Since its inception in 1989, the unparalleled Arnold Sports Festival has attracted droves of people to Columbus, Ohio, every year for myriad sporting events like archery, fencing, and gymnastics, just to name a few. Of course, the reason bodybuilding fans love this time of year is the Arnold Classic. The world's best IFBB pro bodybuilders will be in Columbus from February 27 to March 2, and you can bet they'll be gunning for the top prize.
For many superstar hopefuls, this annual pilgrimage to what some may consider the Mecca of bodybuilding is an opportunity to stand alongside some of the best bodies in the business, showcase long hours of hard work, and gain bragging rights. In addition to the main event, the men's Arnold Classic, this year's show also includes the Fitness, Bikini, and Figure International, as well as the brand new Arnold Classic 212.
This year's Arnold stage will see no shortage of incredible bodies from a variety of promising newcomers and established seasoned vets. As they say, this year's event is wide open. In my mind, several men stand out of the Arnold Classic ranks. Join me as I take a look and make some bold predictions.
9th Brandon Curry
Brandon Curry has big things ahead of him. After triumphant appearances at the 2013 Arnold Classic Brazil and at the 2008 NPC USA Bodybuilding Championships, some are calling Curry the next bodybuilding superstar. His weaknesses in proper conditioning and leg development may get in the way of a sure-fire win, but based on his prior top six placements, he will at least have a spot on the top ten list.
8th Victor Martinez
Victor Martinez is one of those contenders who definitely shows promise and potential but just doesn't quite make the cut when it counts. Formerly an Olympia favorite, Martinez has an enviable body shape that cannot be attained merely with barbells and a proper diet. Despite having such a genetic gift, Martinez hasn't been able to place himself among the pantheon of bodybuilding immortals. Call it bad luck or bad decision-making, but you can still count on Martinez to show up enough to strut his way to top ten placement.
7th Evan Centopani
A massive competitor with enough raw size to dominate any pro stage, the 260-pound Evan Centopani made the best possible first impression by winning his pro debut at the 2009 New York Pro. He followed up this early success with another victory at the 2011 Flex Pro Show and placed fourth at the Arnold Classic shortly thereafter. Things seemed to only be on the upswing until 8th and 13th finishes at the 2012 and 2013 Olympias, respectively, slowed down his initial momentum. There's no denying that he has the attributes—arguably the best shoulders, chest, and arm development around—to trounce the competition, but it's just a question of whether he'll be prepared to flaunt it when it counts. If he does, he could easily spring to top six placement.
6th Toney Freeman
At 47, the age-defying Toney Freeman continues to amaze with his primed muscle development and striking symmetry. The "X Man," who has been pro since 2003, placed third at last year's Arnold and second at both the Masters Olympia and Pro World in 2012. This impressive pedigree, along with some of the widest shoulders and a set of incredible posing skills, has made him a fan favorite. Motivated by his disappointing finish at his last Olympia, Freeman is likely to step it up this year to redeem himself.
5th Branch Warren
Branch Warren has an impressive record: as a two-time Arnold champion and one-time Olympia runner-up, he's pretty much done it at all as a pro bodybuilder. Unfortunately, his excessively vascular and grainy back, chest, and arm developments have left a blemish on an otherwise incredible frame. In addition, his gargantuan legs and pure mass can be cited as other possible shortcomings.
Interestingly, his weaker body parts were still larger than many of his peers, allowing him to win the Arnold Classic Most Muscular title more times than he won the event itself! With a much improved upper body, Branch is a more complete bodybuilder, although he now lacks the shredded shape that gave him his legendary status. Some feel his ninth place finish at last year's Olympia was quite generous, but I have a feeling he will bring the bang this year.
4th Cedric McMillan
There probably isn't a single inch on this 6-foot frame that isn't covered by shapely muscle. The 2013 FIBO Power Germany champion, Cedric McMillan, hearkens back to the taller competitors of old, except that he holds around 40 pounds more muscle. Though he missed his mark and placed a mediocre 12th at both the 2013 Arnold Classic and Olympia events, McMillan continues to impress with his currently unrivaled potential. As we know, however, raw potential doesn't always equate to wins. Should he put a few more finishing touches on his otherwise flawless physique and bring the super shredded Heath-like conditioning that wins shows, there will be no touching this statuesque competitor.
3rd Ben Pakulski
Huge, freakishly conditioned, and balanced are the perfect descriptors for the physique Big Ben Pakulski routinely brings to the IFBB stage. With an excellent record that includes a second place finish at last year's Arnold and third place at the Australian Pro Grand Prix shortly after, Pakulski will always be a threat when he's at his best. Having sat out the 2013 Olympia, Pakulski has had more time to prepare to do one better than his 2013 placement at this year's Arnold Classic. I think he certainly has it in him, too, as he has the best legs in the business and an impressive upper body. It's merely a matter of time for the Colossal Canadian.
2nd Shawn Rhoden
Speaking of winning potential, the near-perfectly proportioned Shawn Rhoden is ready for a successful year. In the last fourteen pro contests, he's wrapped up four wins and third and fourth place finishes at the 2012 and 2013 Olympias, respectively. Rhoden is definitely a favorite to win this year's Arnold. His pro career took off on shaky legs, but he worked his abs off and returned better than ever to blow everyone away en route to becoming one of 2012 and 2013's top pro competitors. At 5-foot-10 and 240 pounds, he is poised to snag a spot in the top three or maybe even a victory this year, but there is a certain German Giant in his way.
1st Dennis Wolf
Dennis Wolf is no stranger to pressures of the big stage. He's recovered from a 16th position at his first Olympia in 2006 to take third at last year's event. Dennis Wolf comes into this year's Arnold Classic as a favorite to win the show. Huge, shredded, and aesthetically pleasing for such a large competitor, the monolithic German took second at both the 2011 and 2012 Arnolds, and a win at the 2012 IFBB EVLs Prague Pro Championships. For Wolf to win this year, he simply needs to show up with career-best conditioning, which isn't exactly his strong suit. Wolf has the size and shape to beat his fellow pros, but poor calf development could allow a particularly strong contender to edge him out. If all things align for Dennis, 2014 could be Year of the Wolf.
Who will win 2014's epic event? What will be the main rivalries and who will be compared to whom? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and be there to experience all the excitement or watch the events unfold on Bodybuilding.com's exclusive webcast!