- The 16th Annual Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic was another exciting bodybuilding event featuring some of the most impressive athletes in the sport. This year was unique because it was the first Arnold Classic in which Arnold was no longer just Arnold but now Governor Arnold. However, despite his important position as the new Governor of California, Arnold remained consistent as always and was a prominent presence throughout the Arnold Classic Fitness Weekend.
As for the bodybuilding event itself, it was a very close competition with some of the best bodybuilders in the world competing for the $100,000 first place prize money along with a brand new Hummer. Jay Cutler was returning to claim a record-breaking third consecutive Arnold Classic title despite an extremely busy 2003 competitive season. Dexter Jackson was on fire after winning the Pro IronMan contest only two weeks earlier not to mention defeating Cutler four months ago at the GNC Show of Strength. Chris Cormier had trained hard after a disappointing 2003 and was ready to prove he was still one of the top bodybuilders in the world. Throw in Gunter Schlierkamp, Markus Ruhl, Craig Titus, King Kamali and some other new and hungry bodybuilders ready to make their mark on the sport and you’ve got the makings of a great competition.
Here are my assessments of all the competitors of this year’s Arnold Classic competition held in Columbus, Ohio on March 6th, 2004.
- 1st Place – Jay Cutler - Jay Cutler managed to win his third consecutive Arnold Classic title by a slim one-point margin. Jay tried a new strategy for this year’s competition and showed up with a streamlined physique that looked to be about 20 pounds lighter than the 2002 version he displayed to win his first Arnold Classic. After losing to Dexter Jackson at the GNC Show of Strength last November, Jay must have resolved to show the judges a more refined version of his physique in order to cement the first place win.
Jay’s legs were more ripped and separated than ever before even though they were noticeably smaller. However, Jay’s legs are so big that, even if they lost several inches, they still could not be considered small by any means. His quads and hamstrings were incredibly separated and even his glutes were striated.
In the upper body, however, the weight loss was not as impressive. His pecs looked flat and his arms were definitely smaller. These changes made Jay look a little softer due to the deflated look of his upper body. His back is typically not as hard as the front of his physique and that was also the case today despite the rock hard appearance of his hamstrings and glutes from the rear.
Apparently, this is the physique that the judges were looking for from Jay as he still won his third title over stiff competition from competitors such as Chris Cormier and Dexter Jackson. Jay appeared very confident at the night show and didn’t show any apprehension over the final outcome. He acted very much like he knew he was the inevitable winner. In addition to the Arnold Classic title, Jay also won the Most Muscular award for the third year in a row.
- 2nd Place – Chris Cormier – Chris was back in top shape at this show after a very disappointing 2003. Chris skipped last year’s Mr. Olympia contest due to a stomach virus and he followed that up with a subpar seventh place finish three weeks later at the GNC Show of Strength. For this year’s Arnold Classic, however, Chris was back in top condition.
Weighing over 250 pounds, Chris was bigger than he has been in years and he combined that added thickness and mass with rock hard conditioning. Chris has some of the best shape and symmetry of all the professional bodybuilders and has the genetic potential to really do some damage. If he could have come in slightly harder, I could see Chris beating Jay at this Arnold Classic.
As it was, however, Chris was second place for the fifth year in a row. He has to be wondering what he has to do to win this event as this was the best he has looked in years while Jay was a watered down version of the massive physique he normally presents onstage. Chris lost the symmetry round to Jay by only one point but he beat Jay by one point in the posedown. Chris beat Jay by four points in the posing round but Jay beat Chris by five points in the mandatory round. As a result, Jay won this contest by a mere one point margin.
- 3rd Place – Dexter Jackson – The biggest surprise of the contest was the third place position of Dexter Jackson behind Jay Cutler and Chris Cormier. Competing in his standard ripped condition, The Blade was shredded as usual and could have easily won this contest and no one would have complained. Most members of the audience and even the bodybuilding magazine writers had Dexter in first after the pre-judging.
Unfortunately, Dexter had to settle for third place despite showing up with the added mass he acquired before the last Mr. Olympia contest along with his shredded condition. Dexter has wisely gained size slowly over the last few years and he is now in a position to win competitions such as the GNC Show of Strength and the Pro IronMan. I guess the judges want him to be even bigger to defeat the big guys like Jay and Chris. Considering the flat condition of Jay and not-quite-ripped look on Chris, I would have placed Dexter in the winner’s position.
