Who Is The Greatest Mr. Olympia Winner Of All Time? A Critical Review Of Past Mr. Olympia Champions!

Determining the greatest Mr. Olympia winner of all time is not an easy task. In the following feature I will assess each Mr. Olympia winner on their bodybuilding merits and the overall impact they have made on the worldwide bodybuilding subculture.

Who Is The Greatest Mr. Olympia Winner Of All Time?

Determining the greatest Mr. Olympia winner of all time is not an easy task. With such an illustrious history marked by several distinct eras, each with at least one champion ushering in a new benchmark for bodybuilding excellence, this unprecedentedly prestigious professional bodybuilding event stands as a living, evolving monument to physical supremacy. Over its 45-year history the Mr. Olympia contest has crowned only 12 winners.

Each of these men has represented the best professional bodybuilding had to offer during their respective era. On several occasions more than one athlete has excelled over the course of a given period, providing legendary rivalries that will not soon be forgotten. In picking the best of the best one is faced with determining championship status based upon several compatible factors: era, level of competition, assisting technological advancements, overall physical development and impact beyond the stage.

When pro bodybuilders are judged at the Olympia they are, for the most part (there will always be bad calls), subject to strict, objective criteria based on what is deemed appropriate at the time. Deciding upon the greatest ever champion requires taking the criteria a particular athlete is judged by into consideration along with all of the conditions governing their win. Like judging the contest itself, popularity, likeability and popular perception should not enter the equation.

In the following feature I will assess each Mr. Olympia winner on their bodybuilding merits and the overall impact they have made on the worldwide bodybuilding subculture, to determine just who is the greatest of all time.

The Contenders

Larry Scott: 1965-66

When Joe Weider established the Mr. Olympia contest - bodybuilding's first professional event - back in 1965, he could not have dreamed how big it would become.

In Larry Scott - professional bodybuilding's first great champion - he could not have asked for a better initial representative: with unprecedented size and shape Scott superseded the development of men like Steve Reeves to truly mark a watershed moment for men's bodybuilding competition.

A sign of great things to come, Scott had charisma, size and freakiness, which captivated scores of fans and helped to establish the pro bodybuilding scene, as we know it today. His impact is immeasurable.

Sergio Oliva: 1967-69

Sergio Oliva

Picking up where Larry Scott left off was Sergio Oliva, a more massive competitor with better conditioning who many still regard as the most genetically gifted bodybuilder of all time.

With rudimentary training and nutritional practices Oliva was able to craft a physique resembling finely hewn steel, with near-perfect symmetry and proportions, and capped off with a startling degree of muscle density.

Known as The Myth, few thought his development could ever be matched. A 27-inch waist, 30-inch quads and 21-inch arms, which flowed seamlessly into a perfectly developed physical whole of megalithic proportions made him worthy of bodybuilding's biggest prize.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: 1970-75, 1980

Even by today's lofty standards, the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his prime, built an undeniably spectacular physique.

He presented development that was uniquely symmetrical, well proportioned and huge, and he did so with an unprecedented level of charisma and confidence that created an aura of magnificence and invincibility few of his peers could hope to replicate.

He succeeded in winning seven Mr. Olympia titles through intelligent, intensive training efforts coupled with a degree of cunningness and, on several occasions, ruthlessness that, rather than detracting from his image, actually enhanced the mystique surrounding his legend and reputation for being in a class of his own.

The mental game was something the man commonly referred to as the Austrian Oak had mastered. Each contest to him was a battle in which no enemy was to be spared. His 1980 Mr. Olympia win, for example, was highly questionable and his well publicized "psyching out" of the opposition made him a much feared and most intimidating opponent.

But despite this critiquing his influence on and emergence in the world bodybuilding scene has not since been matched. He single-handedly revolutionized bodybuilding's publicly perceived image to where many people took to the iron because its biggest and most outspoken representative did so.

Schwarzenegger also demonstrated the great crossover appeal inherent in building one's physique. He proved that developing the body was not only healthy but also sexy and fun and advantageous from a self-promotional perspective.

But it is, of course, his sublime physical presence - complete with tiny waist, massive arms, near-perfect proportions and great conditioning for its time - that captivated many Oak fans and positioned him, in the minds of many, as the greatest bodybuilder of all time.

Franco Columbu: 1976, 81

Franco Columbu

Traversing the eras was Franco Columbu who presented a compact and highly muscular physique with great conditioning (for his first win) and spectacular chest and back development. Though not having the overall impact of other Olympia winners, Columbu kept the competition honest and fighting for the top.

His 1981 Mr. Olympia win - which took place in an era marked by a new, superior breed of muscular superstar - hails as one of the most controversial of all time (his leg development was substandard and he was not the best man on stage), making it one of few blots to have emerged on the Olympia landscape.

