Phil Heath's screen name on the Getbig.com message boards is "The Gift." Say what? A little pretentious there, huh kid? I mean, even Ronnie Coleman admits it's great to be King, but only in interviews.
An Auspicious Debut
I admit, I felt Heath was the best amateur to come out of the NPC in years after running away with the USA Overall crown last summer. And, after viewing pictures of the 26-year-old as he opened his pro career with victories in Denver and New York earlier this month, I also admit he may be on to something with the self-inflicted moniker.
Phil, who played a little basketball at Denver University, is seven for seven from the field on a bodybuilding stage. And, has propelled himself into what Shawn Ray predicts will be a top three finish at the Mr. Olympia. More on that later.
Shawn Ray's Prediction:
"Phil is a combination of me and Flex Wheeler," Ray said after the rookie went home with the $25,000 first place check at the Denver Pro/Am that also marked Ray's debut as a promoter. "If Phil was in last year's Olympia, in the condition he was in at my contest, he would have beaten Gunter Schlierkamp, who took fourth. I say he'll be right on Jay Cutler's heels at this year's Olympia for second."
Whoa, Nelly. First of all, we don't even know if Heath is going to do the Las Vegas event, set for the final week of September at the Orleans Arena. At 5'9" and about 215 pounds - the same weight he displayed at the USA - the wunderkind may need some time to grow, albeit not that much. As wonderful as his physique is, Heath does have some areas needing improvement, such as width and chest thickness.
And, although Ray says 'The Gift' was not given one in Denver or New York over second place Darrem Charles, others feel he got exactly that a week later at the Steve Weinberger production. "I think Heath won Denver and New York, without question," Ray said, but admitted it was closer in New York than it was in Colorado, and several folks I spoke to said Darrem was the man that day.
One of them was Kristie, Shawn's wife, who, I must admit, has a good eye when it comes to judging such things. Asia Monet, the couple's nine-month-old daughter, called it a draw. She just wanted to go eat and hit the sack.
Bob Bonham, owner of Strong & Shapely Gym in East Rutherford, New Jersey, said New York belonged to Charles all the way. "I talked to 10 people at the show, and every one of them thought Darrem should have won," Bonham said. "Phil is a bit narrow in the shoulders; I think Darrem was more complete all-around and in better condition.
Either Way, A Close Call:
Since I wasn't at either contest, I don't feel I'm qualified to make a strong judgment either way. Let's just say I have no problem with Heath winning both contests, and would have no problem with Charles singing "New York, New York" after the Steve Weinberger production as well. Call this flick "Close Encounters."
Either way, Heath has become a major force in the sport right off the bat. And, just when the industry could use some new, young blood in the pro ranks. Shoot, the way we've been going, a guy can win his pro card, then enter a Masters show in no time. Get my gist?
Bonham did agree with David Henry in third, but would have moved Jaroslav Horvath all the way from eighth to fourth, and would have put fourth place finisher Dennis James in fifth in place of Bill Willmore. "Dennis looked great backstage, but was holding a film of water when he was onstage," Bonham reviewed. "Plus, he was the odd man out in the type of physique I like."
Now, back to the Olympia. First off, Cutler might be surprised to find out he's a lock - not to beat Coleman. Jay made improvements in his back last year, is more focused than ever, and is not competing to take second. Can he beat Coleman? That's another story, for another day.
And, did Dexter Jackson pull out of the Olympia? Now, I'm very impressed with the Phillip, don't get me wrong. But, not impressed enough to think he would beat Dex at this point in his career. Then, we have Gunter, who plans on showing up at 280, sharp as a tack, Gustavo Badell, Branch Warren... You get the picture.
I'll go top six for Heath and stop at that. After all, that would be quite a feat in culminating what would end up being a magical first year.
Now, here's another scenario - 'The Gift' might want to consider (if he already hasn't): pass on the Big Dance, grow a bit on the off-season, open up 2007 at the Iron Man, then follow that up with his Arnold Classic debut. He would only be 27 years old, most likely the youngest guy in either field and probably 10 percent improved from his last showing, which could be enough to bring home the Gold in both shows.
Now, that would be a real gift - both for Heath and the sport as a whole.