2008 Arnold Classic
by Hollis Lance Liebman
“Columbus? What are you going there for in freaking March?” Such is the usual remark one hears from friends when making the annual pilgrimage to Ohio. Only this is not your normal trip, event or even year. What began in 1989 in a partnership forged decades earlier merely from a handshake, would culminate in its 20th rendition in which 150,000 eager fans passed through its doors. Yes Governor Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer told us they’d be back. And indeed we are, for this is the Arnold Classic baby!
The weekend has grown to such heights, that even the once fledgling UFC organization, now a mega business, out grosses even the famed Wrestlemania in both merchandise and byrates. UFC and its fighters have rightfully latched onto the mighty back of the Arnold and established itself an integral part of the grand weekend.
So prestigious and coveted is this championship, our reigning Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler has been itching as of late to throw his hat back into the ring as was a planned Victor Martinez, last year’s returning champion prior to a leg injury. These two great athletes minus one Dennis Wolf would have given us a dead-on Mr. Olympia lineup; early to boot!
In no other sport or endeavor can the fan mix so readily with his heroes save for our beloved sport of bodybuilding. Every year the Arnold staff seeks to outdo itself and 2008 delivered and then some. Former fan favorite acts that defy gravity and logic were brought back to entertain and titillate those in attendance as well as those watching live via the internet courtesy of Bodybuilding.com.
Other highlights always include the return of the contests’ namesake – Arnold himself who continues to show up each and every year and remind us he is still and will always be one of us. A fitting tribute to his hero Reg Park was justly served as well as Ben Weider, founder and lifetime honorary president of the IFBB receiving the lifetime achievement award. And yet that still wasn’t enough.
It was the addition and inclusion of each former Arnold Classic champion along with the previous Ms. International winners that made this truly an evening to remember. One by one emcee Lonnie Teper announced each athlete as he remains today standing alongside a life-size cardboard cutout of how he appeared during his and her championship form. The highlight being Dexter Jackson hitting the same pose as his standee and obliterating it. Seeing warriors long retired back for one more special night proved quite emotional indeed. Of note, former champions Michael Ashley and Michael Francois long thought extinct were indeed back and intact. And the sight of Shawn Ray, Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone returned us all to perhaps the most competitive period in the history of the iron game. All these great champions were present except for our 1999 champion Nasser El Sonbaty.
The bodybuilding lineup itself was a strong field even tougher to judge as many of the athletes were in pristine condition yet no-one was far superior to anyone else making for a wide open contest. This was one show in which the judging was fair and accurate; mostly.
1. Dexter Jackson – From the moment the two-time returning AC champ took to the stage, it was close to over. In a word, Dexter was peeled. Although not vastly improved in size in recent memory, Dexter did what Dexter needed to do to win. That translated meant coming in as The Blade. Although slightly flawed – long torso, minute abdominal distension, high lat attachments and lack of calves, no-one has a better and more complete side chest pose in this business. On a special note, this scribe, along with others, had conceded the trophy to Phil Heath in the weeks leading up to the show evidently backed up by his outstanding conditioning at the Ironman two weeks prior. Had he brought that package, we may have had a different outcome. Amidst some grimacing faces, one got the sense Dexter suffered to take home victory number 3.
2. Phil Heath - The Gift was off slightly and he knew it. Based on the improvements he showed between the 2007 contest season and now, Heath had a good case for taking the whole thing. The Heath standard, although very good here, peeked mere days earlier. At 28 he is the youngest competitor in this terrific lineup and although less flawed genetically than Dexter, Heath has more in common with the great Flex Wheeler. There are the pluses such as near oversized arms and overall symmetry and the minuses such as relatively narrow clavicles and an underdeveloped chest in comparison to his shoulders. Heath is rapidly mowing down his competition in a career that is all but guaranteed to reach the pinnacle of our sport: Mr. Olympia. Expect to see his Ironman form or better at this year’s main event.
3. Kai Greene – When he erupted onto the stage there was electricity. There was silence. There was greatness. One simply can not take their eyes off Kai for he is that mesmerizing to watch. After a lackluster early pro career, he went the big boy route and capitalized on his God-given genetics. Here he was big and razor sharp. And then poof. In a matter of minutes, Kai seemed to have faded a bit and seemed to be struggling. His peak came and went but was still strong enough to keep the Greene Machine in the running. Aside from his structural upper body issues and slightly thick waste, Kai has arrived. His posing routine, the one we all eagerly awaited was just beginning to unfold when his music was cut off at exactly three minutes in. Unable to complete what was sure to be a knockout routine, Kai hit a few more poses and strode off the stage as the champion he is.
