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Ah, the 2014 season is upon us. Fresh story lines will develop over the coming months as winners of contests (and those who fall short) add their names to the mix in the countdown to the season-ending show of shows, the Olympia. To be sure, a lot will happen between now and then, but one thing for certain is that the biggest headline of them all will likely take place at the very first IFBB Pro League men’s bodybuilding contest on March 1, in Columbus, OH. That’s when the winner of the 2014 Arnold Classic will be announced, and though it’s still way early in the game, you can bet the name that reverberates across Veterans Memorial will ring out all year as a serious Sandow threat come Sept. 19–20.
So with the top two bodybuilders on the planet, reigning, three-time Mr. Olympia Phil Heath and 2012–2013 runnerup Kai Greene, sitting on the sidelines until September, and defending champ Dexter Jackson focusing on the launch of his new supplement line, all eyes will be focused on a select list of names such as Dennis Wolf, who, in 2013, finished behind only Heath and Greene at the Olympia and the Arnold Europe, and Shawn Rhoden, who finished behind only Wolf at the same two shows. Plus Victor Martinez, Branch Warren, Evan Centopani, Ben Pakulski, and others who want that instant top-contender buzz that only a contest the magnitude of the Arnold can generate. So who will be the man most likely to sit atop the vacant throne and crash the Heath-Greene party at the O? IFBB pro Dennis James and the original “guru” Chad Nicholls tell you how things could play out at the 2014 IFBB Arnold Classic.
DENNIS JAMES: Evan doesn’t do many shows. He’s been very systematic at picking which shows to enter but I think competing more would help him fIgure out his body better. He’s got plenty of size, so that’s not an issue. He needs to nail conditioning. I would also like to see more polished stage presentation. He’ll have a tough time getting past the guys who beat him at the last Mr. Olympia. He can be dangerous but he needs to be 100% and we haven’t seen that yet from him.
CHAD NICOLLS: This is a lineup made for Evan. He comes into the show as one of the bigger guys but needs to put together the last piece of the puzzle, which is the “finished, polished” look. Leading into the show he has conditioning and hardness, but when he hits the stage he loses that. Once he’s able to dry out without losing fullness/conditioning, he’ll do well in any lineup.
DENNIS JAMES: Brandon has a beautiful physique but his legs are still too far behind his upper body, and at this point, I have to think that they’ll never catch up. The only other option is to downsize his upper body for better balance or come in bone-dry to of set weaker legs. The 212 division might be a better option for him. Of course, he’d still have to deal with Flex Lewis, David Henry, and the rest but he wouldn’t have to contend with those who have the potential to outmuscle him.
CHAD NICOLLS: Genetically great, but struggles to get in shape. He has two major fLaws: legs and getting in shape. With his structure he doesn’t have to be the hardest guy onstage, but he does need to be in shape, and his last few outings he hasn’t been close. In this lineup, conditioning will rule.
DENNIS JAMES: Toney’s been doing a lot of shows every year but he might need to slow down because hasn’t been getting better for the past few years. Maybe he’s not giving his body enough time in-between shows. The biggest thing for him is to bring his legs back to where they were, and at age 47, that’s a tough task, as legs are the frst thing to go. He has to fInd a way to not lose leg sweep as he diets down. Once the legs start going, your waist, even if it’s small, starts to look wider. I tip my hat to him for bringing the condition he has as an elder statesman, but to be competitive at this level with these younger guys, you need to bring it.
CHAD NICHOLLS: Toney always seems to put things together for the Arnold, but in this lineup he really needs to focus on conditioning. He’s been able to slow down Father Time, but not stop him, and eventually conditioning and the look of the skin become a major issue as age catches up with you.
DENNIS JAMES: It doesn’t matter what he looks like leading up to the show because it can all change so much for him on game day. I can’t say what happens but maybe it’s an issue of being mentally tough and focused on what he needs to do. He needs to be 98–99% to be in the mix. If he ever nails it 100% , he could win this—he could win the O. But his track record says otherwise as we have yet to see him come in on.
CHAD NICHOLLS: Cedric is one of those guys that everyone is waiting to see present a physique expected from such a genetically gifted athlete. I believe he needs a solid (year-long) off-season to fix many of the problems that plague him come contest time. The way he looks 48 hours prior to a show and the way he looks onstage are night and day.
