Coleman & Taylor Interview: Near Death & Earning It On Stage!

Ronnie Coleman. Vince Taylor. In the following exclusive two champions share what the Arnold Classic means to them. Learn more.

Part 1 | Part 2

Article Summary:
  • The Arnold Classic is one of the most coveted bodybuilding titles available today.
  • Vince Taylor did not win the 1994 Arnold Classic and some suspect politics played a role.
  • Ronnie Coleman nearly died before his victory at the 2001 Olympia due to a lack of water. Exclusive
Part 1: Arnold Classic Legends Talk!

Ronnie Coleman. Vince Taylor.

These men have each won multiple pro bodybuilding championships and achieved legendary status for their muscle-building efforts, but there is one major act that binds them: attainment of the coveted Arnold Classic overall men's bodybuilding title.

And in pro bodybuilding terms this signifies their inclusion amongst the best of the best considering the tremendous weight such recognition carries and level of competition that annually contests this most historic and prestigious event.

Thought to be unrivaled in its overall level of production, the Arnold Classic - which plays host to thousands of athletes from multiple athletic disciplines - is certainly one title bodybuilding's elite consider a crucial addition to their professional resume.

Not only is its name associated with bodybuilding greatness and promotion on a scale unprecedented it is also historically significant in that it has produced, and continues to foster, the crème of the bodybuilding crop.

Like all great concepts the Arnold Classic sprang from the minds of two men intimately connected with an industry for which they shared a passion and who possessed the knowledge and tools to make their conception reality.

Since 1989 Arnold Schwarzenegger (arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all, based on his pioneering efforts, marketing of bodybuilding and fantastic physical development) and Jim Lorimer (whose bodybuilding promotion efforts begun back in 1967, and who established a close friendship with Schwarzenegger in 1970 after the Austrian won the Mr. World competition, which Lorimer chaired at the time) have co-promoted the Arnold Classic.

During their time as promotional partners, Schwarzenegger and Lorimer have witnessed the phenomenal transformation of their event from bodybuilding spectacle - which in itself has grown exponentially - to unprecedented athletic pilgrimage hosting over 17,000 athletes from countless sporting events.

But of all the events and athletes featured at the Arnold Sports Festival it is the men's bodybuilding showdown that draws much of the interest and publicity. And after 22 years it appears muscle still reigns supreme as the major draw-card.

Though reaching fruition 25 years after the first Mr. Olympia was contested in 1965, the Arnold Classic has evolved to being - in the minds of many, on an equal par with the first official professional bodybuilding event.

It also features not only those champions who routinely pose-down at the big O, but many who have not previously qualified for the Olympia (have received special invites). This opens the field for those who have top tier potential to contest a major show, to pressure those who are not only among the top but who have won, in many cases, several big events.

This serves to ensure a level of uncertainty and anticipation that draws fan to seats: a winning formula that guarantees prolonged success.

The Arnold Classic's tremendous success as a sporting event (and magnitude to which it is held among its athletes) prompted this author to contact three of its most recognizable and successful champions, all of whom marked, in their own formidable style, separate bodybuilding eras and whose legendary physical development is still discussed among fans and insiders alike today.

As a bodybuilding legend Ronnie Coleman needs no introduction. His unsurpassed muscularity and overall onstage success precedes him wherever he goes. Among his peers he is routinely considered the greatest bodybuilder ever.

But before he won his eight Mr. Olympia titles to become the stuff of legend he pulled off arguably his best showing ever at the 2001 Arnold Classic. Ripped to shreds at 245 pounds, Ronnie - the defending Mr. Olympia of the time - trounced the opposition (more accurately those who made up the numbers at the show) to win his first, and last, Arnold title.

Another multiple pro bodybuilding winner - with a staggering 22 victories, eclipsed only by Ronnie Coleman's 26 - Vince "The Terminator" Taylor has stood the test of time with over 25 years in the competitive spotlight.

Now retired, Vince can reflect on a professional career surpassed by few. He is also an Arnold Classic (1992) open and (1998) Masters champion. With flawless posing abilities and a striking physique with arguably the greatest arms and calves in pro bodybuilding history, Vince, when on his game, was untouchable. In-Vince-able even.

In the following discussion these champions share their thoughts on what the Arnold Classic means to them as a contest and the significance to which they hold this title. Honest, thought-provoking, illuminating and, at times, controversial (this is bodybuilding folks), for the very first time two major bodybuilding stars speak candidly on their Arnold Classic experience and their time as champions.

[ David Robson ] First up - Ronnie, what are your current competitive plans?

[ Ronnie Coleman ]

      Well I have been taking some time off since November of last year so I'm getting back into working out right now. I will see how I look after about three or four months of training and see how I feel. If I look and feel good enough to compete with those guys then yes I will do the (2010) Olympia.

