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2012 Arnold Classic Preview: Branch To Defend His Title

The two behemoths of bodybuilding (Heath & Cutler) won't be at the Arnold Classic, but the rest are poised to snatch the title and join the ranks of the world's greatest bodybuilders.

Branch Warren is gunning for a second Arnold Classic title, but will the leg injury he sustained a few weeks before the 2011 Mr. Olympia last September limit his ability to win the title again? Find out who else is determined to take the title away from Branch in my preview for the 2012 Arnold Classic.

2011 Arnold Classic Recap

Branch Warren won the Arnold Classic last year, but it wasn't an easy win by any means. Dennis Wolf brought a dry and full physique worthy of second place and a few people thought he should have gotten the nod over Branch. Victor Martinez displayed his best physique in years, but Victor won't be in this year's competition due to some immigration problems. (I'll leave it at that because that would be another article...)

Evan Centopani came in fourth last year fresh off his second pro win at the 2011 Flex Pro. Evan smoothed out from the Flex Pro a bit and his coloring was a little light during the judging.

Dexter Jackson, the 2008 Mr. Olympia could only manage fifth place in last year's close competition.

Main Contenders In 2012

The same top dogs will fight for the bone this year in Ohio, competing for the 2012 Arnold Classic crown. And there might be a few surprises this year as well.

Branch Warren

Branch Warren tore a quadriceps tendon in his left leg in a freak accident three weeks before the 2011 Mr. Olympia. He had surgery for the injury and was back in training with barely any down time.

They don't call him the Texas Rattlesnake for nothing! A few recent online photos show the leg looks pretty good, although there does seem to be a bit of size difference compared to his other leg.

Dennis Wolf

Straight off another 5th place finish at the 2011 Mr. Olympia, Dennis Wolf is preparing to make another run for the Arnold Classic title. The Wolf is known for his extreme width, accentuated V-taper and sweeping quads. His downfall has been weak lower lats, watery hamstrings and skinny calves.

Those weaknesses are usually costly on most physiques, but Wolf's strengths outshine those underdeveloped body parts. Look for Dennis Wolf to be in the top 5 again this year.

Evan Centopani

We've only seen Evan Centopani in three pro shows and he won two of those. The one he didn't win was last year's Arnold Classic, where he place fourth. As stated earlier, he won the Flex Pro two weeks before the 2011 Arnold. He was a little smoother at the Arnold and that could have been due to trying to peak for two shows in such a short time period, but that's just speculation and there's no way of knowing if that was the case or not.

If it is true, then Evan has an excellent possibility of coming in at 100%. He's had one full year of offseason training to gain even more muscle mass and he's had time to improve upon any weak areas. If he has brought up his back and his chest is thicker, Evan stands a realistic chance of winning his first Arnold Classic title this year.

Dexter Jackson

I think I've written a preview about Dexter Jackson more than any other pro bodybuilder. He seems to be in every major show and he always places well or wins. His last win was only a few months ago at the World Masters Pro Championships. I wasn't at that show, but reports stated Dexter looked better at the World Masters than he has in a long time.

That just goes to show you that despite his age and as frequently as he competes, you can't count out "The Blade" from doing major damage in any show he enters. After all, Dexter has already won three Arnold Classic titles.

Lionel Beyeke

I just saw Lionel Beyeke win the Flex Pro a few days ago in Santa Monica. He has a ton of mass and has great lines and shape, which is why he won the Flex Pro. It wasn't because of his conditioning, however, because there were three guys in the competition who beat him in that category. I think Lionel was lean enough, but he was holding water.

If he can drop an additional 5-to-7 pounds of water, he will be sharp enough to mix it up with the big boys at the Arnold. If he comes in the same condition as the Flex Pro, I don't think he'll be in the top-6. Since he's had two more weeks to work with his coach, Hany Rambod, Lionel might be fixing those water problems.

The Field

Here are the other competitors for this year's event; I will give a one-sentence description of each one.

  • Fouad Abiad - view profile
    Came in grainy at the Flex Pro and could be in the top-6 if he fills out a little more.
  • Gustavo Badell - view profile
    Hasn't competed since the 2010 Mr. Olympia, and maybe the time off will be beneficial for him.
  • Matthias Botthof - view profile
    Last year's Arnold Amateur winner is making his pro debut.
  • Eduardo Correa - view profile
    Shredded, shredded, shredded and then dice on top of that!
  • Brandon Curry - view profile
    Placed 8th at the 2011 Mr. Olympia could make the top-6 if his legs show improvement.
  • Michael Kefalianos - view profile
    Another guy who is always shredded beyond belief.
  • Ben Pakulski - view profile
    The Pak Man came close to winning the Flex Pro although the judges' score sheets didn't reflect that.
  • Shawn Rhoden - view profile
    Nice shape with a smooth back and a funky belly button.
  • Ben White - view profile
    You never know which Ben will show up; the full one or the flat one.

The Way I See It Going Down

Well, this is where I get to make my fearless predictions of who I think will win and where everyone else will place. Sometimes I chicken out and just give scenarios ... so I think I'll do a little bit of both. That way no matter who wins or loses, I still sound like I know what I'm talking about!

Branch's leg will be a factor; it might be good or might be bad. The extra time spent on upper body and less time on legs might actually help him since Branch is known for his leg development. Branch is also a new dad. To all those who have had a newborn baby in the house: Enough said!

Evan is coming in for one show and one show only. He comes in at his best when he focuses on one show instead of multiple shows. Well, that's the trend anyway since he's only done a handful of competitions in his whole career - including amateur and pro shows. Evan is also a new dad. Enough said!

Dennis Wolf is always a factor, but is hit-and-miss with his conditioning too. I witnessed his secret weapon while he was pumping up last year - Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Those delicious little things might be the key to his success again this year.

I don't see Lionel Beyeke winning on his first try, since the competition is second only to the Olympia and the only two guys missing are Cutler and Heath. I see Beyeke in the top 7 and possibly the top 5. (But, of course, if all the other guys come in off and Lionel is totally peeled, Beyeke could sneak in for the win, too.)


Lots of things can happen in the last two weeks - even the last few hours so nothing is certain. But if the guys all come in at their best or close to their best, I see Branch winning again - if his leg is "good enough" to win.

If Branch's leg is a noticeable weakness, then I see Evan poised to step in and grab the title over Wolf and Dexter. I just don't see Dexter making enough sudden improvements to surpass Evan, Wolf or Branch.

The dark horse for me would have to be Brandon Curry. His best look to date was the 2011 Mr. Olympia and if he brings that package with him to display in Columbus he could mess things up in the 4th through 6th positions.

So there you have it - my non-prediction predictions! Anyway you look at it it's going to be a real fight this year because all placings are up for grabs. See you all in Columbus!

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