by Geoff Roberts
The 2016 Mr. Olympia is only a few days away, and as the show creeps closer, the excitement is growing exponentially. This excitement is particularly special this year, as excitement leading into bodybuilding’s most prestigious show has been seriously lacking for the last five or six years. The 2009 Olympia was the last time we had serious excitement gushing from our ears leading into a Mr. Olympia. While the 2013 Olympia was heavily anticipated, with the emergence of Big Ramy and comeback of Jay Cutler, at the end of the day, it was really just the same old thing.
Up until this year, nobody truly believed that Phil would be defeated. Any person who thought that Kai was going to beat Phil at the Olympia was simply delusional, especially after Kai came into the 2012 Olympia showing close to his best look ever, yet was still handily defeated by a sub-par Phil Heath. Whether you agree with the decision or not, Kai was never really even close to taking out Phil. After giving lackluster performances in the last two Mr. Olympias, Kevin Levrone’s legendary comeback in full swing, and the emergence of Cedric McMillan, Shawn Rhoden, Dallas McCarver, and Big Ramy, Phil is no longer a runaway favorite to win the show. On that same token, as I have said before, the top group at the Mr. Olympia has seen very little change over the last eight years or so. However, this year is shaping up to be quite different, thank Uranus.
The official announcement of Kevin Levrone’s comeback is far and away the biggest story in bodybuilding right now. In fact, this shocking announcement is one of the biggest stories in the entire history of the sport, due to the fact that Kevin is a legendary bodybuilder with a massive fan base, who has been retired for well over a decade. Kevin has placed second at the Mr. Olympia on four separate occasions, and many people feel that he was the rightful winner of at least one of those Olympia contests. However, Kevin has not stepped onstage since 2003, thirteen years ago, and he will be 52 years old by the time the 2016 Mr. Olympia rolls around. With these facts in mind, along with the realization that historically, nearly all comebacks do not end well, no matter what the sport is, it is clear that the odds are stacked very heavily against Kevin. Can Kevin’s legendary status in bodybuilding, along with his otherworldly genetic gifts overtake these seemingly overwhelming odds?
There are several very obvious things that are in Kevin’s favor with regards to making a comeback to the Mr. Olympia stage. The most obvious of all is the simple fact that he is one of the greatest bodybuilders to ever live. As mentioned above, Kevin was second in the world four times, which means in reality, there were times that Kevin could have arguably been called the best bodybuilder on planet earth. The best Kevin Levrone ever would more than likely beat the best Phil Heath ever if they were to meet onstage, although it would be a close match up. That said, there is no doubt at all that the best Kevin ever would easily defeat the version of Phil that we have seen for the last two Mr. Olympias.
Another advantage that Kevin has is the fact that there are a couple things that make him much different than any other former bodybuilding great who is 52 years old. The first being that Kevin rarely trained and ate like a bodybuilder all year long in his heyday. Levrone would take months off at a time, allowing his body to rest completely. What this means is that Kevin’s body is really not as old as one would imagine, due to the fact that he spent much of his heyday resting. The second advantage Kevin has over nearly any other former bodybuilder his age are his exceptional genetic gifts. No professional bodybuilder in history was able to transform his physique with the same speed and efficiency as Kevin, with the possible exception of the great Flex Wheeler.
Kevin would routinely start his contest prep a mere three to four months out, at a good thirty-five pounds below his contest weight, and not shredded by any stretch of the imagination. To my knowledge, no other professional bodybuilder in history has ever successfully stopped training and eating like a bodybuilder during the off-season and became a small soft shell of his former self, only to come back a few months later and successfully go toe to toe with the best bodybuilders in the world. Speaking of genetic gifts, if Kevin does in fact show up at the Olympia good enough to finish in the top five, he would instantly have to be considered the undisputed heavyweight champion of genetic gifts. The title of “best genetics ever” would clearly be his at that point. Make no mistake, Kevin’s comeback is far and away the most exciting story leading into this years Olympia.
Kevin Levrone’s amazing comeback aside, the entire Olympia lineup this year is enough to jack our excitement level to a place it has not been to in many years. In the last seven years, with the exception of Jay Cutler retiring and the emergence of Shawn Rhoden, the top five at the Olympia has remained entirely unchanged. In 2009, the top five at the Mr. Olympia was Jay Cutler, Branch Warren, Dexter Jackson, Kai Greene, and Phil Heath. This was the year of Dennis Wolf’s Olympia fluke, where he placed outside of the top ten. However, Dennis was fifth in 2007, fourth in 2008, and fifth again in 2010. This means that four out of the top five bodybuilders in 2009, were still in the top five seven years later in 2015. Like mentioned earlier, the only real differences are Shawn Rhoden and Jay Cutler.
