Never Rich Enough

Published: 3 April 2015

Shortly following the advent of the modern-day Internet came the development of countless social media sites. As compelled by our need for constant affirmation and interaction with others, these outlets quickly infiltrated nearly every aspect of today’s culture. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before social media would become a pawn of the fitness and bodybuilding industry. No longer did one need to be an elite level competitor featured in one of the magazine publications to further their ambitions. A healthy six-pack selfie and a vague semblance of muscle has apparently become sufficient to obtain a measurable following eager to be exploited. However, this jacked wordsmith is not here to lecture on the endless Instagram pseudo-celebrities; not yet, anyhow. Rather, let us review the rise of YouTube’s most prolific and widely renowned endorser of this phenomenon.

Whilst engaging in a rigorous shoulder session, I could not help but notice an all-too-familiar sight. Adjacent to myself sat a heavily tattooed individual sporting a sleeveless shirt that shouted the words “Welcome To My World. Now Get The Fuck Out.” With the exception of an apparent lack of muscle, this gym-goer presented himself as a carbon copy of the 5% Nation. What exactly qualifies one for membership? Arms sleeved with ink, apparel laden with crude motivational catchphrases, and a swagger that screams “coolest kid in high school.” As you likely have surmised by now, the true person of interest here is none other than Rich Piana. Brilliant deduction, Mr. Holmes! With a charismatic demeanor, no-bullshit attitude, and absurdly large meat-cannons for arms (hardly Foster Farms approved), Mr. California has attracted a fan base fringing on a cult.

In spite of an industry filled with mass enthusiasts, a single glance is all that is needed to instantly separate Rich from a sea of iron-mongers. Prior to the 5% movement, he was the face of Mutant. It was here that he benefitted from the exposure received through the company’s unique approach to video-based advertising. And despite having never achieved a pro-card victory, Rich Piana became Mutant’s most popular brand ambassador; sorry, Ron. His engaging personality and “bad boy” image enabled him to grip the attention of viewers like a pair of lifting straps coated in chalk. But in true 5% fashion, Rich ultimately left Mutant to further pursue his business endeavors, which, despite continued criticism on his part, ultimately included a line of supplements. Make no mistake though, real food is superior… that is unless you can buy them in powdered form.

It would be hardly fair to disregard my personal experiences with Rich. A little more than a year ago I managed to stumble across a seemingly misplaced Bentley. Suspicious, considering I was trekking through a less than pleasant area of Los Angeles’ garment district. As good fortune would have it, the license plate read “R PIANA.” After utilizing a strategically placed pint of Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream and ten minutes of waiting, a hulking figure pushing a dolly with four large boxes came walking out from a screen-printing shop across the street. Trying not to sound overly excited, I gingerly introduced myself after he loaded his ware into a trunk crowded with what I assume is an impressive stereo system – cars are hardly my forte. To my surprise he was particularly receptive and seemed genuinely interested in talking to me. We carried on bantering for a few minutes, took a couple pics, and parted ways. Amazingly, the following weekend at the LA Fitness Expo, he instantly recalled who I was out of the line of people at his booth; more than likely as a result of my coming off as a stalker. The purpose of this sappy love story is to reinforce the idea that his Internet persona is equally engaging off the web. A notable difference being that his personality departs from the try-hard badass that is observed online. Go figure. To my disappointment, however, he has come overplay the image that made him popular. The same kind of disappointment your parents express when they accidentally catch you sifting through your sister’s makeup drawer… moving on. Yet, somehow, many are unable to resist being enamored by his flashy appearance and “whatever it takes” mentality.

As much as I hate romanticizing someone who exudes a level of douchebaggery mounting into the upper atmosphere, it’s impossible to refute that Rich Piana’s popularity meets or exceeds other top industry hotshots, such as Jay, Dana, and that whimsical fellow from BroScienceLife. His 5% booth at various expos have become a spectacle in of itself. With a formidable militia of monsters, freaks, and, of course, a tattoo artist by his side, Rich manages to create a venerable standstill of human traffic wherever he is situated. For all intents and purposes, he has become a show within a show. Almost quite literally as he has taken to conducting offsite seminars and contests coinciding with events, which include the Mr. Olympia. What remains uncertain is the sustainability of this enigmatic character. Much like Tapout, we could be witnessing a candle rapidly burning through its wick. Nonetheless, Rich Piana’s popularity continues to garner strength on the cusp of a pec tear.