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What makes something great? You can’t plan it. You can’t predict it. It just happens. In bodybuilding, Joe Weider's Olympia is the ultimate proving ground. With the 50th Mr. Olympia looming on the horizon, we pick up where we left off with Part 1 and look at the remaining 13 men who seized the opportunity of a lifetime, immortalized their names, and in the process, helped us remember that greatness endures.
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BORN Nov. 11, 1959
WEIGHT 252 pounds
MR. OLYMPIA 1984-91
It was a no-brainer to predict that the first NPC National champ was destined for great things when, in his rookie year of 1983, he won his pro debut at the Night of Champions and placed third in the Olympia. But no one could have foreseen just how “TotaLee Awesome” 23-year-old Lee Haney would become over the next nine years. At the 1984 O, the 238-pound, 5'11" sophomore started a win streak that remains unbroken to this day.
Soon enough, the comparisons with Schwarzenegger started. After all, the Oak’s record was supposed to stand for generations. But, taller and wider, with a chest, shoulders, and back leagues ahead of his contemporaries, the genetically gifted Haney removed any pretense of suspense when the big O rolled around. With the exception of 1989, when a considerably downsized and fat Haney was pushed hard by 5'5" 180-pound Lee Labrada, there was never any real doubt who would be the last man standing. Outside of his 1987 Grand Prix Germany win, Haney competed exclusively on Olympia stages post-1984, bringing his career win total to 11. One can only wonder how high that number would be had he competed more often.
Haney will not be remembered as the hardest-training or the most conditioned Mr. Olympia, but he will be remembered as possibly the most gifted next to Sergio Oliva. He continued to improve throughout his reign; some years he was fuller (1985), some years he was sharper (1986), and some years, much to the dismay of his competition, it was just a combination of the two. For his final and record-breaking eighth win, Haney tipped the scales at 252 pounds. We didn’t know it then, but with his classic X-frame, beautiful shape, and overwhelming size, Haney was not only a hybrid in the mold of Oliva, but also a throwback to the classical bodybuilding ideal that the sport would come to miss.
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BORN April 19, 1962
WEIGHT 270 pounds
MR. OLYMPIA 1992-1997
A man of few words. While others talked a good game, Dorian Yates simply toiled away in his dank, dark, hole-in-the-wall gym (actually located below the city streets like a proper dungeon) in Birmingham, England. Covered up for most of the year, Yates rarely showed the world the monstrosity he was constructing underneath those baggy sweats—except for a brief few moments a couple of months out from the contest in pictures that would become legendary and ultimately psyche out the competition in the weeks before the show.
Yates didn’t have the pleasing shape and symmetry of his predecessor Lee Haney, nor the charisma of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but what he did have was size, and plenty of it. Yates redefined the word big when he stepped onstage at the 1993 Olympia at 257 pounds, the heaviest Mr. Olympia to date, and he upped the ante even more by coming in super-dry, super-hard, and super-separated to coin a new term in the sport, grainy. Yates continued to grow each year, competing in the high 260s to low 270s. And that back. We thought backs couldn’t get any bigger than Haney’s, but we were wrong. In each of his Olympia wins, there were competitors who could stand with him in front and side poses, but any shot at an upset was lost by the fourth and fifth mandatory poses. Yates’ rear double biceps and rear lat spread decimated lineups, and he was truly the first bodybuilder to win contests from the back. And thus it has remained ever since. All things being equal, a better back will win the day, and that can be traced back to the Brit.
With his no-BS attitude in the gym and his commitment to absolute muscular failure, Yates was the first blue-collar bodybuilder to sit atop the Olympia throne (one report had him back in the gym three days after the Olympia). But he suffered his share of injuries—he is the only bodybuilder to win the Mr. Olympia with two torn muscles, a left biceps and a right triceps, and there are photos of Yates training with one-arm in a sling. For the better half of the ’90s, the Shadow loomed large each September to claim the Sandow, but even his body could no longer endure the superhuman strain imposed upon it by its master, and he retired after his sixth and final win in 1997.
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BORN May 13, 1964
WEIGHT 296 pounds
MR. OLYMPIA 1998-2005
No one cared when Ronald Dean Coleman turned pro in 1991 at the World Amateur Championships, because that same year, Mike Matarrazzo (USAs) and Kevin Levrone (Nationals) also turned pro, and they were pros with potential, the kind you kept your eye on. And in his rookie year of 1992, both Porter Cottrell and Levrone did far better, winning contests while Coleman failed to make the top 10 in all three contests he entered, including a DNP in his Olympia debut. Just how anonymous was early-era Coleman? There was another Ron Coleman who competed then, and more often than not, you had to clarify that you were talking about that Ron Coleman, not the one who would eventually be Mr. Olympia. It would be another three years before Coleman won anything and a year after that before he made his first Olympia posedown (sixth in 1996). He slipped back down again to ninth in ’97, but in 1998, the Texas policeman upset all the favorites—Levrone, Flex Wheeler, Shawn Ray—to win the one contest nobody ever thought he’d win. Even after he won it, critics and competitors alike said he would never dominate like Yates and Haney before him. Were they ever wrong!
