Danny Padilla, AKA. The Giant Killer, is a bodybuilder from the golden age. From beginning training in 1958 to being inducted into the IFBB Hall of fame in 2009, he has cemented his place among the legends of the sport.
Known for his perfectly balanced physique, he is considered one of the greatest athletes in the history of the lightweight division. During an illustrious career, he won numerous championships and continued to compete into his late 50’s.
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for The Giant Killer – he was once unfairly judged based on his short height in 1974, and was cut off from competing in the Mr. Universe competition a year later.
This is his story:
“Back then we did it for the love of the sport. Yeah, we made money but nothing compared to what guys get today.”
|Full Name: Dennis "Danny" Padilla|
|165 - 175lbs (74.8 - 79.4kg)||5'2" (157.5cm)||17"||28"|
|Year of Birth||Nationality||Profession|
|The Giant Killer||1970, 1980, 1990, 2000|
|Weight||165 - 175lbs (74.8 - 79.4kg)|
|Year of Birth||1951|
|Alias||The Giant Killer|
|Era||1970, 1980, 1990, 2000|
“A lot of people say I am one of the legends and I think it was due to them seeing me at the 1981 Olympia and seeing the condition I was in for that show.”
- Junior Mr America – AAU, 8th
- Mr America – AAU, 15th
- Junior Mr America – AAU, 15th
- Mr America – AAU, 18th
- Junior Mr America – AAU, Did not place
- Mr World – AAU, Short, Did not place
- Mr USA – IFBB, Short, 1st
- Mr USA – IFBB, Overall Winner
- Mr America – IFBB, Short, 1st
- Mr. Universe – IFBB, Lightweight, 2nd
- Mr America – IFBB, Overall Winner
- Mr America – IFBB, Lightweight, 1st
- Mr. Universe – IFBB, Lightweight, 1st
- 1978 Mr. Olympia – IFBB, Lightweight, 3rd
- 1978 Mr. Olympia – IFBB, Overall, 6th
- Professional World Cup – IFBB, 2nd
- USA vs the World – IFBB, Lightweight, 1st
- Best in the World – IFBB, Professional, 5th
- Florida Pro Invitational – IFBB, 3rd
- Grand Prix Pennsylvania – IFBB, 5th
- Night of Champions – IFBB, 2nd
- 1979 Mr. Olympia – IFBB, Lightweight, 5th
- Grand Prix Miami – IFBB, 3rd
- 1980 Mr. Olympia – IFBB, 10th
- 1981 Mr. Olympia – IFBB, 5th
- Night of Champions – IFBB, 5th
- 1982 Mr. Olympia – IFBB, 12th
- Night of Champions – IFBB, 9th
- World Pro Championships – IFBB, 7th
- 1985 Mr. Olympia – IFBB, 16th
- World Pro Championships – IFBB, 13th
- Grand Prix England – IFBB, 5th
- Grand Prix Finland – IFBB, 4th
- Grand Prix France – IFBB, 5th
- Grand Prix Germany – IFBB, 7th
- Grand Prix Holland – IFBB, 7th
- Grand Prix Italy – IFBB, 4th
- Niagara Falls Pro Invitational – IFBB, 2nd
- Night of Champions – IFBB, 3rd
- WBF Grand Prix – WBF, 10th
- Olympia – Masters – IFBB, 7th
- Olympia – Masters – IFBB, 10th
- Inducted into IFBB Hall Of Fame
“I wanted to be a bodybuilder since the age of 7. Even then I wanted to be Mr Universe and Mr America.”
Born in the Big Apple, New York, in 1961, Danny Padilla grew up alongside an older brother and cousin who constantly trained in the gym. Even as a kid, he always had a fascination for fitness.
During a walk with his father, he had seen a muscle magazine with Larry Scott on the cover. He was inspired almost instantly, and it became his dream to become Mr Universe and Mr America.
At the age of 7, Danny had found his calling in life.
Entering the Gym and First Competition
As soon as he was old enough, Danny began pumping iron every day of the week, and fell in love with the gym. Even at this point, he was determined to become the best in the industry.
By the time he was 19, in 1970, Danny had already taken his first steps towards becoming a legend. He took home his first trophy while he was still in high school, becoming the champion of his hometown – he had become Mr Rochester.
