LAS VEGAS—The Governator was there, as promised. Ditto for Sylvester Stallone, Triple H and Tom Arnold. But in the end the biggest star onstage on October 30 at the initial American Media Inc. production of the Mr. Olympia was'once again'Ronnie Coleman, who 'backed' his way into an Arnold Schwarzenegger'tying seventh Mr. Olympia title
Yup, the Big Nasty, coming in even bigger than he did in 2003, when he carried 286 pounds on his 5'11' frame, didn't let anyone'or anything (like the new challenge round)'stand in his way.
According to his nutritional adviser, Chad Nicholls, the 40-year-old Arlington, Texas, resident weighed 291 on the morning of the prejudging and, after eating two meals before hitting the Mandalay Bay Events Center stage, 'was probably around 295.'
Appropriately, it was also Halloween weekend, so having this freak of nature onstage fit in perfectly with the holiday ambience. Was he as sharp as last year? Not quite, I'd say. But at nearly 10 pounds heavier'an achievement quite difficult to comprehend'he was good enough to deposit another $120,000 first-place check into his bulging bank account. Way good enough.
Although Coleman dominated the first three rounds of the showdown, holding a 15-point lead over Jay Cutler, the new challenge round wiped out what normally would have been an insurmountable lead and eventually brought the contest down to Ronnie vs. Jay in one final pose, winner take all.
Coleman, who owns perhaps the best back in the history of bodybuilding, called for a 'lights-out, game-over rear lat spread.' Five seconds later, when the buzzer sounded, bringing the posing to an end, Coleman, as expected, was voted the winner of the pose'and the contest.
Now I'll explain the rules and regulations of the groundbreaking challenge round, but have some Motrin handy. With the scorecard wiped clean after the first three rounds (a huge inequity, in my opinion), each of the top six competitors got to challenge the other five, one at a time, to a pose. Each guy could call the same pose only twice. The winner of each challenge pose got two points.
They had five seconds to hit their best shots. A buzzer went off at the beginning and end of each posing time, and the judges scored the pose immediately, with the winner's name flashed on an electronic scoreboard. Five challenges times six finalists meant we watched 30 challenge poses before it was over. As it turned out, Coleman trailed Cutler by seven points when it was finally his turn to take on opponents'which he did successfully, of course, to end up with a three-point margin of victory.
The round cost Dexter Jackson 10 grand. Jackson was a solid third after the first three rounds, holding an eight-point advantage over the '04 season's biggest surprise, Gustavo Badell. In the challenge round, which replaced the posedown as round 4, Jackson was on the losing end of a 13-12 decision and had to switch places with Badell in the final standings. To make matters worse, co-emcee Joe Amato, who was unable to see the scoreboard, announced Badell in fourth instead of Jackson, then had to correct the error.
Jackson was fuming, and so were the disgruntled fans, most of whom felt he could have been second to Coleman'and should have taken third at the very worst. ALL The two German giants, Markus Ruhl and Gunter Schlierkamp, finished fifth and sixth, respectively; I doubt Gunter will be voting for a return of the challenge round next year. He was an odd choice for the top six in the first place (most people felt the four guys who placed behind him'Chris Cormier, Dennis James, Victor Martinez and Darrem Charles'were better), and he got thumped by everyone in the challenges, a point that Amato and co-emcee Triple H brought up to him onstage.
I'll have more to say about the challenge round in the News & Views (see page 205). Let's get back to the real contest.
1) Ronnie Coleman. Talk about large and in charge. As mentioned above, he might not have been quite as sharp as last year, but Coleman was still terrific. His chest, arms and legs were enormous. And, although many people felt Coleman's abs-and-thighs shot in the challenge round was weak (the only pose at which Ronnie was beaten by Jackson and Cutler), I beg to differ. His abs weren't great in the pose, but they weren't bad, either, especially for someone whose weight was nearing 300 pounds. And how can you overlook his colossal wheels? Size does matter, folks, in this game.
How any human can carry that amount of weight and still be as tight and detailed as Coleman was onstage is mind-boggling. The fact that he's not slowing down a bit at the age of 40 should qualify him for a 30-minute segment on 'That's Incredible!' Ronnie is now one win shy of Lee Haney's all-time record of eight victories. Can he win two more and, at 42, become the new king of the industry? Two years ago I said he could, and there's less reason than ever to change my prediction.
2) Jay Cutler. Although Cutler had to settle for his third runner-up slot to Coleman in the past four years (Jay sat out the '02 contest), he's a real champion. The Ultimate Beef took a lot of heat in the past year, even though he was second at the Olympia, second to Jackson at the Show of Strength and won his third straight Arnold Classic last March. Cutler's a power bodybuilder'big, full and round. He's a guy who wins on size (widest shoulders in the land, wide back, hefty legs and calves combined with good shape), but he dieted down way too far for last year's Olympia and SOS and went even further for the '04 Arnold Classic, where he had to have come in at less than 250 pounds.
Jay was back to his normal self here, probably around 270 or so, and looked good. He was hard from the front, a bit soft from the back. I would have liked to have seen him about 10 pounds lighter. Then again, would it have made a difference against Coleman? Anyway, welcome back, Jay. 3) Gustavo Badell. Badell opened the year by qualifying for the Olympia with a third-place finish at the IRON MAN Pro. Prior to the Olympia I was calling him the Most Underrated Bodybuilder in the world; now, let me introduce you to the Freakin' Rican. Yes, this 5'7', 242-pounder from Puerto Rico (he weighed 234 at the IRON MAN Pro press conference last February) displayed one thick, shredded physique onstage and deserved his fourth-place standing after three rounds. After becoming the only athlete to benefit from the challenge round, moving ahead of Jackson into third, Badell can be sure his days as a 'surprise' are over.