[ DR ] Now let's talk Arnold Classic. How does your Arnold Classic victory rank compared to other professional competitive successes you have had as a bodybuilder?

[ RC ]

      Well it is right there with my Olympia wins because I consider the Arnold Classic to be one of the premier shows out there in the sport of bodybuilding. I would even say it is equal to it. The treatment from the Arnold Classic to the Olympia is of course a little bit different but overall the quality of the shows and the way they are put on... I think they are the same.

It's just that the Olympia has been around for so long and it is considered the Super Bowl of bodybuilding. But with the Arnold you pretty much have some of the top guys in the sport, just like you have at the Olympia. I was the only one who won the Olympia the same year he competed in the Arnold and I think it will always be that way; I don't think anybody else will try that because it is not an easy thing to achieve - that's when you are top dog.

[ DR ] It must be extremely difficult to peak for two such important events over this period.

[ RC ]

      It is very difficult.

[ DR ] What's happening Vince?

[ Vince Taylor ]

      Not too much, just trying to stay ahead of the game.

[ DR ] How is your training going?

[ VT ]

      Well I've kind of shut down for a little while. I'm out of the game now man. I had to make that decision at the beginning of the year knowing that my back injury is okay, but it's not going to allow me to go back and do what I want to do. So I'm throwing in the towel man, and you're the first to hear this one.

[ DR ] And what are your thoughts on your Arnold Classic win, the contest that made famous your now-legendary Terminator posing routine?

[ VT ]

      Well that was special, that was when Arnold was sitting in the front seat and to know where you were going, that was the highlight of that event. And to be among the top guys going into that show, that was the best - the anticipation of the outcome. That was the home run series.

[ DR ] So having Arnold sitting in the front row would have been, for you, an added incentive to ultimately prevail?

[ VT ]

      Yes absolutely, that is it, and to do that, it was just phenomenal. And having the opportunity at that show to come out with the Terminator routine... that was the icing on the cake. When Arnold saw that his comments were incredible. He was just blown away with it because he was commentating on that routine all the way through from the beginning to the end of it. What better guy to endorse your routine, right?

[ DR ] Absolutely. Did you put that routine together specifically for this particular show?

[ VT ]

      Not for that show, but I choreographed some of the movements for that show - like the intro. I actually broke it out at the Olympia and at that point it didn't have any indications to Arnold. But when I got to the Arnold Classic it was very simple. It was like, okay this is the terminator routine, they never saw it, I've got to come out and let people know I'm still in the game, really. The opening was, "I told you, I'll be back". It was crazy (laughs).

[ DR ] And you were back: big time.

[ VT ]

      Yes, I was back (laughs).

[ DR ] Ronnie - Do you feel that you presented your best combination of shape and size (of any of your contests) at the 2001 Arnold Classic? How close was it between you and the competition on that day?

[ RC ]

      I looked pretty good at the Arnold, but because I didn't have that much time to prepare for it compared to the Olympia. Because at the Olympia I had so much more time to prepare - I had an off-season to prepare to put on size then go into the show looking that much better with the added weight.

But with the Arnold Classic I just had one show and went straight to the other without that off-season to add weight and size: quality size to look better. That's why I was so much down on weight at the Arnold because I went from one show to the next without an extended break.

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[ DR ] What did you weigh when you won your Arnold title and what improvements had you made to your physique in the years leading up to this win?

[ RC ]

      I was, like, 245 at the Arnold when I won that, but at the Olympia three months before that I was 260-265. So there is a huge difference in weight, but I was able to pull it off because I was in such great conditioning.

[ DR ] So Vince, was it at all close between you and the competition when you won your Arnold Classic title?

[ VT ]

      Not that day. That day was mine and totally mine. I was just pleased with that. I thought that my biggest downfall was the second time around (as defending champ in 1994): when I got second. That show to Levrone... that was disappointing because you couldn't have told me I didn't win that show. That woke me up for sure.

I look at tapes of that show over and over and replay it in my mind, I know the atmosphere and the hype and the theatrics going on (you saw the people running and hiding). Just the build up of it, it didn't go right from the beginning.

Right after the prejudging you smelled bodybuilding, Dave. When you are in this game you know what to look for; when you go to the arena to compete, the atmosphere, the sound of the crowd, you got everything going on - you live this. And when I left that prejudging and we had positive press coverage and fans commenting positively - everyone was saying, "my God this is yours, you look fantastic."

I was like, "Wait until you see me pose tonight, I'm going to bring the house down." So if it is close I'm going to feel it. But, man, after that prejudging, when I got back to that hotel it was like a graveyard; the phone wasn't ringing. I was, "Whoa, what is this?" It was scary. And of course that is how it turned out: I lost by one point.

[ DR ] So were you in even better shape in '94 compared to '92 when you won the title?

