not to invite Kazmaier to compete in the following four WSM competitions because he was too dominant. His absence cleared the way for Kazmaier’s main rival, Geoff Capes, to win the title in 1983. Kazmaier continued to compete in lesser known strongman tournaments, such as the Scottish Power Challenge and the Le Defi Mark Ten International. He returned to the World’s Strongest Man Contest in 1988, where he won three of eight events – the log press, the deadlift and the sack race – and took two second places including the truck pull. But he was disqualified for moving his hands in the sausage forward hold, so the time was stopped prematurely. With two events to go, he was leading the field and was the favorite to win the following “weight over the bar event”, in which a 56 lbs weight has to be thrown over a bar.
He was holding the World Record in this event from the Highland Games 1984 with a height of 18 feet 3 inches. The event took place on water for the first time and Bill’s concern about problems with his orientation on water were borne out. Although he threw the weight at least 3 feet higher than the bar, he failed to get the direction right. So he dropped out at only 15 feet 1 inch. With Kazmaier’s closest rival Jón Páll Sigmarsson winning the event with a throw over 15 feet 7 inches, Kazmaier came in overall second to Jón Páll. Kazmaier had defeated Sigmarsson in 1987 at the Le Defi Mark Ten event in Canada, and also prior to WSM in 1988, at the World Musclepower Classic. In Kazmaiers’ final WSM appearance at the 1989 World’s Strongest Man, he severely injured his ankle in the first event and already had a ripped biceps. He came in fourth, directly behind Jón Páll Sigmarsson. Kazmaier was the first man to press the “unliftable” Thomas Inch dumbbell* and became only the fifth person to lift it above the knee, setting this record on October 13, 1990. In addition to WSM contests, Kazmaier also competed in other strongman competitions successfully, such as the Strongbow Strongman Challenge, the Scottish Power Challenge, Le Defi Mark Ten Challenge, the World Muscle Power Championships and the Pure Strength contest. He ended his career as a competitive strongman in 1990.
With three Worlds Strongest Man titles, Kazmaier is one of the five most successful competitors in the history of the contest. The others are Zydrunas Savickas, Mariusz Pudzianowski, Magnús Ver Magnússon, and Jón Páll Sigmarsson. Because of his achievements in strength athletics and powerlifting, Kazmaier is seen by many as one of the strongest men ever. Strength author David Webster called him “the greatest American strength athlete of all time”, and a 2008 poll of experts rated him as top superheavyweight lifter of all time and “one of the strongest men who ever lived.” He was featured in Flex magazine on May 2008, in which a top ten list of the strongest men in history was published.
Kazmaier was voted “the third strongest man that ever lived”, just behind Mark Henry and Žydrūnas Savickas. Inspired by the legendary and multi-talented Jim Thorpe, Kazmaier sought to transfer his talents to other sports, trying out for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers in 1981 and also participating in World Championship Wrestling. Trained by Verne Gagne and Brad Rheingans, Kazmaier began wrestling in 1986, and wrestled a single WWF match in Calgary, Alberta on November 10, 1986 defeating David Barbie. During the 1980s, he had wrestled for promotions such as Stampede Wrestling in Canada and Continental Championship Wrestling in America. He would also wrestle for Fighting Network RINGS in Japan in early 1991.
His biggest national exposure came when he debuted for World Championship Wrestling in the summer of 1991. He received several shots at Lex Luger’s WCW World Heavyweight Championship but failed to win the title. He also briefly teamed with Rick Steiner, only to lose to The Enforcers in a tournament final for the WCW World Tag Team Championship. At Halloween Havoc 1991, in Chattanooga, Tennessee Bill beat Oz by submission. At the 1991 Starcade Battlebowl: The Lethal Lottery, Kazmaier and his partner Jushin “Thunder” Liger defeated Diamond Dallas Page and Mike Graham in Norfolk, VA. While in WCW, Kazmaier also wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling. In NJPW, his theme music was “Poundcake” by Van Halen.
Kazmaier opened a fitness club, Kaz Fitness Center, in Auburn, Alabama in the early 1980s. The gym closed in 2005. Kazmaier then opened, and continues to operate, S.W.A.T. gym in Opelika, Alabama. Both served as a place for him to train and as headquarters for DynaKaz Inc., Kazmaier’s own exercise equipment import-export company, which markets fitness products worldwide. Upon retiring from active competition in the 1990s, Kazmaier was hired as a co-commentator for the American ESPN broadcast of the annual World’s Strongest Man competition along with Todd Harris and 2006 World’s Strongest Man winner Phil Pfister. He also comments in the Britishbroadcast. Kazmaier considers his most important contributions to public life to be his work as a motivational speaker for 3D Sports Tech, addressing school and YMCA groups. “I can and I will” is the message he conveys to inspire young people to lead healthier and more productive lives.