Francesco Columbu, also known as “Little Franco”, is an Italian, born in Ollolai, Sardinia back in 7th August 1954. He started out as a boxer and went on to be a champion bodybuilder and even won the World’s Strongest Man competition.
As an actor, he continued to act or appear in more than 20 movies between 1976 and 2011 with the first film Stay Hungry released in 1976. He’s also an author and a practicing chiropractor.
Franco Columbu or better known by his nicknames; “Little Franco” or “The Sardini Strongman”, the Italian power-lifting star is today a chiropractor, trainer, and nutritionist in Los Angeles and has co-authored several books on health and fitness.
Franco Columbu started out as an amateur boxer which is where he got the first taste of bodybuilding at an early age. He was semi-successful as a boxer but had difficulty continuing with the sport due to excessive pains and aches from his previous fights. At one time, he won a fight in the first round with a knockout punch but only realized the next day that he had injuries he could not remember receiving in the fight, that’s when he decided to move to weight training and change to be a bodybuilder. The only pain to expect this way, was from training and not from being punched in the ring.
Within no time, he had progressed into Olympic Power-lifting and Weightlifting and went on to win the Mr. Olympia title twice; in 1976 and again in 1981.
At just 5ft4ins, Franco was among the shortest bodybuilders ever in the sport but this was no deterrent to him in achieving his dreams and titles one after another. In 1977, he decided to try The World’s Strongest Man competition and finished in first place, a remarkable achievement considering he was much lighter than his competitors.
He retained this title until the unfortunate refrigerator race when he tumbled and seriously dislocated his leg ending his participation in the competition. This race involved an unwieldy fridge tied to the back of the competitor with everyone racing downhill. Franco, however, finished in fifth place even after having to stop his participation in the race and was later awarded a settlement of $1 million for his injury.
The damage was so severe that it took surgeons six hours to fix and repair the leg which involved removing the associated muscles. They said he would never walk again, but the amazing “Little Franco” proved everyone wrong when three years later, after the comeback of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1980 Mr. Olympia, he followed suit and won the title in 1981!
From 1969, Dr. Columbu held several power-lifting world records since he was considered the world’s strongest man. He could perform strongman acts like breaking a hot water bottle by literally blowing it up, lifting vehicles on stage as others changed the tires and deadlifts above 320kg.
He placed fourth in the 1966 Mr. Europe competition, first in the 1968 NABBA Mr. Universe, among many other titles through the years.
Franco Columbu is widely considered special because of his unyielding tenacity amidst difficult challenges. He was the shortest bodybuilder among his competitors and still managed to be Mr. Olympia on more than one occasion – this determination made him a fierce competitor. He could perform rigorous workouts with training partners and at times even with competitors.
He could train for two hours in the morning and again do another two hours at night. He had to do this in the run up to 1981 Mr. Olympia finals as he was training hard following the “leg incident” and was only 10 weeks from competing – he needed more definition. After pushing himself this much and this hard, he admitted to having seen desirable results and was able to move forward to the next exercise regime, though he could barely walk. He had to avoid the gym for two straight days due to sore muscles.
According to Franco, getting big is easy since there are plenty of guys with great physiques, but only a few have the correct proportions. He was among the few, which is very true, hence his success. He took years developing other areas of his body, then targeted his entire physique. He began with the chest then after some years he was famous for his lats and back spread, and again after some more years, he had a rounded frame bringing it all together. His entire training routine was about muscle size and strength; he could even jerk a 400-pound weight at one time. He had a standard bulking program where he would relentlessly train each body part twice a week.
Franco Columbu and Arnold Schwarzenegger are long-time friends. They first met in Stuttgart, Germany in 1965 where they competed against each other in several amateur bodybuilding competitions. However, for the Mr. Olympia title, he was competing in the under 200lb category whereas Arnold was in the over 400lbs class. In the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s, they trained together, and at times, they were seen to be inseparable.
In 1986, Columbu was Arnold’s best man in his wedding to Maria Shriver.
In 1969, both were encouraged by Joe Weider, the bodybuilding guru, to come to America, who sponsored them with a weekly income of $80. They then began a bricklaying and patio business named European Brick Works in the same year.
When Arnold became governor of California he didn’t forget his friend; Columbu was appointed to the Board of Chiropractic Examiners where he served until the end of his tenure in 2014. Critics considered this a coup since they were friends – everyone has their own opinion.
Columbu has done it all; bodybuilder, powerlifting, actor, businessman, and doctor. He graduated in 1977 from Cleveland Chiropractic College and has practiced ever since. In 1988, he created the comprehensive men’s workout to flatten the stomach, eliminate love handles and narrow the waist. His career goes parallel to that of Karyn Marshall who also use’s chiropractic therapy to train for her competitions and became a chiropractor too.
Franco Columbu is today a chiropractic doctor practicing in Los Angeles, he is also a trainer and nutritionist. At 76 years old, Columbu is still in remarkable shape and weighs about 84kg. He doesn’t spend as much time in the gym as he used to but does around 20 minutes thrice a week to keep fit and healthy. He also plays tennis with his old time friend Arnold on weekends and also enjoys hiking and cycling. His net worth in 2017 is estimated at $31,622,777; this includes properties, stock, private planes, and yachts.
An absolute hero amongst us normal people, Franco Columbu aka “Little Franco” will be forever remembered as a fantastically friendly, charismatic, grounded and competitive icon in the bodybuilding world. He’ll also, most likely be remembered as being only 5ft 4in, yet one of the strongest men the world has seen!