2011 Arnold Classic Pre-Judging Review: Will Branch Take Home The Title?

After the judging, it looks like Branch Warren is going for the win with Wolf, Evan and Vic rounding out the top four.

2011 Arnold Classic Pre-Judging Review: Will Branch Take Home The Title?

With the rain pouring down outside, all the eyes inside were focused on the competitors as they filed on stage. The audience was waiting to see which competitors had dried out the most and who displayed the most carved, ripped and chiseled physique, one that would become worthy of holding up the 2011 Arnold Classic Championship Trophy.

Who had a roadmap of vascularity and deep striations that leaped out from the other competitors? Who worked harder than all the rest of the guys up there?

From all indications it looks like Branch Warren was the guy after the judging was over.

Each competitor came out for 60 seconds of mandatory posing so the judges could get a first look to evaluate each physique individually. It was obvious who had done their gym homework. It was no surprise, of course, that Branch Warren, was on point, but no one really knew for sure what to really expect from the other guys.

These were my initial thoughts about each competitor:

Ben Pakulski

He came out strong just like the Flex Pro two weeks ago. He was fairly tight, but the question was would he again fade during the judging? (The answer was yes.)

Branch Warren

He heard the loudest applause of any competitor. His conditioning was again outstanding. I thought he had a little too much oil on. (I noticed George Farah spraying him down with Pam cooking spray in the pump-up room.)

His back was improved in detail and thickness in his lower lats. That was noticeable in the back lat spread. His coloring was very dark.

Dennis Wolf

His coloring was dark this time. He was in better shape than the Flex Pro. He has another hairstyle. At the Flex Pro it was sort of Caesar cut; this week it was spiked up a bit. (Being the fashion expert that I am, he should stay with this one!)

His midsection was as dry as a stone. But I noticed an imbalance in his lats during the lat spread.

Dexter Jackson

Off again. Looked even worse, in fact, than at the Flex Pro.

Essa Ibrahim Hassan Obaid

His conditioning was good. He has major vascularity with lots of little veins all over, hindering his separation. Legs look flat from behind. No sweep.

Evan Centopani

Lots of applause when his name was called. He looked much lighter on stage than the other competitors. He looked lighter back stage as well. I was surprised that he looked about the same as the Flex Pro.

He might have been a little smoother, but not by much. For the most part, he held his conditioning very well.

Fouad Abiad

He wasn't quite as sharp and full as he was in L.A. I talked with him very briefly before he started pumping up and he was very pleased with what he brought to the stage at the Flex Pro. Hard to duplicate at the Arnold; he didn't quite bring that package.

Johnnie Jackson

Lots of applause. Very wide back lat spread. Looked better at the Olympia last fall, but he wasn't far from that.

Robert Piotrkowicz

He followed Evan and looked small and unimpressive by comparison. Always a bummer for a competitor to fall into that situation in a lineup.

Roelly Winklaar

Very thick. Could have been tighter. Not as good as last year but much better than his Olympia showing. I thought his coloring was better today than at the Olympia.

That could have been more to do with the lighting...

Ronny Rockel

Might have been holding a little too much water to reach one of the top spots. Still top-six material.

Sergey Shelestov

Better than last year, not as good two years ago. 2009 was his benchmark. He'll have to improve upon that to be looked at more.

Toney Freeman

He was in decent shape - the best I've seen him for a while, but he was little soft. Still not equaling his 2007 look.

Victor Martinez

He was in very good shape, probably the best I've seen him since 2007. He still needs to be a little sharper, though.

The Comparisons

  • First Callout - Branch, Evan, and Dennis

The first callout is always the most exciting. The tension that has built up for months and it is finally manifested in this callout. As expected, Branch was in that callout.

I thought Evan would be in it too, and he was. I thought it would be either Wolf or Vic for the next spot; Wolf got the nod.

Branch was very dark and Evan was very light. Wolf? Well, he was just right. Actually his color was very good, but it started to run as the judging progressed.

Wolf looked lean and Branch was very, very thick-more like a tree trunk. Branch took the abs-and-thigh pose. Standing next to Branch, Evan's flat chest looked even flatter. Evan also needs better quad separation.

  • Second Callout- Rockel, Victor, Dexter, Evan
  • Third Callout - Rockel, Johnny, Toney, Roelly
  • Fourth Callout - Sergey, Ben, Robert, Fouad, Essa
  • Fifth Callout - Branch, Wolf, Vic, Evan

Even though this wasn't the last callout, it was the one for all the marbles. The first callout is an ego boost, but this one means you're in the running for one of the top spots. Vic worked his way back up to be compared with Branch and the "other two guys."

