LAS VEGAS—Dethrone Ronnie Coleman at the 2001 Mr. Olympia? Right, and there's a 50/50 chance Michael Jackson will become Jessica Alba's permanent Dark Angel off-camera.
Bone up on your history books, students. Check the facts, then relax. Arnold won the O seven times before he finally called it quits in 1980. Lee Haney holds the current record with eight consecutive victories before he hung up the posing trunks in 1991. Dorian Yates retired after filling his trophy room back in England with six straight Sandows, moving on after his final conquest in 1997.
Coleman was three for three and seemed a cinch for victory when the gang got together again on October 27 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Hey, he didn't earn my moniker, 'the Big Nasty,' for nothin'. Big, bad and unquestionably glad to stick another $110,000 check into his bank account, which is the only thing I can think of that matches the size of his back and biceps.
Coleman's only possible competition appeared to be Kevin Levrone, who let everyone within earshot know that he, not Coleman, should have won the crown in 2000. (By the way, Ronnie got straight ones from the judging panel in all four rounds in that one.) Oh, and Chris Cormier also did his share of talking during the 2001 campaign, assuring us that he is undoubtedly the Real Deal, the 'most perfect' body in the sport.
Nobody with an IQ above single digits thought anybody could come close to the 37-year-old former police officer from Arlington, Texas. Do your thing, Ronnie, collect your loot, and get out of the way so we can enjoy the real battle of the evening, the one for second place.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Mandalay Bay. Jay Cutler showed up in astonishing shape. Should have worn a cape: The cat was super, man. And Jay Cutler ended up being Mr. Olympia'at least for half a day.
The Worcester, Massachusetts, transplant, who, ironically, followed Coleman in the lineup (Coleman drew number one, Cutler number two), stepped onstage with a sculpted 258 pounds on his 5'9" frame. Cutler was a confident warrior as he joined Coleman and last year's runner-up, Levrone, in the first callout, and astonished fans smelled an upset (see News & Views on page 238). Veal Cutler was truly the Ultimate Beef.
Coleman, who was so weary after posing for required photo shoots in his room on Thursday and Friday night that he had a hard time getting up in time for Saturday's noon judging, looked very much like the package he presented last season'too bloated in the midsection, with washed-out abs and a lack of detail in his thighs. At 265 pounds the 5'11' Coleman was, once again, about 10 pounds of fluid too heavy. Even so, he still displayed the gnarly chest, the huge guns, the extremely detailed back and the cut glutes that always keep him in the hunt.
Levrone, who was in and out of the contest lineup as often as Robert Downey Jr. is in rehab, played a game of cat and mouse until a week out from the event, when he finally turned in a signed contract, albeit months after the deadline. Eventually, he was given the green light (by Joe Weider) to take part in his 10th Mr. Olympia'but at a huge cost. That's if IFBB Vice-President Wayne DeMilia follows through on his assurance that Kevin would be levied 'the biggest fine in the history of the sport.' That sum is allegedly 25K'please show me a copy of Kevin's check when the ink dries, Wayne.
With several of the top players in the industry no longer true threats to the title, most figured the Olympia would be a two-man game. They were right, but the second man was Cutler, not Cormier.
It was obvious by the afternoon callouts that Levrone would battle Shawn Ray and Cormier for the third, fourth and fifth slots, although I thought a few guys selected in later calls were in better condition and deserved a closer look for a top-five finish.
Levrone, 37, has been coming in smaller of late, but he was even shallower this time out, particularly in the legs. Ray, 36, who last season looked his best since 1996, returned with a physique that closely mirrored the '98 and '99 versions'a bit watery in the legs and not hard enough in the glutes and hamstrings. At 5'6' and weighing about 210 pounds, the diminutive Ray has been a shining gem in a huge man's sport, but when someone that size doesn't nail it, any already remote chance of winning vanishes.
Cormier had the size, but his lack of conditioning eliminated his chances of upsetting the champ. Quite simply, he was way off. We've all heard the stories about Cormier's penchant for enjoying a good party regimen every bit as much as a good precontest training regimen, but his supporters have always pointed to his ability to consistently show up in top shape despite that. You can get away with a lot of things when you're young. Now 34, Chris doesn't enjoy that luxury anymore, as this contest indicated.
