The Gift is sitting this one out
Although he is not 100% sure as of this writing in mid-December 2010 and he will have officially announced his decision by the time you read this, odds are in heavy favor of Phil Heath passing on the Arnold Classic. So for those of you hoping for an epic rematch of Phil versus Kai for the Arnold title, not this time. Phil and I have been talking, and he is leaning toward waiting until the next Mr. Olympia to compete again. After coming so close to winning both the Arnold Classic and the Mr. Olympia in 2010, it just makes sense for him to take time off to make solid improvements. He sees that the other guys are getting better every year, and the only way to stay on top is to improve himself. Phil is coming out to see me in January so we can start designing his newest off-season program, with customized changes to his training and nutrition. The primary focal points will be more overall leg mass and back thickness, especially in the rear lat spread pose. His rear double biceps pose was once a liability, and now it's arguably the best in the sport. I'm definitely in favor of Phil skipping the Arnold because I am a big advocate of my athletes taking adequate time to rest and make quality gains between contests. Phil was qualified for the Mr. Olympia in both 2006 and 2007, but chose to pass both years in order to make the substantial changes to his physique he knew were needed to be a legitimate contender there. And when he did finally compete at the O in 2008, he made a strong debut with third place behind only Dexter and Jay. Phil has a unique '3-D' look that no one else does today, due to the roundness of his muscle bellies and the depth of his separations. We'll build on that quality with special attention to his legs and back to make sure the next time you see Phil on stage, it will be yet another step up from anything he's shown before.
Front runners for the Arnold Classic title
Especially with Phil Heath most likely out of the equation, the heavy favorite has to be two-time and reigning champion Kai Greene. Kai has to be in a bit of rough spot right now, feeling the need to prove himself after not placing anywhere near as well as he had hoped to at the last Mr. Olympia. From what I've heard, he may do the Flex show in Los Angeles a couple weeks before the Arnold. But if I were a betting man, I would wager that he would want all the time possible to ensure he'll be at his best at the bigger show in Columbus. I can't say what his strategy will be, but if I were him I would stop trying to be the biggest man on stage and find a nice middle ground between plenty of mass and excellent condition. Sometimes it takes a setback to set the stage for great things to happen, so Kai's disappointment at the Olympia could be just what he needed to take him to smash his way to a third consecutive Arnold Classic title. At the end of the day, a true champion isn't measured by his successes, but rather in how he dealt with adversity and came back stronger than ever.
Branch Warren is also a contender to win. He's been second place here before, as well as at the Mr. Olympia. And considering that the only two people that beat him at the last Olympia; Jay and Phil, aren't in the lineup this time, that makes Branch an odds-on pick. There's a lot at stake for Branch coming into this contest. He's been so close to winning a big show now, so I'm sure he's dying for a win here. He's already beaten everyone except a couple newer guys that's going in, so if he shows up in some amazing new incarnation of mass and condition, the title could be his. The big paycheck that goes along with it wouldn't be so bad, either!
Dennis Wolf just came back from a strong fifth-place finish at the Mr. Olympia that put him back on the radar after a couple rough showings. I have no doubt that Dennis will be in the top five, but the question is, where? Wolf has everything it takes to potentially win this thing, but if he's not at his best ever somewhere around fifth or sixth is equally likely. I'm still watching to see if Dennis can be consistently in shape and full, because he's really only nailed that a few times so far and missed it a few other times. If he's figured out his body and what he needs to do to his peak on game day, the future looks very bright for the resident of Las Vegas via Germany and Russia.
Victor Martinez won the Arnold Classic back in 2007, six months before he also took second to Jay at the Mr. Olympia. Right now I see Victor as being on the cusp. A very strong showing here at the Arnold could put him right back in the minds of the fans as legitimately being one of the top few bodybuilders in the sport. It will also help him make up some ground that he lost over the last couple years between injuries and showings that were not as high as expected. Victor always has the potential to win any show in the world, including the Arnold or even the Olympia - if he shows up with a package that's full, hard, and dry. He's got amazing shape and structure.
I think it will be equally exciting for both Evan Centopani and his fans when he finally gets back on stage and steps up with the big boys at the Arnold. He's taken plenty of time off between contests to make improvements, and with his intelligence and work ethic I can only imagine what he's been able to accomplish since the 2009 New York Pro. This kid has a great future ahead of him and he's doing his best to make sure he'll be competing for many more years to come. Slow and steady wins the race seems to be the plan in the case of Evan.
Roelly Winklaar made an auspicious debut here last year and got a lot of people talking en route to his first pro win two months later in New York. Roelly didn't finish off his rookie season as he had hoped to with a strong showing at the Mr. Olympia, but he and his 'Trainer from Hell,' Sibil, have time to make adjustments. He should be in the mix in Columbus and if he hits his mark, might just surprise a lot of people.
Last but by no means least, you can't forget the only Mr. Olympia winner in this lineup, especially since he's got three Arnold Classic titles too - The Blade, Dexter Jackson. I do know Dexter is doing the Flex show before the Arnold, but he's one of the rare few men in the sport who doesn't seem to have issues with peaking at back to back events. If Dexter is one thing, it's consistent. Even though he hasn't been doing quite as well lately as he had been for a few years there, Dexter is still very much fully capable of winning this. I've seen enough of him over the years to know you should never count him out.
Those are the favorites, and there are also a few other athletes going in who could very well surprise us, like Ronny Rockel, Essa Obaid, and Toney Freeman. The Arnold Classic is a small, invitation-only event with the lineup handpicked by Jim Lorimer and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who will walk away with the prestigious title and generous payday this year? We don't have long to wait to find out.