After two decisive wins in 1999–2000 and two close calls in 2001–02, Coleman lost the 2002 GNC Show of Strength to Günter Schlierkamp, the man who had placed fifth just two weeks before in the O. The king was beatable. Despite being a five-time Mr. Olympia, Coleman once again assumed the role of underdog heading into 2003—and that was the last time anybody would ever call him that again. His 287 pounds of shredded beef elicited three responses from the audience: silence, gasps, and laughter, quickly turning it to a contest for second, third, fourth, etc. As if that weren’t enough, he rubbed it in their faces in 2004 with 10 more pounds of added muscle at 297 pounds. And in what would be his final, fall-to-his-knees Sandow moment in 2005, the king dressed for the occasion, with crown, scepter, cape, and all, for his posing routine.
As impressive as Coleman was on the Olympia stage, his ferocious workouts in the gym contributed as much to his legend as the eight Sandows decorating his house. He trained heavier than any bodybuilder before or since, and the former football player turned powerlifer resurrected the most old-school move of all-time: the deadlift. He turned a girly exercise, the walking lunge, into a staple in every serious bodybuilder’s leg routine—though Coleman’s version involved up to 315 pounds done outside in the gravel parking lot of Metroflex Gym in triple-digit heat. The 800-pound deadlifts and squats, bench presses, whether done with a bar-bending 500 pounds or comical 200-pound dumbbells, were punctuated with catchphrases like “light weight, baby; yeah, buddy; ain’t nuthin’ but a peanut!” that echoed in gyms across the country. The man who started his career in anonymity finished it as an eight-time Mr. Olympia, and when, at the conclusion of his posing routine at the 2007 Olympia he announced his retirement, the standing ovation from the crowd was a fitting thank you for the bodybuilder who will be, for many, the biggest, baddest Mr. Olympia of all-time.
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BORN Aug. 3, 1973
WEIGHT 265 pounds
MR. OLYMPIA 2006-07, 2009-2010
“Never give up.” We’ve all heard it before, but nobody lived it quite like Jason Isaac Cutler from Worcester, MA. By now, his rise to fame is bodybuilding lore, starting with a heavyweight win at the 1996 NPC Nationals to earn his pro card, his first win in 2000 at the Night of Champions, and of course, the contest where he made his bones, the 2001 Olympia, where he finished a controversial second to Ronnie Coleman.
For three more Olympias (he skipped it in 2002) he would have to live with that placing and the special pain that comes with being only one step removed from the top. In that span, he won every other contest that Coleman wasn’t in, except the 2003 GNC Show of Strength, where he was second to Dexter Jackson. Then in 2006, Coleman, whose body was starting to show the trauma of his mythical workouts, couldn’t hold back the top contender any longer. The second best bodybuilder of the past five years finally toppled the king, and the roar of the Orleans Arena crowd proved that underdogs finally having their day still make the best stories.
But glory was short-lived. After a controversial title defense in 2007 to Victor Martinez, Cutler was upset by Dexter Jackson in 2008. The one thing in the whole world that he had labored so long for was gone in an instant. People said he was finished. The years of chasing Coleman had taken too much out of him. But none of those people were Jay Cutler. In 2009, he stomped onstage in his lifetime-best condition with details never before seen on his 35-year-old physique and by Saturday, Sept. 26, the former champ was once again the reigning champ and in the history books as the first Mr. Olympia to regain the Sandow the year after losing it.
He held off hard-charging Phil Heath in 2010 before succumbing to him a year later. A torn left biceps hampered his training for that show and after sitting out 2012, he was back trying to make lightning strike twice. But a downsized version could only manage sixth. Cutler is on the sideline for this Olympia, and even though there has been no official announcement, even money is that we won’t be seeing him on the Olympia stage again, at least not in posing trunks—but who can say for certain? For now, Iron Jay is the loser who never quit until he became the winner, and the dethroned champ who made the turnaround of a lifetime to once again rule the bodybuilding kingdom.
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BORN Nov. 25, 1969
WEIGHT 235 pounds
MR. OLYMPIA 2008
By his own admission, Dexter Jackson was never supposed to be Mr. Olympia. But he was and he beat the second most dominant bodybuilder of the current millennium to do it. You have to go all the way back to 1983 to find the last man weighing less than 240 pounds (for the sake of argument, we’ll round up Lee Haney’s 238 pounds in 1984 by two) to win the O. The Blade, who started his career as a 137-pound bantamweight at the 1991 Jacksonville Championships (the contest’s first bantam to win the overall) earned the right to flex on IFBB pro stages with a light-heavy and overall win at the 1998 North American Championships. For the next four years, the undersized but razor sharp Florida native did well enough, never finishing out of the top 10—including two ninths and an eighth at the Olympia—before scoring his first win at the 2002 Grand Prix England, which was also the year he made his first O posedown via his fourth-place finish. The next four Olympias consisted of a pair of thirds and fourths (not in that order).