Cormier, who said he weighed 267 heading into the show, assured me back in July he was totally focused on the Olympia, wanting to prove what he has been saying for the past two years'that he, not Coleman, has the balanced body a Mr. Olympia should display. And that nothing would stand in his way of zeroing in on the title. Not even a good party. Or a trip to Amsterdam a month out from the big one. Well, I'm sure the affable Cormier did have good intentions.
One guy, who in my opinion received a charitable victory at the Toronto Pro back in May (waterlogged, with way too little detail) and who followed that up with a somewhat controversial win at the Night of Champions a week later, was in great shape this time around. Yup, Orville Burke came in looking about 15 pounds lighter than he did in Toronto (I wasn't at the NOC) and was much, much better for it. As a result, he got the third callout, along with Cormier and Dennis James.
Burke doesn't have the shape of those mentioned above, but the 39-year-old New Yorker by way of Jamaica is a huge man with a tiny waist, wide shoulders and possibly the best front lat spread in the business. His thighs were vastly more cut than when I had seen him last, and it looked as if he could justifiably earn a top-five berth in this one.
James definitely was sharper than when he took the stage for his initial Olympia a year ago (Dennis placed 11th the first time out), but several reports had the 33-year-old Thailand resident looking thicker and a bit fuller in the weeks leading up to the contest. James is impressive in several poses but still needs better calves, more detailed thighs and a thicker back to move into the top-five slot he desires.
Dexter Jackson always looks great to me, and this was no exception. I keep hearing about his long torso. So? Who doesn't have a flaw or two? Or three, for that matter? Even in this lineup. Jackson flows together just fine and is always in outstanding condition. For my money, the Jacksonville Jaguar should have been compared more to Levrone, Ray and Cormier. Based on the comparisons at the judging, he was battling for a bottom-third position in the top 10.
Nasser El Sonbaty, who placed fifth in 2000 after dropping to sixth in '99, looked to be in better shape than he's been the past two years, but the 36-year-old former Olympia runner-up is still hampered by a weak back. There was also noticeable swelling in his shoulder region, which might have contributed to the fact that he was not compared to any of the top competitors at the judging.
Shari 'King' Kamali, Melvin Anthony and Craig Titus dominated the magazines all year, carping about one another'not to mention the Titus-Anthony slugfest at Gold's Gym, Venice, in March. Then there was Kamali's ongoing onslaught of comments about 'a small, fat bald guy whose last name rhymes with gay.' So, although none of the fellas would have been considered for a high placing, they did generate a lot of interest in the contest. Kamali surprised many with his outstanding conditioning when he made his long-awaited professional debut at the IRONMAN Pro last February. He looked as good in Vegas as he did then. Kamali was dry, especially in the glutes and hamstrings, and showed off one of the widest backs in the field. As always, the irrepressible one put on quite a creative display in the posing round, garnering perhaps the loudest crowd response of the night. Which is saying a lot when you have Anthony, Darrem Charles and Vince Taylor competing. Despite all that, Kamali needs to enlarge his calves and biceps and continue adding mass to his thighs if he wants to move up much higher in a lineup of this caliber.
Anthony, as usual, showed off that itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny waistline, deeply separated thighs and a muscular back but, as usual, needs to get harder to battle the big boys. Especially in the glute and hamstring regions, which have been his downfall in previous pro encounters.
Titus has been reprimanded by opponents and media alike for having a distended midsection, and he made sure that would not be a criticism in his first appearance at the big dance. The 36-year-old Titus, working with former Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates, was in excellent shape a month out from the contest and hit the stage at around 235 pounds, about the same weight he carried when he won the '96 USA. Although Craig sacrificed size for conditioning, I think that was the best way for him to go. His taper was the best it's been since he turned pro. Still, I can see that he needs to put back some of the size he dropped, staying in the same shape, if he hopes to be a contender.
Two guys who really got overlooked were Vince Taylor and Markus Ruhl. The 45-year-old Taylor has dominated the Masters Olympia for the past five years and wanted to prove he still had the goods to be a factor with the 'kids.' Based on the callouts at the judging, though, he'd have a very difficult time cracking the top 10. Sure, Vince is shallow in the thighs, but he was well balanced and in good condition, and he shows off his body as well as anybody in the sport. He might not be what he once was, but he's still awfully good'and at this contest he was better than some of the men who appeared to be headed for placings in front of him.
