With the 2008 Arnold Classic less than a month away, the fighting talk has begun and the top competitors have come out swinging. Likely top five finisher Gustavo Badell once again promises to trounce the opposition, though at last year's event he presented little threat to the top order and ultimately placed fourth.
One of 2007's breakthrough athlete's, Kai Green, will be a strong contender for the top six and if he brings the conditioning he demonstrated at the 2007 Colorado Classic, his first pro win, along with the improvements in muscle size he is said to have made in the off-season, he will be extremely tough to beat. But first he will need to get through:
2007 Arnold runner up, and perennial shape monster, Dexter Jackson, the 2007 Arnold third placed X-man, Toney Freeman, the highly favored, significantly improved, Phil Heath, the massive, ripped 2006 runner up, Branch Warren, the ever popular posing machine Melvin Anthony and fellow 2007 breakthrough athlete, Silvio Samuel.
One man the current field won't have to contend with is reining champion and 2007 Mr. Olympia second place finisher, Victor Martinez, who is out due to knee surgery. This leaves it wide open for any one of the aforementioned highly ranked athletes to break through to win what is arguably the most prestigious professional bodybuilding contest around.
Once again the Arnold Classic will showcase professional bodybuilding's top talent as part of what has become the biggest sporting event in the world, the Arnold Classic Sport's Festival. The exciting thing about the 2008 Arnold is its paucity of second-rate athletes, something the "Arnold" has been famous for from the very beginning.
In addition to the mentioned probable top finishers, there are at least four currently confirmed men who could quite easily switch places with the favored bunch, if any of the top order arrives in slightly less than optimal shape.
And let's not forget 2007 Keystone Pro runner up and possessor of massive, ripped legs (possibly among the top three in the world), Desmond Miller, who will look to assert his authority to gain momentum as a future top tier guy.
Also 2007 National's winner, Adorthus Cherry, whose peaked biceps and tremendous V-taper could see him land in the top ten if he arrives in shape, and 2007 USA winner, DeShaun Grimez, whose impressive back lat spread is reminiscent of the great Ronnie Coleman. With such a stacked line-up, picking the top seven is not an easy task. Nevertheless, here is my selection.
First: Phil Heath:
The 2005 USA champion's first big test came at the 2006 Arnold, where he placed fifth with incredible conditioning and among the best aesthetics and overall shape on stage. He just lacked the size to defeat the more seasoned athletes that night.
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Phil Heath At The 2008 Iron Man.
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Fast-forward one year and the man who won his first two pro events, the 2006 Colorado and New York Pro shows, has, as pictorial evidence suggests, packed on the necessary size to do some major damage. His recent Ironman Pro win and the amazing shape he presented there (many are saying he could be one of the best bodybuilders ever, unprecedented commentary for one who is only into his third year as a pro) confirm he will be the man to beat at the Arnold.
If he can hold the conditioning he has right now, while maintaining the mind-blowing size he has gained -especially around the chest and shoulder width areas (where he was thought to be lacking) - he would definitely, Dexter Jackson notwithstanding, have to be the major favorite based on current judging standards.
Though Dexter Jackson will push him hard for the top spot, I see Phil having just too much size, especially in the calves where the shorter and lighter Dexter is lacking, and overall shape to be beaten at the 2008 Arnold.
Second: Dexter Jackson:
As far as V-taper, muscle fullness, conditioning and sheer gracefulness of presentation goes very few people can match an in-form (and when has he been out of form?) and hungry Dexter Jackson.
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Dexter Jackson At The 2007 Olympia.
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The only thing separating Dexter from Heath is the latter's superior overall size and imposing presence, qualities that are, from a current judging perspective, rated very highly.
In aesthetics Dexter may have a slight edge and conditioning-wise Heath probably has not matched Dexter yet. With his posing style, deceptively freaky size on a lighter physique and tremendous shape, Dexter is one "smaller" guy who can still hang with the larger bodybuilders and give nothing away as far as muscle quality is concerned. Look for it to be close between Dexter and Heath.
Dexter Jackson 2007 Arnold Routine.
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Third: Melvin Anthony:
Melvin has solidified his place in bodybuilding as one of the top six competitors in the world with his recent Mr. Olympia placements and for good reason: he is known to have almost perfect shape with few lacking body parts.
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Melvin Anthony At The 2007 Olympia.
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Conditioning has been his only real concern when he places out of the money but he has gained control over this variable in recent years to show what he really can achieve. Combine this improved conditioning with added size and you have a most impressive bodybuilder.