Jackson’s 2008 will go down as one of the best years in the modern era, for not only did he win the Olympia, he also won the Arnold Classic (his third), making him, along with Ronnie Coleman, the only bodybuilders to hold both major titles in the same calendar year. Oh, and he also won three other shows, racking up his total to five. In an era of size matters, Jackson’s O triumph proved that bodybuilding still rewarded stellar condition, proportion, shape, and detail. In other words, you didn’t have to be a near-300-pound mass monster to be the best. Jackson held that title for a single year, a distinction he shares with Dickerson and Bannout. After falling to third in 2009, fourth in 2010, and sixth in 2011, a resharpened Blade surprised everyone by climbing back up to fourth in 2012. That year he also won the Masters Olympia, making him the only bodybuilder to hold the open and masters division titles. Jackson’s edge is still as keen as ever with three contest wins last year, including his record-tying fourth Arnold Classic and a fifth in the Olympia. We’ll have to wait until the Blade is done before we close the book on his competitive career, as he remains a perennial posedown favorite in any contest he enters.
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BORN Dec. 18, 1979
WEIGHT 250 pounds
MR. OLYMPIA 2011-15
There’s an unmistakable swagger to his step. He’s young and he’s the champ, so if you have to face him, well, good luck. And if you’re a fan who roots for the underdog, well, there’s not really much you can do is there? Let’s be honest, most of us like the real life Rockys of the sports world, and with a nickname like the Gift, no one can say Phil Heath ever played the role of underdog—at least in his bodybuilding career. But don’t blame Phil Heath for winning. It’s what he does.
Great expectations abounded when he won his pro card at the 2005 NPC USA, and he answered with wins in his first two shows the following year, the Colorado Pro and New York Pro. Comparisons with greats like Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone followed. So when would we see Heath test himself against the best on the Olympia stage? That moment wouldn’t happen for another three years, but it was well worth the wait, as the then-28-year-old placed third in 2008. He slipped to fifth the next year, but the Gift moved up to second in 2010, and it was a sign of things to come.
The buildup to the 2011 Olympia centered on the mentor versus student relationship between the champion Cutler and challenger Heath. It was the former who discovered the latter while guest posing at the 2004 NPC Colorado State. Since that fateful meeting, Cutler continued to school Heath, albeit in an informal fashion, as that relationship has been slightly exaggerated. Still the protégé (so to speak) proved a fast learner. Fast-forward to the rematch for the Sandow. Heath took the stage first, muscles jumping to life with each move. He was big. He was conditioned. All the weaknesses detractors had said would keep him from making the jump from “good” to “great” were gone. Clavicles packed enough delt mass, medial heads in particular, for two normal-size men, and combined with faring quads attached to a waist that belonged on a light-heavy, the Heath “X-frame” was a showstopper standing at center stage. Upper pecs threatened to swallow his chin in front poses, and his back—wider, thicker, and gnarlier than an ancient tree trunk and attached to the driest hamstrings and glutes on the stage—left no doubt as to who would be winning this contest in the critical rear poses. Heath was unstoppable, and Cutler said as much in his gracious postcontest speech onstage as he watched his good friend hoist the Sandow overhead. But Heath was just getting started.
In 2012, Heath had the supposed scare of his life when a slimmed-down and detail-infused Kai Greene took him to task. The crowd was immediately behind the contender, and the buzz around Orleans Arena suggested an upset was in the works. But interestingly enough, it wasn’t all that close by the official tally—in fact, not by a long shot as Heath scored straight firsts (yes, we remain suckers for the underdog story). 2013’s outcome was the same, but unlike the previous year when one and two were compared repeatedly, Heath was sent back to the lineup after one run through the mandatories while the rest, including Greene, fought it out to sort out spots second on down. In 2014, it was once again down to Heath and Greene, but in the end, The Gift reigned supreme over The Predator and earned his 4th Mr. Olympia title. In 2015, Heath made it known that it was a "strive for five", and it the end, when it was down to Phil Heath and 2008 Mr. Olympia Dexter Jackson, The Gift walked away victorious for a 5th time. It was clear that the perceived ambiguity of 2011 had made the champ, well, mad and delivering the proverbial— and in our sport symbolic—knockout early in Round 1, there was no question who the superior bodybuilder was.
Heath knows how far ahead of the competition he is at this point, and he intends to widen that gap. For all his God-given talent, he is where he is in life because he works hard for it. He’s focused on being better than his rivals, on being his best, because as a wise man once told him, his best is good enough. Heath has stated his intended goal of 10 Olympia titles. Ten. It’s a good number; everybody likes 10, it has a nice ring to it. And it’s two more than the current record held by both Haney and Coleman.
At only 36 years old, the current Mr. O’s story is a work in progress. As we count down the weeks, days, and hours to the 2016 Mr. Olympia, we’ll see if he can hit the big 10. Years from now, whatever his final Sandow tally, Heath along with the other Mr. Olympias will always be remembered as those who had their finest moments on bodybuilding’s biggest stage. These 13 men did it their way to stand above all others, rising from champions to legends. – FLEX