CHAD NICHOLLS: Victor is an athlete who could easily walk in and win this show. What he needs now, however, is time to make solid gains and mature the size to bring him back to the top of his game. He just hasn’t allowed himself time to do so since his comeback. Vic needs to be 250 and in solid shape. If he does that he’ll be one of the last guys standing.
DENNIS JAMES: Ed’s got great lines with a small waist and wide, faring quads. He’s tall but not the biggest guy. He’s always a little fat in the side poses because he lacks chest and back thickness. Unless he can pack on 10–15 pounds of quality torso mass, which I don’t see happening at his age, it will be tough for him to make the top six.
CHAD NICHOLLS: Ed’s one of the taller athletes in this lineup but lacks a bit of front to back thickness. He always displays solid conditioning but needs to fInd a balance that gives him the crisp look without losing too much size while not coming in so full that his conditioning is blurred.
CHAD NICHOLLS: One of the freakiest guys in the lineup with the ability to be the best-conditioned athlete in the show. Ben placed second in the Arnold last year and also snagged the Most Muscular award. He needs to bump things up a notch and show the hard, grainy look he is capable of. His size and gnarly, grainy look, could very easily leave him as the last man standing.
DENNIS JAMES: A great, aesthetic physique. Now, was there enough time between the Arnold Europe in October to now for him to add size? I doubt it. His best bet is to come in conditioned without losing any of the size he had last year. If he does, his lines and symmetry can carry him a long way. He is defnitely a threat.
CHAD NICHOLLS: Structurally the best athlete in the lineup. With his solid placements at the Olympia the last two years, he comes in as one of the favorites. He gets in really good condition, but needs to show that thin-skinned look. When he poses, his shots really jump and you see the conditioning, but as he transitions, his body tends to soften a bit. If he can thin the skin just a bit more and look conditioned through every movement, he’ll be very tough in this lineup.
DENNIS JAMES: Fred has put on a lot of size since he first turned pro in 2010. Doing more shows will help out a lot because he’s not well-known and that can be a disadvantage when you don’t have a physique that packs that “wow” factor. If he’s spot on and some of the other guys are off, he can crack the top six but I can’t see him much higher than that at this point.
CHAD NICHOLLS: Fred’s really improved over the past couple of years, but his conditioning has been off just enough that he’s been left out of the top spots. He needs to push his conditioning to the next level, and once this happens, his physique will “pop” more and he’ll be able to move up a few spots.
DENNIS JAMES: He’s at the point in his career where his structural flaws are becoming more evident. He hasn’t been the same since his injury. The right leg is obviously smaller than the left and that’s a tough thing when you’re known for your legs. At his best, he has that grainy hardness but we haven’t seen that his last few outings. I will be surprised if he’s up there.
CHAD NICHOLLS: Branch always seems to find a way to put things together at the Arnold—no matter what! I’m sure he was very disappointed with his 2013 Mr. Olympia placement, and if I know Branch, this has driven him to work even harder and push the boundaries even further for the Arnold. To do well here, he just needs to get back to the “grainy” look that first won him the Arnold title.
DENNIS JAMES: Your 2014 Arnold Classic champ, without a doubt! He was second two years in a row when we all know he should have won. But here’s the clincher: His improvements speak for themselves. For the past three years whenever we trained, it was always back and hamstrings. I told him he didn’t have to worry about anything else other than those two body parts, and at the last Olympia, he showed how much time and energy he put into them because they’re now strong points. He had the best rear double biceps on the Olympia stage, and we all know he beat Kai on Friday night. He achieved his goal, which was to medal at the Olympia so now it’s time to set higher goals, and the Arnold Classic is the next step. He will outsize and overpower everyone. A win here will make him a major factor heading into the 2014 Olympia.
CHAD NICHOLLS: Without a doubt Wolf comes in as the favorite to take this title. He’s been on the verge numerous times and every time he steps onstage he gets better. You can see that he’s figuring out how his physique works. I’d like to see Dennis a bit harder from the back and if he can accomplish that, he’ll be tough to beat.
Even with the regrettable absence of Roelly Winklaar, the 2014 Arnold Classic is going to be a fierce competition, so stay tuned to FLEXOnline.com and the FLEX Facebook page for up-to-the-minute contest coverage.