[ VT ]

      Yes, I was in better shape. I would say my conditioning in '92 was incredible and that's how I won it. But I actually improved that conditioning and given the fact that the separation was there, I was more balanced, I'm a veteran now and I had my stage presence together. My routine was right and everything was together - perfect. And to add to the mix you knew that Levrone was coming back from a pectoral tear. So there was no way he could actually pull it together. The person to watch out for that night was Paul Dillet. Had he not cramped up, Paul would have won that show.

[ DR ] The most publicized cramping in bodybuilding history, right?

[ VT ]

      Yes, right, the man on the moon.

[ DR ] All things considered you could have won the Arnold twice, maybe three times?

[ VT ]

      I had two for sure and I will never stop resenting the fact that they took that last one from me. I know why though.

[ DR ] So what went down Vince?

[ VT ]

      Well there was little controversy a few months before that show. And what was explained to me by Wayne Demilia was because I didn't sign with Weider and we had some problems happening. And I said then, "Listen, I'm coming to win." And I was told right away, "Vince, if you're not on contract and if that show is close it could go either way."

I was thinking, what would the judges know about me being on contract? That's what my attitude was at the time. But, man, when he told me if it was close, it could go either way, he made a point (laughs).

[ DR ] Welcome to the big leagues.

[ VT ]

      Exactly (laughs).

[ DR ] You looked to be the clear winner, Ronnie, when you won your Arnold title in 2001. What was it about your physique that led the judges to choosing you as one of few men to have held the Arnold title?

[ RC ]

      I have to be honest with you, I came prepared to win that show and came looking my very best. I think a lot of it had to do with my overall conditioning and I was really ripped. People often say that it was one of the best shows that I have done but my conditioning was just so over the top that it kind of blew a lot of people away. I was just so shredded, but also had the thickness and muscularity to go along with it.

[ DR ] You, of course, went on to compete at the Mr. Olympia many more times where you dominated this competition during your run to win eight titles. Why did you not continue to compete at the Arnold as many times as you did the Olympia?

[ RC ]

      Because I almost died at the Olympia that year (2001): I fainted before the show; as I was putting on my pro tan in the bathroom I just collapsed because I was just exhausted. Then when I got up the next morning I was so sick and exhausted I couldn't even get out of bed.

I had to drink a gallon of water and that is just something we don't do (laughs). A gallon of water just to get out of bed, to get where I felt good enough to get out there and battle those guys for the title. So I decided that I would never do that again (compete at the Arnold and the Olympia during the same year) (laughs). It is just too much stress on the body and you can only take so much. We are humans, not machines.

[ DR ] What were you awarded when you won your 1992 Arnold title Vince?

[ VT ]

      70,000 dollars. And I am like, "Look at what they are winning today."

[ DR ] So no hummer and gold watch for you.

[ VT ]

      I didn't even get a glass of champaign but they did offer some wine up (laughs).

[ DR ] And what was your bodyweight at the 1992 Arnold?

[ VT ]

      I would have to have been about 225. I would top off at like 230 getting ready for that show but by the time you dried up and everything for that event you would go down. But I am pretty sure I was about 220 to 225 - in that range.

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[ DR ] Back in the early '90s that would have been quite large considering your height of 5'8". Arnold himself, at 6'2", didn't really go significantly beyond this weight for his contests.

[ VT ]

      Yes, right, but we got caught up in the size game. Once you hit the 220s you then began trying to hit the 230s. I was trying to hit the 230s.

Flex Wheeler

      will tell you when he won it (the Arnold Classic) the following year (in 1993) he weighed 217. So we were like the 200-teens on record, but off record it was like, "Yes, I'm about 230 (laughs)."

[ DR ] Ronnie, was your Arnold win a personal goal in itself or was it more of a stepping stone on the way to additional pro wins, or in your case, multiple Olympia wins?

[ RC ]

      Well it was a goal in itself to win the Arnold because I wanted to be the first Mr. Olympia to do it. Once I achieved it that was pretty much it. I say I'm the first one do it. I'm thinking I'm going to be the last one to do it (in the same year)... because of all the stress I put on my body. I'm hoping some people will learn from this (laughs). I had a hard time at the Olympia that year. I almost ended up losing;


      (Cutler) had great conditioning - I had done the Arnold and I was almost worn out.

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[ DR ] Was the Arnold win itself a personal goal for you Vince?

[ VT ]

      It was a personal goal because the first time I did it, it was like, "Wow, I would love to be in this show." And then to attend that show (as a competitor) it was all about being at a great place in time. And I treated all of my shows like that.

I never had an interest in saying, "Oh I have to win this show, and I'm going to make the Mr. Olympia and I'm going to win the Mr. Olympia." I never had those feelings and this was never my goal. You are too susceptible to the 'I like you, I don't like you' mentality, so there is nothing you can do on a permanent basis.

