There are many unheralded people behind the sport of strongman around the World.
Stef Mattens would have to be in the top 5. He has created his own Strongman ranking system and even does birthday greetings for every strongman. He has pure love for the sport and the people involved. So now is the time to learn who Stef Mattens is and his views on the sport.
Phil Burgess: Who is Stef Mattens?
Stef Mattens: I’m not real good in judging myself , but people who know me would say I’m passionate in all the things I do, honest and helpful where-ever I can be.
Phil Burgess: Do you have a strength background?
Stef Mattens: I competed and refereed in powerlifting for nearly 10 years , that was fun. I travelled all over the world and met great people.
Phil Burgess: How did you get introduced to the world of strongman?
Stef Mattens: Watching WSM (World’s Strongest Man), ESM (Europe’s Strongest Man) , and Holland’s Strongest Man on TV. I got really fascinated by it, also by the magazines and books. Those were the days before internet , so information was hard to find back then.
Phil Burgess: Have you competed in Strongman?
Stef Mattens: No I haven’t , because there were hardly any competitions here in Belgium. My friends and I did a few demonstrations of truck-pulling , barrel lifting , tug of war and deadlifts. That was mostly done at charity events , schools and festivals. We just copied what we saw on TV , and tried to entertain the people who showed up.
Phil Burgess: What motivated you to start becoming the worldwide administrative coordinator of Strongman with your rankings and results?
Stef Mattens: I used to write down every result I could find , then Facebook started and I made a strongman-page posting all the results and pictures from international and national competitions worldwide.
After a while I got the idea of starting a World-Ranking , adding up points over a whole year. It took some time to figure out what comps to include and how to make a fair scoring-system, but I got good feedback and suggestions from alot of strongmen.
First year of the ranking (2015) : 670 athletes from 56 countries , after 157 comps. Then 2016 was 1193 athletes from 69 countries , after 299 comps. And now 2017 we are at 1472 athletes from 80 countries , after 258 comps , but there’s still 2 months to go.
Last year I also started a countries-ranking , and for the first time a Strongwomen-Ranking (together with Cindy Roux from South-Africa).
Phil Burgess: Have you had any disgruntled Athletes contact you?
Stef Mattens: Not directly. However a few months ago I saw a discussion on Facebook between some American athletes , bashing the ranking because they were not in it , and they beat guys last year who were ranked higher now.
So, I asked them, where and when they competed in 2017? Two of them didn’t and one did some exhibitions and a gym-competition. I explained to them it’s a ranking from January 01 to December 31 , and it doesn’t include local gym stuff. Not competing means no points, I think that’s obvious, or at least it should be.
Phil Burgess: What has the feedback from the Athletes and Promoters been like in general?
Stef Mattens: Promoters are thankful they can advertise and promote their events on the page. They often ask me to help them get in contact with athletes from other countries.
Athletes frequently ask me where they can compete on an international level outside their country and who they should contact. They are happy to see a worldwide ranking and their name in it. It even helped some to find sponsors !
The higher ranked guys are eager to score points and climb some places. Athletes also write to me to tell me how their comp went, and what was good/not good, or how they got injured.
Phil Burgess: From what you’ve said the ranking favors those competitors who compete more frequently rather than purely the strongest? Would you agree?
Stef Mattens: Yes and No.
If you look at the top 20 now, those are actually the strongest at this time. Sadly , injuries & not competing moves you down the ranks.
However, the biggest comps have the most points. National and Regional comps score less. Consistency throughout the whole year is indeed better than doing only 1 or 2 comps a year.
The scoring system is fairly balanced , not favouring anybody. I carefully look at the results I get : who competed , how many athletes , what were the events , the weights used , who refereed..I ask for feedback from the athletes, look at video’s , pictures..before I attribute the points..
To avoid any speculation I don’t give a list upfront of the scoring system, but only after I examined the results. The rankings show who competed regularly and did well. Let’s say : the strongest of the current year.
Phil Burgess: What do you do when your head isn’t occupied in the world of strongman?
Stef Mattens: First of all , I have a full-time job working at the swimming-pool in my home-town. Besides that, I take care of my father. Since my mother passed away last year, I have to cook and make sure my dad is ok. We’re a bit lost now , but try to make the best of it.
What more do I do ? Well , I have a few other pages on Facebook : Wrestling , Sports & Movies , Belgian athletes , Beauty & Fitness and a Cycling results-page. Not forgetting giving birthday shout-outs to strongmen & other athletes takes some time too.
Days are too short for me.
Phil Burgess: If you could have dinner with any 5 Strongmen or Strongwomen, who would they be and why?
Stef Mattens: Only 5 ? Difficult to make a choice , because there’s so many people I like. The 5 would be Bill Kazmaier , Laurence Shahlaei , Magnus Ver Magnusson , Gerrit Badenhorst , and Donna Moore !
