As soon as Branch Warren stepped on stage, all eyes immediately went to his right leg to see if it had completely healed after surgery a few weeks before last year's Mr. Olympia. Find out if his leg was in tip-top, striated condition and who else was in shape and ready to grab the 2012 Arnold Classic title from the Texas Rattlesnake, Branch Warren in my review.
To sum it up quickly, Branch Warren is back! The judges wanted a final look at Branch Warren, Evan Centopani, and Dennis Wolf before the judging ended. From my viewpoint, I saw Branch in first, but I was undecided between Dennis Wolf and Evan Centopani for second and third. It's too close to call. That will be decided tonight.
At this point I'll give my quick analysis of each competitor as they came out for their 60 seconds of free posing at the beginning of the competition. (At the end of the article I'll go more in depth and include more observations and details on the top competitors.)
Good hams, tighter and fuller than the Flex Pro. The poor guy followed Branch Warren in the lineup. Branch is a tough act to follow.
He did his customary grunts and "shoops!" on stage, but Gustavo was a shadow of his former self. He was down in size and not nearly as sharp as he was a few years ago.
Still holding water and didn't tighten up from the Flex Pro. Great shape. In some poses he reminds me of Lee Haney (with Kai Greene's face).
Thin midsection and thin legs. Needs more middle and lower back development, but he's got good width. This is the first time I've seen Botthof compete. I saw him on the plane last year; he was across the aisle from me. Let's just say with his shoulders, I was glad I wasn't sitting next to him.
The crowd roared its approval when he walked out. Back was improved. I thought he could have been sharper and still needs to control his legs better on stage. Coloring was improved.
Not as sharp as the Flex Pro, but that's still really good conditioning.
He has HUGE biceps, but he still needs bigger quads. I thought he might tighten up a bit as he posed, but he didn't.
Walked really slowly as he walked out on stage like he always does. He was in decent shape, but not enough to pull off another win.
Feathered striations everywhere, in his lats, lower back, and quads. He had the unfortunate luck of following Ben Pakulski.
I think he was a little bit tighter than the Flex Pro two weeks ago. His hams, calves and glutes were really sharp. Best Pakulski to date.
Crisp from the front and improved from the back, but he needs more thickness in his back. Great shape. He has to get that belly button fixed.
How in the world this guy can recover from torn muscles and tendons I'll never know. He looked great. Tremendous thickness.
Good shape. Better than the last time I saw him. Maybe not as sharp, but he wasn't flat.
Crisp from the front and good from the back. He hasn't matched the graininess of his 2008 Olympia appearance, but this was a good combo of crispness and fullness.
The first callout at the Arnold is second only the prestigious Mr. Olympia first callout. Every competitor wants to be in that first callout. Today in Columbus for the 2012 Arnold Classic the competitors in the first callout were Evan Centopani, Dexter Jackson, Branch Warren, Ben Pakulski and Dennis Wolf. I thought Evan could have been sharper. Dennis was dripping and his color was running. Branch looked phenomenal. Dexter wasn't sharp enough. Ben P. came on strong.
Lionel Beyeke, Fouad Abiad, Brandon Curry, Michael Kefalianos and Shawn Rhoden. Lionel stood out in this group. He really does have great shape and size - just too smooth. When he comes in sliced, watch out!
Ben White, Matthias Botthof, Eduardo Correa, and Gustavo Badell. Last place is between Matthias and Gustavo.
Dexter Jackson, Ben Pakulski, Lionel Beyeke were brought back for another comparison. Of this group, Ben P. had the best conditioning.
Things could easily change at the finals tonight, but if you're one of the guys called out right before the judging ends for one last comparison, you know you've got a top spot so you better make sure you make improvements for tonight's show. All the other guys in the last callout are planning on making adjustments to come in either tighter or fuller. The competitors in the last callout were Evan Centopani, Branch Warren and Dennis Wolf.
A Few More Details
I remember a similar situation in 2009 at the Arnold Classic when Victor Martinez returned to the stage after surgery on his knee from a training injury in early 2008. All eyes were on Victor's leg that day just like they were on Branch's today. His leg looked fine and sported deep cuts and striations. His upper body was thick and full.
I saw a video online of Dennis Wolf when he was two days out and his thighs were looking crazy with visible striations in all four quads. I was thinking on the flight from Los Angles yesterday that if he filled out and tightened up from his condition on that video, we'd see the best Dennis Wolf to date. Once I saw him on stage, I'd have to say he was on par with last year's Arnold Classic look and maybe a little fuller and thicker.
If you're a fan of Evan you were elated with the amount of pre-contest videos that were available online this year. (I watched many of them just like any other fan who is excited for the Arnold Classic each year.) Based on the videos, I still think Evan's chest needs to fill out. Like Jay Cutler, Evan tends to go flat in the chest when he's dieted down and dried out. When I saw Evan on stage today, my observation was confirmed. His chest was still flat - compared to guys like Branch Warren anyway! Evan walked into the pump-up room wearing a red T-shirt with ANIMAL on the front. It was evident by his coloring that he had fixed that problem from last year.
I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for records. I like to see them set, tied or broken. A win for Dexter Jackson this year would give him four AC titles and put him in a tie with Flex Wheeler for most AC wins. Unfortunatley, that fourth win won't happen unless there is some complete miracle in the finals tonight.
The Frenchman, Lionel Beyeke, is straight off his first pro win two weeks ago at the IFBB Flex Pro in Santa Monica. Even though Beyeke received 1st-place votes from the judges, many fans questioned the win because of his sub-par conditioning. He had plenty of mass and the best shape in that show, but he was smooth compared to a few other guys. He looked like he needed to drop another 5-to-7 pounds of water to be in really good shape. This afternoon he still needed to be sharper.
It was funny before the show started, Hany Rambod looked as nervous as an expectant father as he waited for Lionel to come out on stage. Hany was pacing and walking like a caged tiger.
Eduardo Correa's name has become synonymous with the term shredded. His conditioning is unreal. Photos and video just can't give it justice. Seeing it live and in person gives one a real appreciation for the conditioning Eduardo presents on competition day. Flex Wheeler stated after the Flex Pro Correa might even have been too dry. Now there's a comment most competitors will never hear made about them!
I think Eduardo tried following that advice because he was fuller, but I think his best weapon is to come in shredded and not hold back.
Based on his conditioning and size at the Flex Pro and if I was judging, I would have had Fouad Abiad in second place behind Ben Pakulski. Fouad was well conditioned - to the point of being grainy, but he also was a little flat. Today he looked great again, but this is the Arnold and there were a few too many high-caliber competitors in today's show.
If you measured the width of his shoulders with a yard stick, Ben Pakulski might be the widest guy in the IFBB. His delts are the size of volleyballs and his calves are huge too. Great conditioning.
The guy has a beautiful physique, but I have a hard time looking past his herniated belly button.
Well, that's it and as fast as I can type. Will Branch win it all again? Will Evan sharpen up and pull off a win? Or will the Wolf howl and take home the 1st-place trophy? We'll all wait to see what happens at the finals later on tonight.