This motivated him further to reach the top of his game.
A young Danny Padillo (left) with 2x IFBB Mr Universe, Lou Ferrigno (right).
Local Victories and National Loss
Riding high from his first victory, he made it his aim to gain as much experience as possible. He decided to enter more local contests, and it wasn’t long until he had more shows under his belt. Between 1970-1972, he dominated his local area, becoming both Mr Buffalo and Mr Syracuse.
After securing his reputation as upstate New York’s champion, he was hungry for more. He decided to enter the junior Mr America and Mr America contests between 1972-1973. This was his chance to tick off one of his ambitions since starting training.
The future Giant Killer fell short of his goal, and the highest he placed was 8th.
Over the next year, he tried to overcome these defeats, but he stumbled at another hurdle – the AAU World Championships in 1974. Although he was great shape, Danny didn’t manage to place. But it wasn’t because of his physique.
After the show, the judges told him that although he had great proportions, he was too short to be a successful bodybuilder. They had picked an athlete who hadn’t even shaved his legs as the champion.
Change to IFBB and Mr USA
Danny had been given a serious blow by the judges at the AAU World Championships, but he never let it get to him. He only had his mind set on one thing – winning more shows.
In 1974, at 23-years-old, Danny decided to make a fresh start by becoming an IFBB athlete. He decided that his first competition in the federation would be the 1975 Mr USA, and stepped his game up to attain peak condition. He was more determined than ever to win his first national contest.
Despite being crowned the king of upstate New York, Danny had no idea about what was about to happen. The 1975 Mr USA was by far the biggest show that he had entered, and for the first time in his career, he was alongside the biggest names in the industry.
He walked away as the lightweight division champion. After years of sculpting a balanced physique, he had finally conquered a national championship. But his biggest achievement was beating the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu and Robby Robinson to take home the overall title.
Move to California and Pumping Iron Controversy
After beating the odds and becoming Mr USA, Danny was living life in the fast line for the next year. He had gained a lot of exposure from his victory, and his reputation shot up. He quickly became the cover model for the same magazines he had read as a kid. And it wasn’t long until he was invited to train in Los Angeles to prepare for the Mr Universe contest.
Danny arrived in the sunny state of California just in time for the filming of “Pumping Iron”. But instead of fame, all he received was misfortune.
In 1975, he travelled to Pretoria, South Africa, excited to step on stage for his first Mr Universe. He had high hopes of winning the lightweight division. However, minutes before the contest, disaster struck.
The IFBB decided that it was better for two heavyweights to represent America, so they gave Mike Catz his last shot at winning before his retirement. After working relentlessly preparing for the competition, Danny has been left in the cold. Disheartened, but not defeated, he knew that if he managed to compete, he could take home the trophy.
He moved quickly in an attempt to represent Portugal and walked out on stage. Even under a different flag, he gave it his all.
Danny made it all the way to the final stage of the lightweight division, but he was then disqualified. As well as being kicked out of the contest, the Giant Killer was also cut from “Pumping Iron” with the IFBB refusing to allow the incident depicted in the film.
This sequence of events would later become one of the biggest scandals in bodybuilding history.
“I was disqualified by them in order to avoid what they perceived as the “embarrassment” that my potential win for Portugal would cause the organization”
Becoming Mr America and Mr Universe
Returning home from his biggest upset yet, Danny spent the rest of 1975 recovering from his experience in South Africa. But his time away from the sport didn’t last long.
By the age of 26, in 1977, Danny had sculpted one of the most balanced physiques in bodybuilding. He bounced back to take home the trophy in the Mr America competition in his weight class. In the same competition, he also won the overall title. It was the first time that a lightweight had ever beaten the middle and heavyweights to the title.
Danny had finally turned his lifelong dream into reality. He had become Mr America, but he didn’t stop there.
That same year, he was crowned Mr Universe after conquering the lightweight division. Danny had beaten the odds to reach the top of his game by the age of 29.
However, he didn’t realize that he had matched the achievement of a legend. By winning both the Mr Universe and America contests, Danny has accomplished a feat that only Frank Zane had done before him.
Danny Padilla in 1990.