As another of the "smaller" guys, Melvin can also hold his own with the Ronnie's and Jay's of the world. Let's hope he can bring his best to the Arnold stage, as an in-shape Melvin characteristically performing yet another flawless posing display has become one of pro bodybuilding's most spectacular sights. Based on his recent Olympia placement and the improvements he continues to make, he should have no trouble cracking the top four.
Fourth: Gustavo Badell:
One man who seems to have slipped in the pro rankings is Gustavo Badell, a man who two short years ago was literally fighting for the top at the Mr. Olympia. Now he is only just breaking the top ten, but this is more a case of the competition having improved and caught up to the massive Gustavo, not due to him having significantly lost the edge.
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Gustavo Badell At The 2008 Iron Man.
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With a massive, thick back, chest and thighs, along with a small waist for his larger 250-pound frame (when in shape) Badell poses an impressive site on any bodybuilding stage.
One thing possibly larger than his physique, though, is his opinion of himself and once again he is claiming to be the man to beat. One suspects he is trying to hang onto the reputation he gained three years ago rather than face the reality that the competition is finally pushing him out, little by little.
I for one hope he can prove everyone wrong, as he is one of my personal favorites, but time has proven a formidable adversary, and Gustavo may never recapture his "third best in the world" spot.
Gustavo Badell 2007 Arnold Routine.
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Fifth: Moe El Mossawi:
While not yet on the Arnold Classic competitors' list, Moe El Moussawi, New Zealand's top professional bodybuilder, and possibly the greatest this country has ever produced, should have no problem garnering fifth place, or better, should be receive an invite. A Lebanon native who has been training in, and competing out of New Zealand, where he runs a thriving sports supplement business, Moe recently achieved his highest professional placing yet: third at the Ironman Pro behind Gustavo Badell and winner Phil Heath.
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Moe El Moussawi At The 2008 Iron Man.
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With very few obvious flaws, Moe, at this show, made his mark on professional bodybuilding in grand style by overtaking many of professional bodybuilding's top names to qualify for his first Mr. Olympia. He has the kind of fresh, full muscle (including the sickest arms seen in a long time) that is rewarded handsomely when presented at its best.
Moe is now at the point in his career where he has two big advantages, which should see him placing higher: he has wider name recognition with the judges', which better positions him for early call-outs and better comparisons with his fellow competitors, and he is now peaking to perfection which does much to accentuate his physical gifts, attributes which include breathtaking symmetry, great conditioning and full muscle bellies. I for one am hoping Moe receives an invite to and places in the top five at this year's Arnold. Physique-wise he certainly deserves this honor.
Sixth: Silvio Samuel:
It is becoming increasingly difficult to guess the placement of Silvio Samuel as, just when you think he cannot get any better, he comes in just that little bit harder and fuller to further impress. It is heartening to see a man of Samuel's size defeat men 50 pounds heavier as it highlights the sheer quality of muscle that cloaks every inch of his body.
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Silvio Samuel At The 2008 Iron Man.
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Looking at least 20 pounds heavier than he really is (often around 210 pounds, ripped), Samuel has attained that illusory look men such as Lee Labrada used to display. Yet he is fuller and more heavily muscled compared to his under 220 pound counterparts, further strengthening his ability to stand toe to toe with the larger competitors (as exemplified at the 2007 Europa pro where he made his fellow under 210 pounds class competitors look like lightweights to take this contest before taking the open class against some of bodybuilding's largest the following night).
Later in 2007 he achieved his best result yet to place seventh at the Olympia. Look for Samuel to take fifth at the 2008 Arnold to solidify his status as one of bodybuilding's very best and set the platform for another top-ten Olympia placement.
Silvio Samuel Saviour 2007 Arnold Routine.
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Seventh: Toney Freeman:
The massive executioner, Toney Freeman, will, at six feet two inches and around 280 pounds ripped, most likely be the largest man onstage and as recent contests (save the 2007 Mr. Olympia where he missed his peak and the 2008 Ironman where he again failed to arrive in his best shape) suggest he will be tough to beat.
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Toney Freeman At The 2008 Iron Man.
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After several years of mediocre placements, Toney finally broke through in 2006 with his first pro win at the Europa Supershow. Since then he has racked up two more wins (at the 2007 Ironman and Sacramento Pro shows) and is legitimate top challenger for any show including one as large as the Arnold, as shown with his 2007 third place finish at this show.
With insane mass on a well-proportioned frame complete with one of, if not the, best V-taper in the sport today and massive flaring thighs, an in-shape Toney is a spectacular site. If he can better the conditioning he brought to his last two contests, he will have no problem impressing at this year's Arnold.
Toney Freeman 2007 Arnold Routine.
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