4. Branch Warren – Branch is kicking it old school style for the true mass monsters in the same way Pantera kept it real in the time of Nirvana and grunge. The soft spoken Texan has no shortage of fans who paid their ticket to see him. One look at Branch reveals an almost Rambo-like war effort in the gym. He’s by now brought his upper body into contention with the famous wheels. A throwback to the Dorian-era of ultra-hardcore muscle, Branch is a master at shifting the humongous mass that is quadriceps and forming steel hard striations in one fell swoop. Although here Branch displayed a hard and grainy look, he seemed to have faded ever so slightly by night’s end. Apparently he did something right as evidenced by his second win of the coveted most muscular trophy; i.e. - he won round 2. Reminiscent of the late great Momo Benaziza, there may be no more cells to develop. Keep on bringing the quality big guy.
5. Silvio Samuel – Still relatively fresh to the professional ranks, Silvio improved on his already stunning conditioning at this year’s Ironman. With impeccable presentation and posing, Silvio is a reminder of the Zane-like physiques of yesteryear with his classic lines and proportions coupled with today’s razor sharp conditioning. Indeed Charles Glass has done wonders with this gifted athlete. Perhaps a more extended offseason with the likes of Dorian, and this class will then have the mass to finally smash.
6. Gustavo Badell – Gustavo is a fighter. So much so he yells when posing. Refusing to slide back down the ranks he so aptly fought to ascend, Badell continues playing the balancing trick of coming in full and shredded – no easy feat. This Badell was indeed huge – but neither shredded nor displaying the once prominent fullness in the thighs. In addition, 2005’s belly bloat has returned. Some in attendance thought he was bested by Tony Freeman in what is perhaps his finest pose, the side triceps.
7. Toney Freeman - Tony may not have time on his side but you wouldn’t know it. Tony pulled off a Flex Wheeler circa 2000 when he was taken out at the Ironman that year by Chris Cormier and bounced back with a convincing win at that year’s Arnold days later. Tony brought conditioning to this show and brought it strong. A true master of the stage, Tony knew when and how to show what. The judges failed to put him in the main callout. I’d say he’s been redeemed. Yet despite the injustice, there was no wincing and no complaining. He knows the game. Lookout come Olympia time!
8. Melvin Anthony – If you were at the Ironman you were treated to a glimpse of the 2008 rendition of the greatest poser in our sport today. Although fuller than we’ve seen Mel and up in size, one might be hard pressed to believe he could fully dial it in for this important show. Not just a master poser, but a master in presentation, Melvin knows his strengths and covers his weaknesses, literally, The trunks clearly hid the smooth glutes, this in contrast to some of his competitors who were all too eager to hike them up showcasing striated musculature the likes of which may not be in the genetic cards for Melvin. Another best poser award for his mantel. All Melvin need do is bring in the driest physique he can and he’ll give anyone a run for their money even in a show as competitive as the Arnold.
9. Johnnie Jackson – Johnnie is about as thick as they get and even stronger. This Jackson version was in decent shape and the thighs have come up. Still, he needs calves or at least some cells there. Will he ever find true harmony between his gigantic torso and lower appendages?
10. Desmond Miller – Desmond’s legs are the modern-day equivalent of Chris Cormier at his best. His quads are super-developed and striated with the thickest hams
seen since Tom Prince. Once he brings his upper body into proportion with the lower half along with some added back thickness, he will be dangerous. This cat definitely has his conditioning down.
11. Moe Elmoussawi – Mo established himself a contender with a strong 3rd place at the Ironman days earlier. Showcasing a symmetrical physique with good presentation, Mo may pick up where Ahmad Haidar left off. Mo needs to keep adding quality size since he’s got the conditioning game down, come to the stage a bit more aggressive and for God’s sake, lose the lobster finish and opt for more traditional tanning lotions.
12. David Henry- Aside from a less than genetically full chest, David has a complete physique and the ability to get downright shredded as evidenced by his 2005 Olympia Wildcard victory. A return to this level of conditioning will further him back up the ranks.
13. Ronny Rockel – Ronnie is a very good small man’s bodybuilder often defeating athletes of much larger dimensions due to his complete development and finely detailed musculature. The Rockel upper body was very good here but the lower half’s conditioning seemed to have peeked for another show, at another time. There was a slight abdominal distention that Ronny would do well to take care of.
14. Deshaun Grimez – A pleasing structure but at this level many a pleasing structure may be found in the audience. Deshaun lacked true contest conditioning to be competitive on this day.
15. Adorthus Cherry- Fresh off his pro-card national’s win, Cherry jumped right in head first; for reasons all his own. Was he contractually bound? Was he eager to be done with his pro baptism? Or maybe he wanted to see how he’d fair in IFBB waters. Newbie pros would do well to take the necessary time to make improvements AND show up in at least the condition that garnered their pro status in the first place.Cherry was smaller and softer than the rest of the field with a slight tear in his right pectoralis. But boy was he stoked about being here. He can only move up.