Frank Zane: 1977-79

Frank Zane

The epitome of symmetry and proportion, Frank Zane presented one of pro bodybuilding's first classical physiques. Like living sculpture, he posed his physique to perfection and presented it with class and style.

Zane appealed to those for whom bodybuilding represented the judicious development of muscle in all the right places; not an overemphasis on size at the expense of shape.

Not the largest man on stage (competing at around 180 pounds, ripped), he nevertheless dominated bodybuilding's biggest event for three years, relying on unmatched conditioning and flair to pull off three big wins amongst formidable opposition.

With a small waist, wide shoulders and flaring lat muscles he proved that a magnified V-taper could convey the illusion of great size.

Chris Dickerson: 1982

Though not possessing the phenomenal shape of Zane (few could), Chris Dickerson carried himself with class and posed with the best of them. He was perhaps best known for consistently bringing perfect conditioning and presentation each time he competed.

He also presented among the best calf, shoulder and back development at the time of his 1982 Mr. Olympia win.

His victory was a long time coming: the year prior he had controversially lost the title to Franco Columbu and the year before that was bested by a mediocre Arnold Schwarzenegger. He persisted and was justly rewarded, thus demonstrating the heart of a true champion.

Samir Bannout: 1983

Samir Bannout

The Lion of Lebanon has had a sketchy pro bodybuilding career, but he pulled it all together in 1983 to shock the world with his best ever showing.

No one would have predicted it but Samir Bannout knew he could do it: and an Olympia win has immortalized him as one of pro bodybuilding's greatest champions. With a complete physique showing no discernable flaws, Bannout's development flowed with no one body part overshadowing the other.

Still, his back and leg development was particularly noteworthy for its thickness and shape. Once he finally nailed his conditioning his physical gifts were all the more obvious.

Lee Haney: 1984-91

Lee Haney

Heralding in the late '80s era of mass combined with great shape, Lee Haney drew a clear line in the sand to separate those who figured they could rely on symmetry, proportion and conditioning at the expense of overwhelming size.

No longer could a good small man beat a good big man. Huge muscles were now a 'sizeable' factor; pro bodybuilders needed to have the complete package and this included mind boggling muscular development.

Lee Haney represented a new era in size, but he did not neglect balanced development in doing so. He had the best of both worlds and competitors were now faced with the prospect of gaining the necessary mass to compete with Haney and his ilk.

At over 240 pounds (at his heaviest) Haney was the largest competitive pro - with balanced development - during the early part of his reign. It would take a behemoth to overthrow his hold on the Olympia title.

Dorian Yates: 1992-1997

In 1991 Dorian Yates burst onto the pro bodybuilding scene as a legitimate contender for the Mr. Olympia title, challenging Lee Haney and losing by the slimmest of margins. With Haney's retirement the year following his eighth straight Olympia victory, Yates was the obvious pick for the 1992 event.

And so it transpired: so imposingly muscular and well conditioned was Yates that the 1992 battle ultimately proved to be for second place. Since his first Mr. Olympia win the Englishman Yates continued to gain momentum, presenting a more massive physique with each passing year (reaching 260 pounds of grainy muscle by 1995).

If Haney ushered in the era of size, Yates took the mass stipulation one step further to where freakiness had begun to prevail with men such as the 280-pound Nasser El Sonbaty being, at one point, Dorian's only conceivable competition.

Though not perfectly developed, but with good proportions and layers of ripped to the bone muscle mass, Yates provided yet another benchmark to which pro bodybuilding's elite were forced to aspire.

It seemed that no longer could an under-230 pound competitor win the Mr. Olympia title, regardless of how good they were. Less muscular competitors, it seemed, could claim the smaller titles, but bodybuilding's biggest prize was strictly reserved for the giants of the sport.

Ronnie Coleman: 1998-05

With Yates's retirement from bodybuilding competition in 1997 - after winning his sixth straight Olympia title - the field was wide open. Great competitors such as Shawn Ray, Ken (Flex) Wheeler, Kevin Levrone and Nasser El Sonbaty each were poised and ready to claim the trophy they had waited so long for.

However, a dark horse who was considered nothing more than a top ten competitor had other ideas. Placing ninth the year before, Ronnie Coleman gave it his all in 1998 with a view to cracking the coveted top six.

He instead came away the victor with a physique displaying size and shape that had never before been seen on any pro stage, thus signalling yet another bodybuilding era. Throughout his eight-year reign as champion - equalling the challenge set by Lee Haney six years prior to Ronnie's first big win - Coleman was virtually untouchable.

His 2003 effort - where he competed at almost 290 pounds, shredded - is today widely considered the greatest single performance of any Olympia winner.

Though he made the classic mistake of coming back in 2007 after he had given his best - and was, in placing fourth, soundly beaten by eventual winner Jay Cutler - Coleman is still regarded by many as the greatest bodybuilder of all time.