- 4th Place – Gunter Schlierkamp – Gunter made a good comeback from his showings in 2003. He looked fuller and harder than he did at last year’s Olympia although he was still not in the rock-hard condition that he displayed in 2002 which is still his best shape yet. Gunter competed a little over 300 pounds as he confidently showed off what is one of the most popular physiques on the circuit today. Gunter is getting more creative in his posing routines as he now lip-synchs portions of his presentation. However, he needs to be a little more careful in exhibiting his physique at its best during certain parts of his routine. I noticed that he was relaxing his stomach at times and with Gunter’s wide waist, he needs to keep this area tight and hard every second he is onstage. Gunter has a very impressive structure that can hold a lot of size but he needs to combine it with rock hard conditioning like he did in 2002 to be really successful in competitions.
- 5th Place – Markus Ruhl – Another crowd favorite, Markus Ruhl, was returning to competition after tearing his tricep last fall. This injury forced Markus to skip the Olympia in 2003 so it has been a full year since Markus has shown his stuff onstage. He didn’t disappoint. Displaying his incredibly massive physique, Ruhl was in hard condition and could have moved up a spot over Gunter due to his superior condition. Markus has so much mass crowded onto his frame that he is always a big hit with the hard-core bodybuilding fans who appreciate the massive amounts of beef that Markus shoves into their collective faces. The judges seem reluctant to place Markus higher because of his lack of aesthetics but he competed in great condition here. Although he was harder than Gunter, Markus perhaps could have improved his placing by coming just a little bit tighter.
- 6th Place – Craig Titus – The final spot in the posedown was awarded to Craig Titus. After a somewhat disappointing fifth place finish at the Pro Ironman only two weeks earlier, Craig looked both bigger and harder at the Arnold Classic which allowed him to move past several competitors who placed above him at that show. In addition to his improved physique, Craig also had an entertaining routine that showcased his massive thighs and arms. I noticed that Craig needs to build his calves more to match his huge quads but he seems to have a better handle on his conditioning than he has over the last two years. It looks like he has made the decision to compete as big and full as possible even if it means giving up a little conditioning. Big and full looks better on Craig than flat and depleted.
- 7th Place – Gustavo Badell – One of the two most overlooked physiques at the 2004 Arnold Classic was Gustavo Badell. Gustavo surprised everyone two weeks earlier when he took an impressive third place at the Pro IronMan show beating many of the more popular pros in the process. This is a competitor who didn’t even make the top 20 at the 2002 Mr. Olympia so Gustavo has really improved his physique in the last year and a half. The secret to his success is the combination of impressive thickness with rock hard conditioning. In fact, Gustavo had to be one of the two hardest bodybuilders competing at the Arnold Classic along with Dexter Jackson. One mistake Gustavo made at the evening show was to stand near the back of the stage for his full posing routine. I don’t know if this made a difference in his final placing but he was basically standing in the shadows during his full presentation which could not have helped. As it turned out, Gustavo missed the posedown by placing 7th. I would have had Gustavo in the top five if I had a vote.
- 8th Place – King Kamali – King Kamali won the first Best Presentation award that was presented at the Arnold Classic this year. With a prize of $10,000, this had to take the sting out of missing the top six. Kamali promised a brand new physique for this competition but was reportedly struck with some type of stomach virus several days before the event. As a result, he showed up somewhat smooth and did not display the rock hard conditioning that he demonstrated as an amateur and during his first year as a pro. In my opinion, his routine was also a letdown compared to the routine he presented at the 2001 and 2002 Olympia. Kamali was one of two bodybuilders (Chris Cormier being the other) who took advantage of the new ruling that allowed props to be used during the free posing routine. The new props (which consisted of some type of costume at the beginning of their routine) didn’t add much to the routines one way or the other. A bodybuilder who knows how to pose and connects with the audience (Ed Corney, Mohammed Makkawy and Darrem Charles come to mind) is more effective than using a mask and a cape at the beginning of a posing routine.
- 9th Place – Ahmad Haidar – Ahmad showed up in his characteristic ripped condition but was placed well out of the top six on this night. He just doesn’t seem to have enough mass to please the judges when compared to guys like Gunter, Ruhl, Cormier and Cutler. Ahmad seems to be slowly adding size just like Dexter has done as his arms looked bigger than last year. He is not a small guy by any means, weighing over 220 pounds onstage at a height of about 5’6”. He has spectacular abdominal development and good legs also. He needs to bring up his back even more to provide more upper body mass and then compete shredded like he did in 2002.
- 10th Place – Ernie Taylor – Ernie was also in great shape but he was not close to the top six either. Ernie looked slightly smaller to me than he did at last year’s Olympia and the subsequent Grand Prix competitions where he placed second to Jay Cutler. He has a small structure so he creates the illusion of size with his full muscle bellies, especially his massive arms. Ernie performed an entertaining posing routine that included some high kicks and the splits combined with rhythmic pectoral bouncing.
