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THE CHAMPION SPEAKS YET AGAIN. We’re very familiar with him: the now seven-time Mr. Olympia Phil Heath. Only this time he doesn’t have quite as much to say. With a reputation over the years as one of the great trash-talking bodybuilders of all time, Heath was relatively quiet heading into the 2017 Olympia. Then, of course, his physique spoke loud and clear on Sept. 16 with another commanding victory, his seventh in a row. Four days later, he gave the following exclusive interview to FLEX, and he had a fair amount to say—reminiscent of the man he’d just tied for Mr. Olympia titles, Arnold Schwarzenegger. If Heath is true to his word, which he always is, we’ll be back here one year from now with even more to talk about.
FLEX: I’m sounding like a broken record because I ask you the same question every year, but…how did the 2017 Olympia differ from 2016? Your placing was the same, of course.
PHIL HEATH: The callouts were different, obviously. There’s really no dominant second-place person; that’s something I noticed this year. Like when you had Ronnie [Coleman] and Jay [Cutler], it was always those two guys, and then everybody else. With me, it’s essentially been a different guy every year. With that, the fans are able to get different looks, same with the judges. There’s always someone new in second place, and there’s always someone disappointed. I’m sure Shawn Rhoden was disappointed about dropping from second to fifth.
Speaking of that, we had a Phil Heath–Kai Greene rivalry, and then we had a Heath–Rhoden rivalry, and even before that we had a Heath–Cutler rivalry. So what do we have now?A Heath–Big Ramy rivalry?
Honestly, I don’t think so. Because here’s the deal: Bonac was beating [Ramy] on Friday. I think what we’re going to see is a five-headed monster. As of right now, I don’t know who the challenger will be next year. What would solidify someone being a contender would be whoever dominates the post-Olympia schedule. And also, who out of that other four in the top five is going to do the Arnold Classic? Because we have yet to see any of those guys, other than Dexter Jackson, do the Arnold. Those other guys should be doing the Arnold Classic—Ramy, Bonac, and Rhoden—to kind of solidify who’s that top contender. For Dexter, there would be no point in doing the Arnold, but I think everybody else should.
You’ve said before that when you’re in the thick of your Olympia prep, you’re not thinking about anyone but yourself. That said, how were you this year compared with 2016?
Honestly, I did not care about anything someone else was doing. I actually got some good advice from our friend [former longtime FLEX editor in chief] Peter McGough. Peter literally said, “Phil, go into hiding like Dorian Yates used to do. Don’t post anything online, don’t even care about what everyone else is doing. You’re the champ. There’s no point in that. Buckle down and do your job, and if you do that your physique will speak for itself.” I took Peter’s advice, and I truly feel like my body did speak for itself. I got a unanimous victory again, against some really good competition.
The biggest takeaway from this one is that I was able to learn a lot about my physique that will definitely make 2018 very, very special. If it goes the way I think it will, it will be the most dominant package I’ve brought to the stage yet. Because you get the experience. You know what your body can do, and you know what it can’t do.
After the Olympia press conference the day before the competition started, it seemed like you enjoyed the smack talk from other competitors versus being offended by it. Was that just because you think it’s good for the sport, or was it because you thought the smack talk was coming from a place of respect?
I think it was a little bit of both. No. 1, I came into bodybuilding as a former athlete in basketball. And who talks more trash than that sport? [Laughs] That’s like part of the game. So when I got into bodybuilding, people would run their mouth a little bit. And, yeah, a lot of guys heard me talk some trash, and it was really just to get people going that pay to watch the event live—to sell the show.
As far as the other guys, Shawn Rhoden had a lot to say in the magazine and on YouTube and stuff, and he definitely had to eat those words. He had to really be quiet. I was expecting a full-on, onslaught attack from him, and he was relatively quiet. And that’s probably because he knew he wasn’t on and didn’t want to make a fool of himself.
I was cool with every person who had something to say at the press conference. If you have something on your mind and you’re at a press conference, what better place to say it? You saw Ramy. Ramy’s was a little more rehearsed, if you ask me. It sounded like it wasn’t really something he wanted to say, but he did anyway. I mean, the guy basically said that he was going to be the best Mr. Olympia champion of all time. That’s really a big statement. [Laughs] I don’t even think he realized what he said. But at the same time, I was thinking, “Finally, someone wants to say something.” I’m not going to ridicule another athlete for believing in himself or wanting to be the best. I’m OK with it.