4) Dexter Jackson. Dexter appeared to be a tad fuller but still sporting his trademark great conditioning. I won't go so far as to say that he weighed the 225 pounds (at 5'6 1/2') he usually claims, but I'll concede he was more than the 210 or so I think he's weighed in past contests. No matter. The weight factor means little to me, and the 34-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida, looked terrific. Great shape, hard as nails and thicker than usual. Dexter and Ahmad 'Abzilla' Haidar had the best midsections in the contest. If you listen to my post-judging audio reports at IRON MAN's graphicmuscle.com, you'll find that most people had Dexter nestled in second behind Coleman.
Unfortunately for Jackson's bank account, the challenge round took care of any discussion about that'but let's talk about it anyway. Should the Blade have beaten the Beef for the number-two slot? It's an apples and oranges scenario with those two'Jay is a much bigger man, and Dexter's more conditioned from the rear. Take your pick, they're both at the top of their game. And what happened to Dexter was a shame.
5) Markus Ruhl. The 5'11', 285-pounder matched Coleman biceps for biceps and front lats for front lats. Need I say more? And was it any surprise that Ruhl, who had to miss last year's contest because of triceps surgery, won the $10,000 'Freakazoid' award given by Muscular Development'especially as Coleman was not eligible because of his victory?
Like Cutler, though, Ruhl looked better from the front than the back, and he doesn't display the separation that some of the men who placed ahead of him do. Still, it was his highest Olympia finish, and with all that beef Markus remains a fan favorite. Chants of 'R-u-u-u-hl!' filled the auditorium every time he came onstage. 6) Gunter Schlierkamp. Another popular guy, but the decision to place Gunter ahead of some of his contemporaries in the top 10 had many in the audience puzzled. At 6'2' and an announced 300 pounds, Schlierkamp is a large man, but he needs to be spot-on to have any shot against the more genetically gifted competitors that surface at some of the higher-quality pro shows. He was far from spot-on at this one. I actually felt bad for the man'a nice, classy guy'when he was getting beaten over and over again during the challenge round.
7) Chris Cormier. A year ago Cormier dropped out of the lineup, claiming the flu had ravaged his body during the week of the contest. Although I didn't see Chris prior to this show, I heard he was behind in his conditioning and was a possible dropout again. That was never verified by a reliable source, however.
The 37-year-old Cormier obviously did not drop out but was in fact behind in his conditioning'although he rarely shows up with a shredded look. Still, his beautiful shape, featuring an almost flawless body, could have gotten him at least a top-six placing.
Cormier looked much better when he suffered a one-point loss to Cutler at the '04 Arnold Classic, and I'm wondering if having earned his fifth consecutive runner-up finish at that show has taken some of the competitive fire out of Cormier's furnace. Time will tell.
8) Dennis James. As always, the precontest reports out of Gold's Gym, Venice, had the Thailand-based James looking 'phenomenal.' Big, thick and round. With the exception of last year, however, when Dennis put it together en route to a fourth-place finish, what we've seen onstage hasn't matched the gym body. This time he was at least 10 pounds too heavy, and it showed mostly in the lack of hamstring and back detail. At his best, James could have battled for a top-three finish. At this show many were still surprised that he finished out of the top six.
9) Victor Martinez. Coming off his big victory at the SOS three weeks before, Martinez displayed oodles of potential. He could be a top-three guy eventually, but he needs to be much sharper to make that happen. The New Yorker has the goods to be a great one'check out his back double-bi, already among the best in the game. He'll be back.
10) Darrem Charles. Who of the guys finishing seventh through 10th most deserved a top-six finish? Darrem gets my vote. Sure, his is not among the biggest physiques onstage. He's got his flaws'don't they all? But the man always shows up ripped and ready, and this time was no exception. He dazzled the crowd with his bod; he dazzled them with his wonderful posing routine. According to the score sheets, though, he couldn't dazzle the judges for more than a 10th-place finish, as he ended up 24 points behind Martinez.
Charles did dazzle the committee that convened the next day at the Shawn Ray Seminar to decide the winner of the 'Best Presentation' award, worth 10 grand.
Finishing just out of the top 10 were veteran Pavol Jablonicky, the oldest man in the field at 43, and Kris Dim, who placed 12th in his Olympia debut. Pavol was in great condition, as always, and while Dim's upper body was torn up, his legs didn't nearly match up.
Rounding out the 19-man field were Haidar (13th), Johnnie Jackson (14th), Troy Alves (15th), Craig Richardson (16th), Mustafa Mohammad (17th), Richard Jones (18th) and Claude Groulx (19th).
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite campaigning for President Bush in Ohio the day before, flew into Las Vegas to hand the Sandow to Coleman. Stallone, who appeared at the Olympia Expo to rep his Instone product line, came to the podium at the finals to talk about the challenge round. Tom Arnold, who teamed with Schwarzenegger a decade back in 'True Lies' and is currently a host on Fox Sports' successful 'Best Damn Sports Show Period,' hit the stage for a few jokes as well.
John Balik, IRON MAN publisher, was one of three to receive special awards from IFBB President Ben Weider at the night show. He was honored with the IFBB Gold Medal; David Pecker, CEO of AMI, received the IFBB Gold Order, and Rafael Santonja was given the IFBB Achievement Medal. Editor's note: To hear L.T.'s audio report on the '04 Mr. Olympia contest, go to IRON MAN's www.graphicmuscle.com. IM