Ruhl doesn't conjure images of Francis Benfatto, but the German giant has gobs of muscle. Enough muscle, in fact, to finish only one point out of sixth place at the '00 Mr. O. Markus missed the first part of the competitive season due to a thigh injury, but he looked nearly the same to me this year as he has in the past. It was obvious from his lowly callouts, however, that, like Taylor, he would not be taking home a top-10 trophy this season.
Another guy who figured to have a shot at a top-10 slot, Tom Prince, was way off from the form he displayed at the Night of Champions. In his defense, Prince's nutritional mentor, Chad Nicholls, said Prince suffered a bout of food poisoning a couple of weeks out from the show and had to go on antibiotics. Perhaps that explains why Prince was much too smooth to be considered for a high placing in his first Olympia, but the 5'8', 250-pounder has always had trouble peaking.
Other contestants destined to finish at the back of the pack, according to the early callouts, were J.D. Dawodu, Pavol Jablonicky, Darrem Charles, Gunter Schlierkamp (who was in outstanding condition), Claude Groulx and Mike Matarazzo.
Although the scores are supposed to be kept secret, it was no mystery minutes after the judging concluded that Cutler held a six-point margin over Coleman. The buzz was a new Mr. Olympia would be crowned a few hours later. Cutler over Coleman, TKO. I wasn't so sure. Coleman had showed off plenty of grade-A muscle throughout most of his body, and I was willing to bet he'd drop some water prior to stepping onstage that night. Which he did. He began the evening's festivities with a jazzed-up posing routine, which he ended by pulling off his white posing suit to display a patriotic red, white and blue version underneath. Ronnie then turned his back to the throng and proceeded to shake that big booty while the crowd went bonkers. It looked as if Coleman was back in the running again.
Cutler was up next and might not have been quite as tight as he'd been during the day, although he still looked incredible. His posing routine was very methodical, which added to Coleman's chances of narrowing the gap.
Taylor, Kamali, Anthony, James and Charles had the best posing routines, as expected, and Levrone, Cormier and Jackson put a lot of energy into their efforts as well. Jackson, whom I've ripped in the past for being so damn boring onstage, added some groovin' dance moves in an effort to make a better showing during round 3. Thumbs up, Dexter.
On the other hand, Ray, who was appearing in his 13th Olympia, did pretty much the same routine for the 13th time. Even used the same music we've all heard before, Jennifer Holiday belting out, 'And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going.' Guess Ray is smart enough to not go where he can't go, eh? Please pass the Vivarin.
When the top 10 were called out, some key figures were on the outside looking in: Taylor, Ruhl, Anthony, Prince and Titus. Kamali, who had gained more fans with his terrific posing routine earlier, was given 10th place, to a chorus of boos. El Sonbaty, continuing his drop in the rankings, faded to ninth. Jackson nabbed an unpopular eighth, with James voted into the seventh slot.
Before the rest of the results were given, the top six went into the audience during the posedown to give the fans an upclose and personal view of the best bods in the world. An APB had to be sent out for Coleman, who went all the way up to the top of the auditorium to make sure the people in the cheap seats got to see just how nasty he can be.
When the fellas were finished 10 minutes later, Burke was called out as the sixth-place victor. I think both Orville and Dexter could have placed higher, but Burke did improve four places from the year before, so I imagine he was one happy camper. Third, fourth and fifth could have gone any way, since Levrone, Cormier and Ray have all been much better.
The judges felt the same way, as only seven points separated the trio. Cormier landed in fifth, Ray was fourth again, and Levrone was third. Chris lost to Ray by seven points in round 2 and ended up only three points behind him, while Levrone's six-point edge over Ray in the posing round led to a four-point margin over Shawn in the final tally.
There stood Coleman and Cutler. A long pause at the microphone'and it was Cutler in second. Coleman had escaped with what we found out later was a four-point victory. I've begged Coleman not to drop to the floor after his wins because it looks like a rehearsed skit, but he had good reason to do it this time. Even Ronnie admitted to the crowd during his victory speech that 'this could have gone either way.'
So, do we have a legit challenger to Coleman's legacy, or will Ronnie dominate as usual if he shows up next year 10 pounds of water lighter? Hard to say at this point. One thing's for sure: Jay Cutler would like to be the new sheriff in town, and many people think he's got the ammo to shoot the current officer down. IM