It was shortly before 11 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, 1995, as I and a couple of FLEX colleagues navigated New Orleans’ iconic Bourbon Street in search of nourishment. The prejudging of the 1995 NPC Nationals had just finished.

As we entered a particular a diner, we saw a mournful Dexter Jackson seated with his family and friends, pushing some chicken around his plate. Jackson’s table took on the ambience of a funeral parlor, a stark contrast from the pulsating buzz of Bourbon Street. We approached Jackson, who, in truth, was as keen to talk as Harpo Marx with laryngitis.

The reason was as plain as the nose on Cyrano De Bergerac’s kisser. Twelve weeks earlier, in his first shot at the national level, Jackson had taken the light heavyweight title at the NPC USA Championships in Denver. In those days, only the overall USA champ won a pro card, and many thought Jackson might have earned that recognition but for the hulking excellence of heavyweight winner, Phil Hernon. Thus, the 25-year-old Jackson came into the Nationals as a favorite, and by winning his class he would join the IFBB pro ranks.

As he stood backstage with the rest of the light heavyweight entrants waiting to see who had made the top 15, the NPC USA champ was confident his number would be called — but it wasn’t.

He remembers, “I must have looked at my number 100 times waiting for it to change to one of the numbers called.” It never happened and his omission stunned not only him, but mystified most experienced observers. I, for one, was convinced that a mistake had been made and his number had been mixed up with another competitor. It was the unkindest cut of all for the man who would come to be known as “The Blade.”

On that Friday night, he was of a mind that he was done. He and his wife had made too many sacrifices, putting all their resources into him getting ready for the Nationals. He was devastated and could not contemplate putting himself and his family through such tribulations again for zero reward.

It was over— Hasta la vista baby; adios amigo; Sayonara; that’s all she wrote. To his credit, though bitterly disappointed, Jackson didn’t bitch about judging anomalies or any kind of skullduggery.

THE BLADE EMERGES

By the next day his mood had softened, and the out-of-action Jackson was near the front at the Saturday night finals watching Rod Ketchens take the light heavy division and a pro card that he had been a favorite for.

From that low, low point the rest is history.

An unparalleled career lay ahead. He won his pro card at the 1998 North American Championships, which led to him entering 91 pro contests, winning a world-record 28 of them. They include five Arnold Classic victories (more than any other competitor); two Masters Olympia victories; and the jewel in the crown, his Mr. Olympia triumph in 2008.

Additionally, he’s finished in the Olympia’s top 10 on 21 occasions. He celebrates his 51st birthday on Nov. 26, and as Dexter calls time on a legendary career, it’s a sobering thought that it all so nearly came to a jolting halt on a sultry night in New Orleans 25 years ago.

As you near retirement Dexter, many thanks for all the memories. We’ll never see anyone like you again.

Peter McGough is a legendary bodybuilding journalist, and former editor-in-chief of FLEX Magazine.

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