- 11th Place – Bob Cicherillo – Bob was too soft at the Arnold Classic as he was at the Pro IronMan show two weeks earlier. Bob has great proportions and shape and could be right at the top if he competed in hard condition. He has very wide lats, big arms, a small waist and an incredible sweep to his quadriceps. I know Bob has been busy pursuing a career in Hollywood and perhaps this has distracted him from achieving peak condition onstage. He was off both this year and last year compared to his impressive condition in 2002.
- 12th Place – Mustafa Mohammed – The second most overlooked bodybuilder of the evening was Mustafa Mohammed. This was my first time seeing Mustafa and he really has an incredible physique. He has huge, full muscle bellies throughout his physique but especially in his arms and quads. In addition, Mustafa has a great set of abdominals along with extremely thick pecs and a very muscular back. Why he was placed next to last in this competition is beyond me. Mustafa could have been slightly harder but he was in much better condition than Cicherillo, Kamali, Titus and Gunter and yet, he was placed below each of these competitors. Maybe the judges are not that familiar with Mustafa yet but his time will come. He needs to compete a little bit harder and with more color but this guy has a physique that will be at the top of the competition ladder very soon.
- 13th Place – Greg Kovacs – Big Greg Kovacs returned to competition after several years away from the sport. Greg has the biggest structure in bodybuilding but he doesn’t have the symmetry and aesthetics that are needed for success in this sport. He was harder than he had been in the past but Greg’s body just doesn’t flow together to create a pleasing physique. His legs, in particular, looked too small for his frame despite weighing well over 300 pounds onstage. Greg is super strong in the gym and he looks like a monster when he is wearing a tank top but he just doesn’t seem to have the necessary lines to compete as a professional bodybuilder.
Before the posedown took place, Arnold came onstage to present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Bill Pearl. The audience was treated to an excellent video presentation that highlighted the incredible career of Bill Pearl. Not only is Bill a former Mr. America and a four time Mr. Universe winner (his last win taking place at the age of 41 over such champions as Sergio Oliva, Reg Park and Frank Zane) but he is also a renowned coach. Bill has helped many men to win the titles of Mr. America and Mr. Universe as well as serving as the mentor of Chris Dickerson when he won the Mr. Olympia title in 1982. Now at the age of 73, Bill Pearl is the epitome of good health and is an inspiration to all of us on the benefits of bodybuilding and fitness.
In addition to all of his accomplishments, Bill is also a humble and sincere gentleman who treats everyone that he meets with respect and honor. If you’ve ever had the chance to meet Bill Pearl, you know just how special this man is. If anyone deserved to win the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Arnold Classic, it was Bill Pearl. Congratulations Bill!
After an exciting posedown, Jay Cutler was awarded his third consecutive Most Muscular award despite his streamlined physique and the presence of the massive Markus Ruhl. Markus may not have the most aesthetic physique onstage but if anyone exemplifies the Most Muscular award, it would have to be him. However, the judges felt that Jay deserved the beautifully crafted cup that represents the Most Muscular award.
The Best Presentation trophy along with a $10,000 check was won by King Kamali. In an interesting move, the judges for the Best Presentation award were not IFBB judges but a select panel who represented the entertainment and artistic community. The addition of this award should raise the bar for posing routines each year at the Arnold Classic.
In the final awards, Dexter, Jay, Chris, Markus, Gunter and Craig awaited the big announcement on where they would place. Only the top five gained Mr. Olympia qualification and Craig Titus was the unlucky sixth place man. Craig has yet to earn an invite to the Big Show after only placing 5th at the Pro IronMan two weeks earlier. Markus dropped from last year’s third place to fifth place this year. Gunter snuck ahead of Markus and took fourth place leaving the top three to Jay, Dexter and Chris.
The audience was shocked to hear Dexter called out for third. Many experts felt that Dexter had the best physique of the final three. Chris probably wondered what was in store for him after Dexter was announced in third place. His worst fears were realized when Chris Cormier was called out for second place. Jay Cutler won his third consecutive Arnold Classic title along with a check for $100,000 and a brand new Hummer.
This year’s Mr. Olympia should be even more competitive than last year with the new physiques of Dexter Jackson and Chris Cormier vying for the top spot along with Jay Cutler and returning champ Ronnie Coleman. Throw in some possible new faces like Kris Dim, Richard Jones and Branch Warren and it may turn out to be one exciting event