1978 – 1991
Over the course of the next 13 years, Danny entered the prestigious Mr Olympia competition 6 times. However. he was never able to reach the same heights as 1977. During this period, he competed in a massive 26 shows, being placed in the top 3 eight times.
By the age of 40, in 1991, Danny decided to take another break from competing. But he never stopped training in the gym, maintaining his shredded physique.
Return to the Masters and Induction into the Hall of Fame
For 3 years, Danny enjoyed his time away from the spotlight. However, he couldn’t resist making a comeback.
At the age of 43, he stepped on stage at the 1994 Mr Olympia in the Masters division. After being placed in the top 10, he followed this up with his last competition, the 2000 Mr Olympia.
Although Danny didn’t finish with a fairy-tale ending, he placed in the top 10 again. With that final appearance, he said goodbye to the stage at 47 after a hugely successful 30-year-career.
He had left behind a legacy that will be hard to equal, and it wasn’t long until his achievements were officially recognized. In 2009, Danny was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame, as a reward for his hard work and accomplishments in the sport.
“I train 6 days a week, training each body part twice a week. It’s the old dinosaur training regiment that Arnold and I did back in the day.”
Throughout his life, Danny has always trained 6 days per week in order to develop and maintain his incredible physique. He prefers a higher rep range per set, and trains every body part twice a week.
Not changing his routine since he started, Danny still employs the same push-pull system as when he trained with Arnold in his prime. Back in the 70’s, he used to jog for 5 miles, 3 times a week.
His workout plan would look something like this:
- Monday – Chest and Back
- Tuesday – Arms and Shoulders
- Wednesday – Legs
- Thursday – Chest and Back
- Friday – Arms and Shoulders
- Saturday – Legs
- Sunday – Rest
“The Protein drinks I’ll do 2-3 times a day to help me gain some weight. I usually use these with a lactose free non-fat milk and a little frozen yoghurt.”
Much like his training, The Giant Killer has not changed his diet since his bodybuilding career took off. He always makes sure to eat a high protein (80 grams per day), low fat diet – he didn’t keep an eye on carbs and ate as much as he needed to feel energized. However, the only carbs he consumed were fruits, vegetables, brown rice and yogurt.
Danny tries to fit in 10 small meals a day to keep his metabolism high, and drinks as much water as he can to keep his body hydrated. Interestingly, he would only consume 1000 calories the week before a show.
“In the last two weeks prior to the show I counted calories: On the first week I took in 1500 calories and on the last week, 1000. During the last ten days prior to the show I was too weak to lift weights or do aerobics. I basically worked in the store with my dad and rested as much as I could.”
“The Greatest was Arnold. He was the first tall guy who had almost a complete physique and back then this was unheard of.”
Idols and Influences
In the 1970’s, Danny named Arnold Schwarzenegger as his main influence, believing that he was the first tall bodybuilder to have a complete physique. However, he considers Sergio Olivia to be the greatest pound-for-pound bodybuilder that the sport has ever seen.
In the modern era, he considers Ronnie Coleman the greatest bodybuilder due to his amazing symmetry and size.
“The Greatest was Arnold. He was the first tall guy who had almost a complete physique and back then this was unheard of. Today Arnold still continues to grow as a person and has done a lot for bodybuilding.
I have to mention Sergio Olivia, because to me, he was probably one of the greatest bodybuilders, pound-for-pound, that anyone has ever seen. Today the greatest would be Ronnie Coleman. He is phenomenal because he is big, cut and most importantly, symmetrical.”
“One of the main benefits of bodybuilding I think is that it is like a fountain of youth. I’m a 53-year-old guy, my hair isn’t grey and all in all, I’m in pretty good condition.”
What can we learn from Danny Padilla
Danny is an inspiration to any aspiring bodybuilders who have a short height. Standing at 5’2, he has been there and done it all. He never let his height stop him from becoming one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time – even after being told by the AAU judges that he would never make it.
If we can learn one thing from The Giant Killer, it’s that always staying focused on your dream, regardless of any negative experiences along the way, is the key to being successful.
Danny pushed on after being told that he wouldn’t be allowed to compete, minutes before the 1975 Mr Universe – he never up trying to win the trophy.