Bill Kazmaier: Strength Sport Legend

Bill Kazmaier

Bill Kazmaier is a strength sports icon. Not only was he a world-class powerlifter, but he helped establish the sport of strong man.

Name:Bill Kazmaier
Date of Birth:December 30th, 1953
Place of Birth:Burlington, Wisconsin, U.S.
Hometown:Burlington, Wisconsin
Trainers:Brad Rheingans, Verne Gagne
Height:6 ft 3 in(191 cm)
Weight:326 lbs(148 kg)
Career:1978 to 1990
Championships:3x World’s Strongest Man, 6x Scottish Power Champion, 2x IPF World Powerlifting Champion, 2x National Powerlifting Champion

Here is a breakdown of strength sports legend Bill Kazmaier. Going over his journey from becoming a champion in powerlifting and strongman, as well as his other athletic endeavors. 

Bill Kazmaier’s Early Life 

Bill Kazmaier is a Wisconsin native that spent his childhood in Burlington, Wisconsin. His father owned a bottling plant in the city and another in the neighboring city of Kenosha.

As a kid, Bill was a gifted athlete and was blessed with great genetics. These two traits together made him a star athlete in high school. 

His athletic ability would lead him to earn a scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He played for two years on the team before deciding to pursue a career as a professional weightlifter.

Bill Kazmaier’s Struggle to Become a Strength Athlete 

Bill would become passionate about lifting weights while training at the YMCA gym in Madison, Wisconsin. He would spend his time at this YMCA perfecting his technique and mastering the core lifts.

Unfortunately for Kaz, he didn’t realize how little money was in strength sports. This would lead to a period of struggle for Bill for the next few years.

To help pursue his career in weightlifting, Kazmaier would take various jobs, from bouncer, lumberjack, and oil rigger.

Bill Kazmaier

Bill Kazmaier Becomes a Powerlifting Champion 

During the late 1970s, Bill Kazmaier would begin coming into his own in the sport of powerlifting. His first taste of success would come at the 1978 American Athletic Union(AAU) Championship.

Kazmaier would win the event with a 782 lb(354 kg) squat, 534 lb(242 kg) bench press, and 804 lb(364 kg) deadlift. Earning a total of 2120 lbs(961 kg).

This win would lead Bill to turn pro the next year and enter the 1979 IPF World Powerlifting Championship. At just 25 years old, Bill would become a world champion in powerlifting for the first time.

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Setting a world record in bench press with a total of 622 lbs(282 kg) lifted.

Bill Kazmaier’s World Strongest Man Champion

Kazmaier helped establish World Strongest Man as the top event in the world of strength sports. Here are some of the highlights of his epic run at the top of the sport during the 1980s.

The First World’s Strongest Man Event(1979)

After winning his first championship in powerlifting at the professional level, Bill would receive a life-changing invitation. He would get an invitation to the inaugural World’s Strongest Man event in 1979.

Competing against the strongest men in the world in an event that was the first of its kind. One of the athletes Bill would go up against was arm wrestling legend Cleve Dean.

Kazmaier would place third overall behind Don Reinhoudt and Lars Hedlund in the inaugural strongman event.

Bill Kazmaier

1980 World’s Strongest Man 

In his second appearance at World’s Strongest Man, Bill would establish himself as the world’s strongest man. Putting on an epic performance that would mark the start of a three-year reign of dominance.

He would win the 1980 World’s Strongest Man with a commanding 28-point lead. Winning five of the ten events and tying for first in another event.

1981 World’s Strongest Man 

In 1981, Kaz would return to World’s Strongest Man to retain his crown as the champion. He would successfully repeat as champion with another epic performance.

Bill would win five of the eleven events at the competition. The most impressive feat of strength was breaking the squat record on a smith machine with a total of 969 lbs(440 kg).

It was more impressive that Bill broke the record while suffering from a torn pectoral muscle. He tore his pec during the rolled steel bar bending event.

Bill Kazmaier

1982 World’s Strongest Man 

Bill Kazmaier’s third straight and final World’s Strongest Man title would be earned in 1982. He would win the first three events to gain a huge lead over is opponents.

The most notable feat of strength at this World’s Strongest Man was Bill lifting 1055 lbs in the silver dollar deadlift.

World’s Strongest Man Drama & Return

Due to politics from WSM organizers, Bill was not invited to the 1983 event. Losing out on a fourth consecutive title, Kazmaier cited that he was too dominant and organizer wanted another winner.

This would lead to Bill’s six-year absence from WSM events. He wouldn’t make his return until 1988 when he would place second behind Jon Pall Sigmarson.

Bill would place fourth at the 1989 event and retire from strongman events in 1990.

Bill Kazmaier’s Return to Powerlifting

Since Bill wasn’t invited to any World’s Strongest Man events in 1983, so he would return to powerlifting. That year, Kaz would make his return to the IPF World Powerlifting Championship four years after winning the 1979 championship.

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Bill would make a triumphant return to powerlifting at the IPF Championship. Winning the heavyweight division with a total of 2150 lbs(975 kg) lifted.

Kaz would also compete for the first time for the USPF in their national event in 1983.

