Born August 20, 1924
Camden, New Jersey
In the history of our sport, perhaps no one has been identified with – and applauded for – a particular Bodypart more than Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski; so much so that his nickname is better known and more used than his proper first name. Throw in the fact that he has been a Muscle Beach fixture for more than 50 years, and it is clear why he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Zabo’s quest for a perfect midsection began at the age of seven, after seeing photographs of Eugen Sandow’s abdominal development. This early determination would serve him well later in life, when he would seldom fail to win best abs in the contests he entered.
While in high school, athletic Zabo lettered in track, swimming and wrestling, and he was also captain of the football team, for which he was selected as an all-state guard. He began weight training outdoors at Roberts Lake in Collingswood, New Jersey, and when the lake was closed for the winter, Zabo brought home the barbells and began a gym in his basement.
In 1943, Zabo enlisted in the army infantry, along with training partner Dino Mazzo; a photo of Zabo from that year appeared in Strength & Health magazine when he was stationed in Utica, New York. During his enlistment, Zabo served in New Zealand and Australia, and he fought in three combat landings. While in Japan, he was stationed near an iron foundry and was able to improvise his training by using odd pieces of iron. However, malaria and dengue fever reduced his 185 pounds to 135.
Zabo continued his training when he returned stateside; he won Mr. New Jersey in 1948, as well as the junior and senior Mr. Middle Atlantic titles in 1950. The following year, he stepped foot on Muscle Beach in California and knew he had found home. Between 1950 and 1954, he would win Mr. Pacific Coast and Mr. California titles and enter the AAU Mr. America contest four times, achieving placings of 13th, 5th, and 3rd (two times) – while always winning best abs.
At the 1965 Mr. America, held in conjunction with the inaugural Mr. Olympia, Zabo placed third in the medium class, he won, of course, best abs. Two years later, he won the Mr. International medium class, as well as the unique title of World’s Best Abs. His bodybuilding successes led to mainstream notoriety, as he landed a part in the TV series Combat for five years, worked in movies and toured with the Mae West Show.
Evidence of Zabo’s longevity can be found in his participation in the 1970 Pro World event in Columbus, Ohio, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sergio Oliva faced off in the tall division, and Zabo landed fourth in the short class. By 1978, he was honored as the Venice Beach Bodybuilding Man of the Year. Zabo is still employed by World Gym in Venice.
They said if you were looking for him in the gym, just go to the roman chair:
May he RIP
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