The Blade is back! After sitting out last year's Arnold Classic for just the third time in the last 15 years, Dexter Jackson will vie for his record fifth title against a talented field of top competitors. The 45-year-old Floridian, who won previously in '05, '06, '08, and '13, is currently tied with Flex Wheeler for the most overall Arnold Classic titles. But with $130,000 at stake—the sport's second-biggest payday—a deep lineup of competitor will eagerly try to get in Dexter's way.
If you can't be among the 175,000 sports fan who make the trip to Columbus, Ohio, to watch 18,000 athletes compete in 50 sports and events on March 6-7, you can still see the live action right here on Bodybuilding.com. Here's a preview of the 13 men who will step onstage that weekend.
Lionel Beyeke was the subject of controversy in another Arnold show, the Arnold Brasil last year. Many fans and some experts thought he should've won the show—Steve Kuclo did—while Lionel finished a disappointing fourth. In fact he never found the winner's circle last year, so he is looking for redemption to start the 2015 season.
Evan Centopani placed fifth last year in Columbus, but chose to take a long offseason to focus on improving his chest to match his powerful arms and shoulders. Word is that he'll show up weighing as much as 270 pounds, which would make him one of the bigger boys onstage. At age 32, he could finally be ready to live up to his world-class potential.
Justin Compton hails from Kentucky and has made an impact since exploding on the scene in 2012. He'll be making his Arnold Classic debut and has been focusing on his lower body during the offseason, specifically calves and hamstrings. He's already got a pro win under his belt, the IFBB Europa Show of Champions in Orlando. I and many others see great things from him just over the horizon.
Brandon Curry slipped to eighth last year after finishing seventh the year prior, but this former Arnold Classic Brasil champ is an excellent poser. He has the potential to finish much higher, but after an up-and-down last few years, it's hard to know what to expect.
Marius Dohne competed in the Arnold Brasil, but this will be his Ohio debut. Hailing from South Africa, he's a guy many people don't know, but he's capable of winning a pro show, which he did in Tampa in 2012. If his legs match his top-notch conditioning, the top six isn't out of the question.
Vitaly Fateev has picked a great place to make his pro debut! This big Russian won the Arnold Europe Amateur show—with a perfect score. Vitaly has big arms and good legs and could conceivably crack the top 10, a good way to start his career.
Toney "The X-Man" Freeman is the only guy in the lineup who is older than Dexter. At 48, this is his 10th year competing at the Arnold Classic. At 6-foot-2 and near 280 pounds, there's no doubt he'll bring the overall size, V-taper, and big legs that have made him a perennial contender. He finished ninth a year ago here, but nabbed third as recently as 2013.
Dexter "The Blade" Jackson has shown no sign of letting down at 45 years old. Besides his four Arnold Classic wins, he's one of only three men who can lay claim to hold both the Arnold and Olympia titles in their career, along with Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler. With a team that includes nutritionist George Farah and legendary trainer Charles Glass, Dexter is almost always in peak condition, which automatically means he'll be in contention at the end. He finished fifth in the Olympia last year, and nobody who finished ahead of him is in this field, so he must be considered the favorite.
Michael Kefalianos hails from Greece. He's never finished better than ninth, so he's got some room to climb. His symmetry and his upper chest have held him back thus far. Always highly conditioned, I see him battling for a spot in the top 10.
Cedric McMillan is the X-factor in this competition. He finished sixth two years ago in his Arnold Classic debut, then took third last year in a tight battle with Shawn Rhoden and winner Dennis Wolf. This year, he hopes his symmetry and posing will compete with Dexter while his 260-pound frame holds off Evan and Justin.
Ben "Pak-Man" Pakulski is known for otherworldly leg development, which helped him stand out at the Arnold Classic in 2013, where he finished second. His plans to bring up the rest of his body backfired, as he slipped to seventh last year and didn't compete anywhere else. His potential is undeniable, but the question coming in for this Canadian is whether he's brought up his upper body enough.
Branch Warren has never finished lower than fourth in the Arnold Classic, and he won both of his previous appearances, in 2011 and 2012. I would expect nothing worse than the top five, and if he brings his trademark grainy conditioning, he could be in the mix for a top spot.
Roelly Winklaar, aka "The Dutch Beast," was a top contender for the Arnold last year before a motorcycle accident forced him to withdraw. He did manage to win in Chicago and qualify for the Olympia, but his conditioning was off and he finished out of the top 10. He's got one of the best pairs of arms in the sport, along with great shoulders. He needs to be shredded and improve on his posing to make a play for the top five in this field.
Predictions for the 2015 Arnold Classic
- Dexter Jackson
- Evan Centopani
- Justin Compton
- Cedric McMillan
- Branch Warren
What do you think? Will Dexter will take his fifth ASC title, or will another bodybuilder take his turn at the top? Give us your favorites in the comments below, and follow the action live on March 6-7 on Bodybuilding.com.