This year’s Olympia may boil down to the Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler show once again (and not necessarily in that order), but there is a wild and spirited battle for the coveted third spot.

With a lot on the line for the victor -- Gustavo Badell cemented a reputation as an elite competitor in the pro ranks with his surprising third last year -- the fight for the title of “best bodybuilder not named Coleman or Cutler” is, in our view, extremely tight right now.

The contenders:

1) Badell: He challenged Coleman to a posedown in Thursday’s press conference, and stripped down to step up on the conference table alone when the reigning champ declined to go toe-to-toe with him. Coleman may be right when he said Badell isn’t “on his level,” but the 245-pounder is gaining fast. Today, he’s easily proved that last year was no fluke.

2) Victor Martinez: The 250-pound New Yorker is sharp and on his game. Coleman’s prognostication skills seem spot on when he claims Martinez has what it takes to be a future Mr. Olympia. A few more improvements and some deeper muscle maturity, and the 32-year-old could in fact be the top dog in the not-too-distant future.

3) Gunter Schlierkamp: Down about five pounds from his 300-pound physique last year, Schlierkamp has his best package since 2002. In Round 1, he did get first callout with Coleman and Cutler, but was left on the posing dais by the judges for the second callout with Martinez, Badell and Melvin Anthony. (Anthony, by the way, is in the mix for the top six -- on his way out of the arena after prejudging, he said in his preparations for the O, his goal was to “copy the ’93 version of Flex Wheeler.” A lofty aspiration, but Anthony gave a solid effort today.)

In the second round of prejudging, Badell, Martinez and Schlierkamp were tabbed for the second callout following Cutler and Coleman. Badell was strong in the front lat spread, side chest, side triceps and most muscular poses, while Martinez had the edge in the back double biceps and the abs and thigh. Meanwhile, Schlierkamp shined in the front double biceps and rear lat spread. (Keep in mind, in comparisons, the particular way each presented their pose played a role in who made the best impression at that moment -- for instance, on the rear lat spread, Badell hurt his appearance by not leaning back far enough to improve the sightline from the audience and judge’s perspective.)

To win this a contest-within-the-contest, these guys will all come out swinging for the fences at the night show. Everything can change within an instant, as any of these top guys can grab the spotlight with an energetic and powerful posing routine. They’ll also all get their chances to go one-on-one versus one another in the Challenge Round -- while that round won’t count toward the final score, it will certainly give someone a heap of momentum going into the final posedown of the evening. Meanwhile, Coleman and Cutler do need to keep a close eye on their rear-view mirror -- one of these three right behind them still has an outside shot at a comeback.

Doubt it? Just ask Cutler what happened to his lead going into the Mr. O night show in 2001. Nope, this Olympia ain’t over yet.

To witness the 40th anniversary Mr. Olympia showdown and to witness whether Ronnie will make it eight, you can tune into Pay-Per-View. The PPV transmission begins at 10 p.m. Eastern standard time (7 p.m. Pacific standard time). So to guarantee your seat at the musclefest of the ages order AMI's exclusive broadcast of the 2005 Mr. Olympia contest on Events iN DEMAND by contacting your local pay-per-view provider.