You can't choose a free throw and win. So it was like, it's a good show, I'll give what I have and we'll see what happens. But just that event and that money and Arnold being there: you just want to trade places with people. Just let me win, let me win (laughs).

[ DR ] Vince. You mentioned earlier that you should have won the 1994 Arnold Classic title, but you instead placed second in this show. What other recollections do you have of the fateful day?

[ VT ]

      Well right after prejudging when we got straight off the stage, the competitors were congratulating me and some of the extradite people that I knew there, they were congratulating me also. The messages of congratulations continued from the time I left the auditorium until the time I got to my hotel.

That was great until I got to the hotel, then, as I said, it got quiet. A good friend of mine (a training partner) and I went down to my legendary 'go take a sauna' post-prejudging to pull some water off and en-route to the sauna we ran into four judges.

I was coming up the steps and I recall one of them saying to me - and I can see his face right now - he looked right at me and said, "Vince, it looks like two in a row." That was a good feeling. And that's when I turned to him and said, "Well, it's not over until the fat lady sings." That's when we walked off and my partner said, "I told you man, this is great."

But I'm telling you, Dave, when you are winning the show that phone doesn't stop ringing. That phone wasn't ringing buddy. That was the ups and downs.

To categorize it a little further, when we got to the event that night at the pump-up room there was this guy who would always expedite the show and he would always call you if you won the previous show, which was the Iron Man for me. He would always say to you, "Hey champ, how are you champ," before the show was over.

Now he walks into the bus outside the hotel - my wife and me are the only ones on the bus - and he is looking for someone. He asks me if I saw this person and I go, "No.", but I'm waiting for this guy to say to me again, "Hey champ. Way to go champ." That's the key. But he didn't say a word.

So I go to the auditorium and I'm in the pump up room by myself, there early, kiss the wife and go back there and get ready, and I'm way in the back doing my thing and he pops up again at the stage door of the pump up room.

And he calls, "Vince, have you seen... " But he says nothing again. And so we (Vince and fellow competitors) got into the lineup and are ready to go out, and he is standing by the door. He has this puppy dog look on his face and he said to me, and I'll never forget this, "Man, Vince it's the politics man, they got you in second, it's the politics." I'm like, "Okay." And that's why that phone didn't ring.

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[ DR ] So at that particular point you knew something was up.

[ VT ]

      Yes, I knew something was up. Oh my gosh. And for me to see


      (Levrone) - Kevin's demeanour. He was lying on the floor, not necessarily cramped up, but whenever you saw Kevin he would be laying down somewhere. So Kevin was having problems. Like on the video I had made called Beyond the Masters - I'm standing behind that curtain backstage right there by the sign that says, "Do not smoke", and when you crack the curtain there's a small gap - about three of four feet - and it was quite dark back there - about two feet deep - and Kevin was laying right in front of me there and I'm back in that corner.

And Wayne Demilia and one of his helpers came up to Kevin and stood over top of him and leaned down and said something to him. And Kevin rolled up like he was talking to Jesus Christ. I thought straightaway, oh no I just lost. And that was it.

[ DR ] In what ways, if any, Ronnie, has the Arnold Classic improved over the years since you last competed in this event, as far as you can tell?

[ RC ]

      I think the biggest change in the show itself is that every year the show gets better and better, because all of the top guys continue to come back and do it. Second place on down from the Olympia continues to do it, and that's all of the guys. So it's only getting better.

Of course it is always hard to improve on the quality of the shows, the overall organization because it is run so well and the athletes are treated like superstars at that show. And you are pretty much real comfortable; you have everything you want and need so there is nothing really to worry about for the athletes. So the organization I don't think can be really improved on. The only thing that can improve is the quality of athletes that show up to compete.

[ DR ] Compared to the Olympia does the Arnold Classic hold any additional benefits for the athlete?

[ RC ]

      Well because the Arnold Classic is such a big show a guy who hasn't been getting a lot of recognition all of a sudden does that show and arrives in good condition and is able to take out some of the top guys it then puts him up there in the running for the Olympia title. So he can get more recognition that way.

[ DR ] But in saying that the Arnold is not necessarily an easier title to win, right?

[ RC ]

      No, not at all. It is almost as hard as winning the Olympia.

[ DR ] So with the Arnold not only is the lineup equally as tough as that of the Olympia but you have less time to prepare assuming you had competed in the Olympia the previous year. You have to also hold your conditioning.

[ RC ]

      Yes and it is more difficult to maintain the conditioning you had at the Olympia because you hadn't had that period of adjustment (laughs).

Stay Tuned For Part Two

In part two of this special feature our Arnold Classic champions discuss why this contest is one of the most prestigious of all time, how it has evolved in line with the quality of physique that is seen on display there and how the competitors of the '90s compare with those of today. They will also provide their predictions and assessment of possible outcomes concerning the 2010 Arnold Classic.

Part 1 | Part 2