By comparison, the 1990’s saw far more changes in the top five over a similar time frame, and as you will see, so did the 1980’s and the 2000’s. For example, from 1991 to 1999, which is eight years, only one competitor made the top five at both of those shows. Not surprisingly, it was in fact Shawn Ray, the 1990’s own version of Dexter Jackson. Even more telling is the contrast between the 1982 Mr. Olympia top five and the 1990 Mr. Olympia. Which again, were eight years apart. These two top fives share no competitors in common at all. Continuing on, the 2000 Mr. Olympia top five shared zero competitors with the 2008 Olympia, not one. This year will finally bring back this much needed changing of the guard amongst the top five bodybuilders in the world.
This all too common top group of Phil, Kai, Dennis, Dexter and Branch, who always find a way to make their way into the top six, will officially become a thing of a past this September. First and foremost, Kai, Branch, and Dennis are all out of the show this year, so there goes three of them who in my opinion, will never make it there again. Phil Heath and Dexter Jackson will be the only competitors in the top six who have been there for over five years and let’s be honest, how much longer can Dexter possibly stay up there? Big Ramy and Shawn Rhoden will remain in that elusive top six, but that means there is now room for at least two bodybuilders to make it into the top six for the very first time. I would love to see these two men be Cedric McMillan and Kevin Levrone, but there are several other names who could realistically find themselves in the top six as well. Having the top six comprised of a different group of guys is great and all, but the real hype leading into the Olympia is whether or not Phil can win his sixth Sandow trophy and if not, who will finally defeat him?
With all due respect to Kevin Levrone, he is not what should be keeping Phil awake at night. Team Chris Aceto is what should be depriving The Gift of sleep. Chris Aceto, who is one of the most iconic bodybuilding trainers in the entire world, has not helped a Mr. Olympia winner since Jay Cutler, but that may very well change at the 2016 rendition. Chris is working with Cedric McMillan, Shawn Rhoden, and Big Ramy this year. All three of these guys are bigger, taller, and wider than Phil. Not only that, but all three of them also have better shape than Phil as well. If the first call out is in fact Phil Heath, Cedric McMillan, Big Ramy, and Shawn Rhoden, it does not bode well for Phil Heath. At 5’9” and 245 pounds, Phil will be the odd man out standing next to this group of three guys who average a height and weight of about 5’11” and 280 pounds. If Phil is not at his absolute best, it is hard to imagine him defeating all three of these larger opponents. Dallas McCarver is another guy to watch out for. This kid is absolutely massive, has good shape, and gets into great condition. Just like in the case of Shawn, Cedric, and Ramy, Dallas also has better shape than Phil, while at the same time being bigger and taller. With a little more work, a 100% Dallas McCarver will be too much for Phil to handle.
Very few people are considering Cedric a threat for the top two or three this year, which I feel might be a huge mistake. Kai Greene, the perennial runner up finisher to Phil Heath, was exposed when he was forced to stand directly next to Cedric McMillan at this year’s Arnold Classic. In fact, based on the scorecards, Cedric was in fact the better bodybuilder that night, he only lost to Kai as a result of Kai posting such a high score in the posing round. Maybe it’s just me, but if the guy who has been pushing Phil for over five years gets defeated by another bodybuilder, that bodybuilder has to immediately became a threat to Phil, right? These four guys are not Phil’s only competition. Dexter Jackson was a fairly close second to Phil last year and is coming into this Olympia as the New York Pro champion. Not only that, but recent guest posing footage of Dexter shows the biggest Dexter Jackson that we have ever seen two weeks out from a show.
It is not unlikely that 2016 will be a major turning point in professional bodybuilding as it pertains to the Mr. Olympia. This year will see the birth of several new “Olympia threat” bodybuilders. With all of this being said, I do feel that Phil Heath will retain his Mr. Olympia title. I base this prediction on two main factors. One being the way that Phil has looked over this off-season. Phil was both the biggest and hardest we have ever seen him in the off-season this year, which is no small feat considering he has already won the Mr. Olympia title five times. The second factor is thinking back to what happened to Ronnie Coleman in 2001, 2002, and 2003. In 2001 Ronnie came very close to losing his title to Jay and probably should have in reality. Then in 2002 Ronnie proceeded to lose to Gunter Schlierkamp at the GNC Show of Strength. So, much like Phil Heath today, Ronnie was coming into the 2003 Olympia on a pretty bad downward spiral. We all know what happened at that show. When I saw Phil’s off-season size and condition this year, I couldn’t help but think of Ronnie Coleman in 2003 after coming off of two lackluster years.
If I had to predict the top six, I would put Phil in first, Shawn Rhoden second, Dexter Jackson third, Cedric McMillan forth, Big Ramy fifth, and just for the fun and excitement of it, The Maryland Muscle Machine in sixth. Regardless of how it all turns out, this years Olympia will be one for the ages, literally. When you have a legend from the 90’s coming back to do battle with today’s modern physiques, along with a few stellar young guys competing who could take over the sport in the next couple of years, what else could you ask for? So you do you think will come out on top? Will this year’s Mr. Olympia be taken by the past, present, or future of our sport?