What’s the significance of seven Olympia wins for you? Obviously, you’re tied with Arnold Schwarzenegger now.
Seven definitely means without a shadow of a doubt that I’m a Hall of Famer. And you have to throw me in there as one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. Because I’ve faced adversity, and I’ve gone against multiple second-place people. To defend against various people throughout your legacy is important. It really means to me that I’ve been able to persevere through life’s challenges and truly be a champion.
To be seven-time Mr. Olympia in this climate that we live in, with social media and this and that—no disrespect to the other athletes, but they couldn’t do it. Because the expectations are far greater than what we saw back when Ronnie and even Jay were competing, because of how social media is. The pressure is there. Everybody has a phone. I mean, I’m literally there last night, in Las Vegas [four days after winning the Olympia], having a night where I can go get something to eat, and I figure I’ll go play some blackjack for an hour. And someone took a picture of it. I’m the face of the sport, and that comes with a lot of pressure. You can’t hide. And if you’re an introvert, like many bodybuilders are, you’re going to have to change your DNA.
So, aside from anything I just told you, to be able to walk around and say, “No matter what happens to me from this day forward, I’ve tied Arnold Schwarzenegger,” is something. No one else can say that except Coleman and Haney. That’s it. I take that with great pride.
You and most everyone else still refer to Arnold Schwarzenegger as the “GOAT” (greatest of all time), but at what point do you enter that discussion? You’ve been as dominant on the Olympia stage as anyone in history. What do you need to do to be considered the GOAT in bodybuilding? Will it take nine Olympia wins and passing Haney and Coleman? Or 10 maybe?
I think I’m in it. But the timing of when Arnold was the champion was important. A lot of new things emerged— not just with the magazines, but supplements were just starting to take form. He was illuminated in the magazines so heavily that it made him look like a god. That’s why people remember him, because of how he was portrayed. And he beat a lot of amazing athletes. He was a very strong-willed, confident-slash-cocky guy. He was very focused and very driven. I think people look at champions by their attitudes and how they approach things, and how they make people feel. They’ll say that more about Arnold in his era, that he was the baddest dude. The guy had ridiculous arms and chest, and his back was ridiculous, too—that made no sense. And he knew how to pose for it. In his era, he killed those guys.
The only way I’ll be the GOAT is by winning nine Olympias, but it’s also going to be about how I do it in the next two or three years. I’m the Social Media Mr. Olympia. I’m the first. And I was the only bodybuilder who people would scrutinize over a body part, or even my frame with clavicle structure or whatever, and I still overcame all of those critiques. No one else in the history of our sport has done that. Name one glaring weakness on any other bodybuilder and tell me that they improved on it in the middle of their career while winning the Olympia. You can’t. Not one guy. Whenever a judge or critic has said, “Phil doesn’t have this or that,” I’ve come back in the next 12 months with it. That’s called bodybuilding.
They said, “Hey, Phil, we need your upper chest to be bigger.” OK, got that. “You have narrow clavicles, you need to get wider in the back.” Got that. “How did you do that?” With more shoulders, trimmed down the arms a little bit. “You need more legs because guys like Ramy have big legs.” OK, got that. “Hey, Phil, you need to trim down your waistline.” Got that. I’m able to do it. If I’m ever considered the GOAT, it will be because if you break down what bodybuilding is and how a person’s body evolves, I did it best.
So, going into 2018, will you take McGough’s advice and go into hiding and see us all next September? Or is that impossible these days?
I’ll do a combination. I plan on doing some type of YouTube channel, because I feel the fans need to start seeing more of me in more of a casual setting. A lot of people want to see me train, and they will, but that won’t be the catalyst of why people follow me. I still want to keep things quiet. I won’t talk as much trash. I’ll be playing it safe with that and showing my ability to be positive. I’m going to take Peter’s advice, but I’m sure once a quarter I’ll throw some verbal jab just to remind everybody who they’re dealing with. [Laughs]
I’m going to choose to take the high road, just like I did this year. I enjoy watching the guys run their mouths. And anytime a guy like me feels any disrespect, I get better, and I look to destroy anyone who tries to come after me. And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to destroy them, and I’m going to destroy them all. And I’m going to do so with a smile on my face and hard work, with the experience that I’ve acquired. And that’s where bodybuilding is going to prevail. That’s what I am: I’m a bodybuilder. I’m a better bodybuilder than the next guy. I’m going to make this very exciting next year, based on my work, not my mouth.