On paper, the 2012 version of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic could be among the most balanced in the 24-year history of the Schwarzenegger/Jim Lorimer produced event. Four of last season’s top five return to Vets Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio on March 3; one of them is the 2011 champ, Branch Warren, who would have entered the show as the pre-contest favorite under “normal” circumstances. But, for those who even remotely follow the industry, you know that Warren tore a quad a month out from last year’s Mr. Olympia, and had to pass on the chance to chase the Sandow eventually won by Phil Heath.
How will Warren, the 5’6 1/2″, 245 pounder–a five-time winner of the “Most Muscular” award in Columbus–bounce back from the accident? When I talked to Branch a couple of months ago he assured me he would be as good as new. And Yogi Avidan believes it, because that’s who Avidan is picking to walk away with the $130,000 grand prize.
“I think Branch is going to dominate again!,” says Yogi, who then added that “none of us are talking about Evan Centopani, who is the dark horse. My five-year-old son, Adam, is predicting Evan will win!” Hold on Yogi–a lot of us feel Centopani, fourth last year, is definitely in the hunt for the title. The 5’11”, 265-pounder is a great bodybuilder, and I have the 2007 NPC Nationals champion actually nipping Warren for second. Not a popular pick, according to many.
So, who am I going with as the name I will announce from the podium as the latest ASC winner? Big, bad Dennis Wolf, the 6’0″, 262-pounder from Germany (now living in Las Vegas), who gave Branch a good run for the top slot last year, then followed that up with a strong fifth place showing at the Olympia–a single digit behind fourth place finisher Victor Martinez. With Branch an unknown factor due to the August surgery, this is a great opportunity for Wolf to finally jump into the winner’s circle. Dennis combines size and shape, and, even though he has a couple of flaws (calves, lower back), should have enough of the total package to win the show…..IF he shows up in his all-time best shape. As Elvis once sang, “It’s Now or Never”, big guy.
The bravest pick of the group? Isaac Hinds, who is giving his props to the Blade. Yup, Lifter is going with Dexter Jackson, fifth last year, to move up four places this time around and earn his fourth ASC victory, which would tie him with Flex Wheeler as the all-time record holder. Dex, coming off that 100 grand win at the Masters Pro World in December, is still going strong at 42-years old. “Dexter is a wiley vet,” counters Hinds. “He’s been there before, and his showing at the Masters proves the Blade is far from rusty…in fact, I’d say he was at his sharpest ever.”
Another cat I think can cause some trouible is Brandon Curry, who will be stepping on the Vets stage for the first time. After a slow start in 2011, Curry put his name back in the headlines with an impressive eighth place finish at the Olympia. If the former NPC USA overall champ, who carries about 235-240 pounds or so on his 5’8″ frame, can continue to improve, Curry will be in a hurry to land in the top five.
Lionel Beyeke opened the new season with a victory at the FLEX Pro on February 18; can Beyeke challenge for the title in Columbus? I say not yet, although he does have great shape and looks awesome from the front. Lionel needs more calves and back crispness to battle the big boys at the ASC, but I think he can challenge for a top six finish.
I’m also interested to see how Matthias Botthof fares. Matthias dominated the Arnold Amateur last year, and has the muscle to be in the tussle at the next level. Also aiming for top six finishes–and it won’t be easy–are Ben Pakulski and Fouad Abiad, who finished behind Beyeke in second and third, respectively, at the FLEX Pro. And, both guys had their fans who felt they could easily have won the show. Pakulski is a freak, with the best calves in the game, and Abiad has a nicely balanced body who can hang with the top fella’s when he’s in prime time condition.
Ditto for Shawn Rhoden, the modern day Flex Wheeler, who was not at his best at the FLEX Pro, but has another two weeks to dial things in. Now, how about Eduardo Correa? The 5’7″, 217-pounder was so detailed at the FLEX show he could have been placed the cover of a “Shredded Wheat” cereal box. I felt he could have actually won the contest…but finished a surprising fifth. My only guess is Correa was considered too “small”. Well, he ain’t that small, and he was the best conditioned man in the line-up. Okay, he needs more size on his quads, and his color was off at prejudging, but who doesn’t have a weakness here or there? Seeing where Eduardo finished in Santa Monica doesn’t portend well for his chances in Columbus, with a vastly tougher line-up, but you never know. One thing I will predict–the fans will go nuts over the peeled Brazilian physique star.
Perhaps the most interesting competitor is veteran Gustavo Badell, at one time of the sport’s shining stars, who is making a “comeback” at the ASC after not taking the stage for three years. At 39, does Badell still have what it takes to be a top contender? Ask me March 3.
Make sure to check out the Arnold Classic prediction video I did with Dave Palumbo last month at the LA FitExpo. It’s tough picking the top folks even if you see them the week of the show. Not seeing any of them, and going on record, a month out, is even more difficult. But, it’s fun, and it helps promote the show. So, right or wrong, let’s get ready to rumble.
The “Experts” Pick the 2012 ASC
Lonnie (“The Swami”) Teper
1. Dennis Wolf
2. Evan Centopani
3. Branch Warren
4. Dexter Jackson
5. Brandon Curry
6. Lionel Beyeke
Isaac (“Lifter”) Hinds
1. Dexter Jackson
2. Branch Warren
3. Evan Centopani
4. Dennis Wolf
5. Lionel Beyeke
6. Brandon Curry
Ron (“Yogi”) Avidan
1. Branch Warren
2. Evan Centopani
3. Dennis Wolf
4. Dexter Jackson
5. Brandon Curry
6. Gustavo Badell