Bill because he’s a legend and I grew up watching him on TV. Mr Intensity , and I’m sure he has many great stories to tell from all those years.
Laurence because he’s a true gentleman, very friendly and helpful. I always enjoy watching him compete.
Magnus because he’s a Viking, and I’m fascinated by that. One of the smartest strongmen ever, and amazing as an athlete , referee and promoter.
Gerrit , because I met him at a WPC World Championship in Italy, ages ago. Great deadlifter , funny guy and he can sing too ! Speaks South-African which is similar to the Flemish I speak.
And finally Donna because she’s one of the strongest women ever. I really admire her, strength and beauty combined, the looks and the power, and a lovely smile.
With these 5 at the table it will no doubt be a fun and entertaining evening !
Phil Burgess: Who is your favourite strongman or strongwoman and why?
Stef Mattens: That’s a real tough one. Strongman would have to be Jon-Pall Sigmarsson . He was a great person , and inspired so many people. Fast , strong , explosive , he had it all. His battles with Bill Kazmaier , Geoff Capes , OD Wilson are epic. Passed away much too soon , very sad day when he left us.
Strongwoman : Donna Moore , of course !
Phil Burgess: How is the sport going in your native Belgium?
Stef Mattens: It’s still growing. We have alot to thank to Jimmy Laureys (6x national champ & WSM + SCL competitor) . Since 2008 we have a national championship , and more athletes , more competitions every year , ladies competing also .
However , I would like to see more youngsters getting involved , but soccer is still the number 1 “sport” here.. I do my best to promote strongman here . Wish I had more time.
Phil Burgess: Early prediction… Who is going to be World’s Strongest Man 2018?
Stef Mattens: Impossible to make a correct prediction on that. Depends on who will compete and what the events will be . Ok , my vote goes to..Hafthor Bjornsson , I think 2018 will be his year. After placing 3x 2nd + 3x 3rd he wants to win it badly !
Won’t be easy. Brian Shaw is looking for revenge from this year and craves a fifth victory to tie Mariusz Pudzianowski’s record. Big Z could also go for a fifth title , but then he should be injury-free from now on.. Eddie Hall won’t defend his title he says.
Outsiders with a chance to win would be JF Caron , Martins Licis , Konstantine Janashia and let’s not forget Laurence Shahlaei and Terry Hollands. It will be a good battle !
Phil Burgess: Do you still believe WSM is the pinnacle of the sport or are the rivals like Ultimate Strongman, SCL , WSF and Arnolds of more important now?
Stef Mattens: Very good question ! WSM has always been the measuring stick. From 1977 on it was the competition with the most exposure , and the most recognisable for people. Winners became legends and known worldwide.
However , it was a 1 day (now 2 or 3) comp , and the strongest did not always win, depending on injury , sickness , form of the day.
The Arnold Classic is the heaviest stuff , static events , huge weights. No running or endurance type events , it’s power all the way.
SCL (Strongman Champions League) has a combination of everything , very well organised , but the best athletes don’t always compete there , depending on where it is hosted.
Ultimate Strongman has huge crowds attending , and most of the top athletes competing. It’s still growing bigger.
WSF (World Strongman Federation) is doing alot to get worldwide coverage , involving more countries and new athletes.
All those federations / organisations do their very best to make the sport bigger and attract new people and new sponsors. Giants Live is also real good ! But , in the end , as Bill Kazmaier’s t-shirt once said : ” there can only be one World’s Strongest Man” !
Phil Burgess: How would you improve the sport if you had a magic wand?
Stef Mattens: So many things I would like to do if I had more time, and money of course.
For example, creating a Pro-league and an amateur-league worldwide. For both host 1 comp every month with the 20 best athletes , and a final with the top 2 of those monthly-comps . Same for u105 & u90 .
Host WSM differently. All national champions are qualified + 2 extra qualifying events. that would amount to 80 or 90 athletes in total where you have the strongest man of each country present. Then have a big tournament with preliminary rounds , quarter & semi-finals & final. Having that many countries represented can boost a bigger coverage and broadcasting in many countries.. But I guess that’s a dream.
I would also encourage (and help) each country to have it’s own national ranking, so that athletes can see where they stand.
Phil Burgess: Do you have any other strongman related plans that you are working on, with the rankings?
Stef Mattens: Yes, if time allows it, I will start a separate world-ranking for u105 and u90 next season. I hope to improve the Women’s world ranking also.
I also plan on making a few changes with the rankings : not a 1 year ranking but a continuous ranking. Haven’t figured that out completely yet, but I’m working on it.
Phil Burgess: Any final thoughts?
Stef Mattens: I am very thankful for this interview , I really appreciate this alot !
Feeling blessed with all the great people I got to know through this sport, and I hope I can continue doing what I do.
Phil Burgess: Thank-you for your time and what you have given to the sport.