Who Can Beat Heath?

Photos by Per Bernal

Bodybuilding breeds dynasties. Over the past 32 years, there have been only six Olympia champions, five of whom collected 31 Sandows. Only four times since 1984 has the reigning champ lost the title. In this game of thrones, there can be only one king, and someone needs to decisively defeat him to seize the crown. Phil Heath has been on top for five years. Some argue he’s lucky to have avoided the 22 years during which Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman dominated. But Heath had to dethrone one Mr. O, Jay Cutler, and fend off another, Dexter Jackson. Now he’s on a roll. Who can realistically defeat the Gift on Sept. 16 and 17 and deny him his sixth Sandow? And if the Heath dynasty continues, who will succeed him?


 Shawn Rhoden 

So you think the Olympia top six is set, huh? No one can rocket into contention because no one can reinvent their physique in a year. Flexatron already proved that canard wrong when he soared from 11th in his debut O in 2011 to third 12 months later. He was fourth in 2013 and then back in third the past two years. Being the world’s No. 3 bodybuilder is a remarkable yet frustrating achievement. Rhoden will need to make another giant leap to clear the two highest steps.

Like Heath, 5'10" Rhoden stylishly wears his size. With his monster-truck wheels, wispy waist, mountainous arms, and classic V torso, his front double biceps could be the best on the Olympia stage—if he could come in a bit tighter. He’s done a great job of bringing up his previously weak delts, but he still needs broader wings. His rear-lat spread is his worst pose. More back mass and more cuts everywhere and Rhoden can be the 14th Mr. Olympia. But at 41, time is his enemy. With no presumptive heir apparent, this is the year for him to climb higher.


 Mamdouh Elssbiay 

Big Ramy, who weighed in at 316 two days before last year’s Olympia, doesn’t need any more muscle—unless it’s located below his knees. He needs deeper separation, especially in his quads and back and some fine detailing everywhere. He may have to sacrifice flesh to get there, but he has plenty to spare. Last year, when Heath heard about Elssbiay’s outrageous weight, not only was he not intimidated, he was relieved as well. “I know he’s not going to be at his best over 300,” Heath says. “If he ever comes in at 275, then it might be a different story.”

Indeed, it might. Elssbiay was fifth last year. In pose after pose, he revealed the widest canvas, and yet smaller bodybuilders like Heath and Jackson attracted attention with their greater details. It’s as simple as this. If Elssbiay brings out enough lines, he can claim the Sandow. He was the youngest member of last year’s Olympia top 10, and he turns 32 on the day of this year’s prejudging. He may be competing for another decade. Whether or not he ever gives Heath a genuine scare remains to be seen.


 Dexter Jackson 

No one in this year’s Olympia has beaten the Gift more than the Blade has, and no one but those two has a Sandow. Jackson bested Heath four times between 2007 and ’09, including his 2008 Olympia victory. But what has he done lately? He was a surprising second last year, and he’s continued to add to his trophy collection this year, nabbing his recordtying 26th pro title. At 46, Jackson’s remarkable consistency is his greatest attribute and, in a duel with Heath, a liability. He’s perpetually on, even if he’s not as high-def as he was a decade ago, and he always has enough size to contend. Still, he’s 15 to 20 pounds lighter than Heath and lacking that same 3-D pop in his legs and back. He can’t beat Heath when Heath is on, but if the champ is off, Jackson, the 12th Mr. O, might be the safest choice to retake the throne.


 Cedric McMillan 

Based on only Olympia performances, McMillan doesn’t belong with the previous three top challengers. On paper, Dennis Wolf and Branch Warren are more deserving. Not only has McMillan never made an Olympia top six, he’s also never cracked a top 10. In his one previous O, in 2013, he was 12th. However, in his nine contests since then, he’s never left the top four, including a second at this year’s Arnold Classic. Unlike Wolf and Warren, he is ascending, and, unlike most elite pros, he still has ample space to fill out. At 39, can he pack on the necessary pounds for a Sandow? Will he finally dial in HD conditioning? The 6'1" McMillan remains the wild card. You can squint at him and picture an Olympia champ.


We’re at the beginning of a transition. Dexter Jackson is still collecting big checks in his 40s, but bodybuilders younger than 36-year-old Phil Heath are winning contests and are eager to rise through the Olympia ranks, ideally in a Rhoden-size leap. Don’t be surprised to hear some fresh names in single digits when the results are announced on Sept. 17, and some O posedown newbies will likely contend for the ultimate title in future years. Bodybuilding breeds dynasties, but Phil Heath is fast approaching the time when past dynasties have halted, willingly or not. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote. Every Mr. Olympia competitor is a prince who dreams of being king. – FLEX


2016 Olympia Fitness & Performance Weekend

2016 Olympia Fitness & Performance Weekend

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