“It’s not about how much you weigh, it’s not about how much you can lift, it’s about what you look like and how you feel! Always follow your dreams and be the best you can be!” Thanks to a chance meeting between an African American military soldier stationed in Heidelberg, Germany and a beautiful German girl, love blossomed in the 1960s and eventually led to wedding bells and the birth of a son named Dennis Tyron James. Born on May 31, 1966, James enjoyed a happy childhood as his father—an athlete himself—encouraged him to play football and even try his hand (or rather, feet) at break dancing.
Internationally recognized for his talent on the dancefloor by the time he was 14 years old, James turned his attention from dancing to weight training shortly after his 18th birthday. Training for nearly two years before winning the International South German Championship in 1985, he found instant success in the industry and took home the New York State Championship All Junior Category and the International German Grand Prix only a year later. Despite his accomplishments, however, his dreams of competing in the German Nationals were forever squashed when his American citizenship made him ineligible and ultimately led him to give up bodybuilding completely—or so he thought.
Staying out of the gym for the next few years, James left Germany and relocated to Thailand in 1990 where he spent most of his free time on the beach with friends who constantly bragged about their killer abs and well-toned muscles. Tired of their incessant bragging and the looks of his own flabby belly, he made a bet with his pals that he could outmuscle them in just six short weeks. Rekindling the motivation and passion for weightlifting that he had at 18, James hit the gym and made a huge comeback into bodybuilding after winning the bet against his friends and challenging himself to enter the Amateur Mr. Universe competition.
Earning fourth place in the 1993 contest, James was invigorated and returned to Thailand where he opened his own gym—aptly named “Universe”—in 1994 to ensure he had everything he needed to train at his fingertips while helping others to tone and train as well. By 1994, he returned to the Amateur Mr. Universe competition where he earned a second-place finish as Vice-Mr. Universe after losing by only one point. Obviously disheartened and ready to give up on bodybuilding once again, James embraced the support of his customers at the gym and, after extensive training and dedication, entered the 1995 competition. This time, he won the Mr. Universe title and earned his professional bodybuilding license.
With endless opportunities on the horizon on the professional circuit, James won the Vice Mr. Universe title at his first professional contest in 1996. Three years later, he tied for 14th place at the Night of Champions competition before taking fourth place in the 2000 Arnold Classic. Although he lost the title, the Arnold Classic was the best win of his career at the time as people immediately took notice of his amazing physique and talent as a bodybuilder, which encouraged him to up his game and try for the greatest bodybuilding title of all time, the internationally recognized Mr. Olympia.
On the heels of the Arnold Classic, James entered his first Mr. Olympia competition in 2000, which became the start of a decade-long climb higher and higher up the leader board. Finishing in 11th place in his first competition, he refused to be discouraged and went on to compete in six more Mr. Olympia competitions with his highest place finish coming in 2003 where he placed fourth overall. Never beating that ranking despite seven more years of competing, James’ last Mr. Olympia competition came in 2010 with his third-place finish in the 2012 Masters Mr. Olympia contest marking his official retirement from professional bodybuilding.
Over the last four years, James has embraced his past as Dennis “The Menace” and now enjoys looking back on the years he spent pumping iron and competing on stage. Admitting that he rarely got nervous before competitions thanks to years as a break dancer, James says there isn’t anything like being backstage before a big show. “All you can see backstage is muscles,” he said. “Biceps, backs, big legs and veins popping out of everybody. You smell the posing gel and the self-tanning creams. You feel the tension in the air and nervousness.”
Having exchanged self-tanning creams for sunblock and 13 years of competitions for guest appearances and gym promotions, the 50-year-old James has finally settled into his laidback lifestyle in Pattay, Thailand where he enjoys exploring the islands with his family and friends whenever the mood strikes. Although he’s retired from competing professionally, he hasn’t given up on bodybuilding for good and is determined to stay involved in the sport and maintain his physique. Beyond that and break dancing, he is exceptionally passionate about soccer after spending his childhood in Germany on the field. In fact, he said that if bodybuilding wasn’t an option, he would’ve worked toward joining one of Germany’s Major League soccer teams.
Whether you know him as Rambo, Hercules, King Kong or The Menace, James is an ordinary guy at heart who, like so many of us, enjoys the small things in life like binge eating an entire cheesecake or indulging in a bowl of ice cream during his off seasons. And, while he still occasionally break dances and even incorporates a few moves into his bodybuilding routines, he definitely knows how to relax at the end of the day with his favorites tunes whether it’s Blues and Soul or Rap and R&B. As for his advice for future bodybuilders, he speaks highly of his passion saying, “Bodybuilding is a way to redeem yourself…it makes you look and feel great. It also keeps you young.”