Bill Kazmaier’s Reign as Scottish Power Challenge Champion

Along with re-establishing himself as one of the world’s premiere powerlifters, Kaz would dominate another strongman event called Scottish Power Challenge. Making his debut at the event in 1984 and dominating the event for the next six years.

During this reign as king of the Scottish Power Challenge, Kaz would break numerous highland game records. One of the most notable was the weight-over-bar event, where Bill threw a 56 lb anvil 18 ft 3 in. A record that stood for years.

On top of winning the Scottish Power Challenge six times, Kaz would also win the illustrious  Le Defi Mark Ten Challenge. Bill won France’s most prestigious strongman event in 1987 and earned second in 1990.

Bill Kazmaier’s NFL Attempt

After winning his first World’s Strongest Man championship in 1980, Bill was inspired to become a multi-sport athlete. He was inspired by legendary athlete Jim Thorpe, who was an Olympian and American football star.

Bill would attempt to follow Thorpe’s footsteps and try out for the Green Bay Packers in 1981. Although Kazmaier was strong, he hadn’t played football in seven years. He would be cut from the team during training camp.

Bill Kazmaier’s Professional Wrestling Career

While Bill Kazmaier was winning championships in powerlifting and strongman, he would venture into pro wrestling. During the early 1980s, Kaz would break into the business and begin his training under Vern Gagne and Brad Rheingans.

One of his first matches was a tryout match in the WWF (Now WWE) in 1986. He would also wrestle in various territories during this time, such as Stampede Wrestling and Continental Championship Wrestling.

But Kaz’s most successful run in pro wrestling was within World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1991. During this time, Bill would wrestle Lex Luger, team with Rick Steiner, and bounce around the mid to lower card.

While part of WCW, Bill would also briefly work with the Japanese promotion New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW).

Bill Kazmaier’s Training 

In his prime, you could sum up Bill Kazmaier’s training regiment in one word. Intense. Everything that Bill did was done with a maximum amount of intensity.

He would train just like how he would compete—pushing heavy weights fast and doing as much as possible. 

This mentality of being the best is what helped Kaz become a strong sport icon and world record holder.

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Bill Kazmaier’s Personal Life 

Outside of strength sports and pro wrestling, Kazmaier has been successful in numerous other ventures. While making a good living as a strength athlete, Bill would open gyms and sell everything from training equipment to supplements.

His first gym Kaz Fitness Center in Alabama, during the early 1980s, would operate until 2005. Kaz would then open another gym called S.W.A.T. Gym shortly after, which is still in operation.

But many know Bill Kazmaier from his work as a World’s Strongest Man commentator. Since retiring from strongman, Bill has worked as part of the ESPN commentary team.

After 30 years of commentating, Kazmaier is still as passionate as ever for the sport that he helped build.

The Injuries 

Bill Kazmaier’s illustrious career in strength sports has not come without consequences. The legend has sustained numerous injuries in his career. 

He has quite possibly torn every muscle in his body more than once. These injuries do not include the bones he broke from years of lifting heavy weights.

If you see Kaz these days, you’ll see that he has a bit of a hard time getting around. Being proof that if you’re going to be a strongman competitor, you will pay the price in your later years.

Bill Kazmaier’s Records

Bill Kazmaier was one of the most successful athletes in the history of strength sports. He owns numerous records in both powerlifting and strongman. Here is a list of some of Kaz’s accomplishments.

Powerlifting Records 

  • Squat: 930 lbs(420 kg) Squat Suit
  • Bench: 660 lbs(300 kg) Former IPF World Record 
  • Deadlift: 886 lbs(420 kg) Raw & 900 lbs(410 kg) w/ Wrist Wraps(Former IPF World Records)
  • Total: 2425 lbs(1100 kg): Former World & IPF Record

World’s Strongest Man Records

  • Deadlift:  415 kg (915 lb) Raw, without wrist straps, at the 1981 Highland Games. This lift was officially 404 kg (891 lb) but later weighed out to be 415 kg (915 lb).
  • Car Lift (Deadlift): 1,159 kg (2,555 lb) – Winning Lift 1979
  • Cement Block Lift: 440 kg (970 lb) Winning Lift, WSM 1981
  • Silver Dollar Deadlift – 478.5 kg (1,055 lb) winning lift WSM 1982 (18″ off the floor with wrist straps)
  • Overhead Log Lift – 170 kg (370 lb) winning lift WSM 1988 (awkward wooden log with great circumference) It has been noted that in 1988 logs used for the Log Lift were not machined as they are in modern competitions and were extremely unbalanced in weight. Bill pressed the log with ease, using absolutely no leg drive.
  • Hungarian Farm Cart Deadlift – 510 kg (1,120 lb) winning lift WSM 1988

The Legacy of Bill Kazmaier

Every strength athlete owes a debt of gratitude to the legend Bill Kazmaier. During the late 1970s and 1980s, Kaz was the first big star that took strongman and powerlifting to new heights.

The numerous championships and records are great accomplishments, but Bill Kazmaier’s work as an ambassador for strength sports was invaluable. He is a legend and loved by both fans and competitors of strength sports.