  • Sixth Callout - Rockel, Johnny, Roelly, Dexter
  • Seventh Callout - Sergey, Ben, Robert, Fouad, Toney, Essa

Just two poses were asked for: front double bicep and most muscular.

Other Observations

When Dennis Wolf came out, I couldn't help but think of Johnny Bravo. If Wolf was wearing shades and had Cutler's hair, he'd be as close as you could get to that cartoon character. Wolf's wide shoulders and tiny waist give him an accentuated v-taper. We call that the X-Frame in the bodybuilding world.

After seeing him two weeks ago I was most curious to see if he had made improvements, looked the same or, perhaps, looked worse. I expected him to be a little tighter, but I wasn't so sure if he'd get the combo deal that comes with an extra order of fullness. He looked like he got the combo deal he wanted. Maybe it had something to do with the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups he ate while pumping up.

Just how much improvement can a competitor make in two weeks? It depends. A competitor will not be able to bring up a lagging body part in that short amount of time, but if it's a matter of just drying out a little more and it's not a matter of being fat and out of shape, then a lot of improvement can be made.

If a competitor needed to lose a couple more pounds of fat between the Flex Pro and the Arnold Classic, that could produce a dramatic change-if it's combined with not holding any excess water, of course.

Branch Warren was the hands-down favorite coming into this competition. He's placed second and third in the last two Olympias and at the last two Arnold Classics. What's more, the only guys to beat him in the last couple of years were not in the show.

The only competitor I saw as having a chance was Dexter Jackson, and he wasn't his normal ripped-up self two weeks ago. So I wasn't convinced he could knock off Branch either.

I have got to say that Branch Warren came out on stage for his introductory posing with the ferocity of Supernatural's Dean Winchester when he's getting ready to gank a yellow-eyed demon. (What can I say? I'm a huge fan of the show.)

Seriously, there's just something about Branch that screams intensity when he's on stage, in the gym or when he's hunting big game in the wilderness for his almost endless supply of fresh protein.

The Texan has gone on record that he will never compete in a show out of shape again. That's a fairly bold statement and not many guys can back that up. To his credit, since he has uttered those words, he hasn't been out of shape when he's on stage. He's got a formula down pat and it keeps on working. Today was no exception.

Many people were speculating that Dexter Jackson deliberately did not peak for the Flex Pro so he could really dial it in for the Arnold Classic, which was only two weeks later. Whether or not that was true is open for debate, but today on stage in Columbus Dexter looked worse than Los Angeles.

I saw Dexter win the 2004 Iron Man and he was in incredible shape at that show. Every show he was in after that he came in with about the same level of conditioning - until the Mr. Olympia of 2008. Even though he won that show over Jay Cutler, he was a tad softer than I ever saw him before. He was a little fuller, but not as hard.

Apparently that was his game plan. He traded some conditioning to be a little bigger and fuller. He's done that in every competition since and his placements reflect that. I was hoping Dexter would trade some of that fullness for his trademarked conditioning this time.

I saw Essa Obaid briefly at the Arnold Amateur last year, but I had not seen him on a pro stage until today. Sure, I saw the photos online like all the other fans when he competed in the Europa show last year, but photos never tell the whole story of a competition.

From the photos I could tell he was dry and in very good condition and, of course, he was huge, but I thought he needed better separation and he lacked full and thick hamstrings. He sort of looked too big for his frame to me.

During the judging, when Essa stood on stage with some of the best IFBB pros in the world, I could see for myself how this guy stacked up. He was more towards the bottom of the line-up here at the Arnold.

Essa delts are wide, thick and voluminous, but they lack that crisp separation between his triceps and biceps. Dexter has it. Rockel has it and so does Evan. Essa doesn't and it takes away from the aesthetic flow of his physique.

Fouad Abiad made a huge impression right out of the gate two weeks ago when he qualified with a third-place finish at the 2011 Flex Pro in California. While he was expected to make the top five or top six in that show, many folks did not expect him to place as high as third and to bump Dennis Wolf out of the top three.

It was a very strong showing for Abiad. The question for the Arnold, however, was could he maintain or improve upon that Flex Pro look? No, he didn't.

The first time I saw Evan compete was at the Flex Pro. Not seeing him compete isn't that unusual, though, since he's only competed in a total of two pro shows and his first one was the New York Pro in 2009. (I make it to about three or so pro shows a year, but, hey, I can't make it to all of them.)

When Evan walked out at the Flex Pro show, it was obvious he was going to be gunning for a victory. Today at the Arnold Classic, the competition is a little stiffer he has his work cut out for him. Evan won the Flex Pro fairly easily; it's not going to be a cake-walk for Evan today, not by any means.

Not with Branch Warren in this show.