From an objective standpoint he presented the greatest single collection of desirable attributes needed to win a Olympia title (including great proportions, freaky size and conditioning and an overwhelming onstage presence) - by pure bodybuilding terms alone a strong case could be made for Ronnie Coleman being the best Olympian ever.

Jay Cutler: 2006-07, 2009

Ronnie Coleman's long-time nemesis Jay Cutler had fought the eight-time champ hard since 2001, where he seemingly came from nowhere to almost dethrone the titleholder.

In 2006 his hard work paid great dividends: he captured his first Olympia title fighting off several hungry contenders, at least two of which represented a throwback to the shape and aesthetics rewarded several decades earlier: Dexter Jackson and Melvin Anthony.

With muscle mass on an almost equal par with Coleman, without, it must be said, Ronnie's great balance and shape, Cutler brought a peeled physique to the 2006 Olympia stage and was thusly rewarded.

A popular Olympia champion, Cutler is also the only competitor to have claimed the title back after losing it (to Dexter Jackson in 2008). With all muscle groups fully developed, sheer size is Cutler's biggest advantage, though he is known for being blocky around the midsection, which detracts from his overall aesthetics.

With modern-day champions in the form of Kai Greene and Phil Heath nipping at his heels he will face a great deal of pressure in retaining his title in 2010.

Dexter Jackson: 2008

In 2007 Jay Cutler came off his best form and was lucky indeed to win his second consecutive Olympia title.

In 2008 he repeated this mistake and was justly defeated by next-in-line Dexter Jackson, a smaller competitor with near-flawless development, full, huge muscle bellies and the best conditioning seen since Yates ruled the stage.

A three-time Arnold Classic winner (pro bodybuilding's second biggest prize), Jackson always had Olympia-level credentials.

Winning the title was simply a question of timing. In 2008 the timing was right and the best package won and in doing so the pendulum seemed to have swung back to aesthetics over size, quality over quantity (based on the fact that larger Olympia winners tend to be rewarded even when they are clearly off, as had happened to Haney, Coleman and Cutler on at least one occasion for each).

Though Jackson's victory was short-lived, his win was a wake up call to all competitors: come in shape or perish.

The Champions Speak

Before announcing the greatest ever, read whom past pro champions feel is the best Mr. Olympia to ever pose down on an IFBB stage. These men whose comments follow have all experienced the exhilaration of victory at bodybuilding's highest echelons and are legends in their own right. Several came extremely close to wining an Olympia title of their own.

For me, the guy who impressed me most was Sergio Oliva in 1972, and he did not even win the Mr. Olympia that year. To me, Sergio was only the truly genetic freak that the world of bodybuilding has ever seen.

Sergio achieved his level of development knowing absolutely nothing about diet or nutrition, working long hours at a manual job, and only using Dianabol. The reason I believe he was the best is just that his body responded to what he had available.

The first time I saw Sergio, he weighed 197 lbs. I measured his waist at 27" and each of his thighs measured 29" - this was in 1966. He was so much better than anyone else, if he would have not been allowed to pose, and every one else posed their asses off, he would still easily have won.

- Boyer Coe
IFBB pro bodybuilding legend
Mr. Universe, Mr. America, Mr. World

Without any doubt I feel the best Mr. Olympia winner ever is Ronnie Coleman. If you take a look at Coleman in his prime, compared to any one of the other Mr. Olympia winners in theirs, you could say that Ronnie had more size and hardness and greater longevity.

Also, the very strong and great Ronnie made the most improvements of all bodybuilders while in the amateur ranks and he established, with his very impressive physique, his absolute hegemony and domination in bodybuilding.

Ronnie did not act arrogant or confrontational with anyone and he was patient as a man and as an athlete. Ronnie was the right man at the right time, but also he was, independent of this, in his prime, simply the best bodybuilder ever. I do not see anyone like Ronnie Coleman showing up on a bodybuilding stage, not even for several decades.

- Nasser El Sonbaty
IFBB pro bodybuilding legend
1999 Arnold Classic winner

I'd have to say for me the most dominating and inspiring Mr. Olympia was "Totalee Awesome", Lee Haney! It was one day after my 23rd Birthday in 1988 and I had found myself backstage warming up to compete against the then reigning three time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney, knowing full well I was looking at the evening's eventual winner.

Lee competed at a time in bodybuilding where every pro was a threat to the throne and all of them had legions of fans across the globe. What Lee did for the fans and the inspiration he gave to future professionals cannot be matched.

It is my personal opinion that bodybuilding's Golden Years were in the 80s and early 90s, of which Lee sat atop his throne as a worthy champion revered and respected by all. That speaks volumes as to where we are now as a sport and the perception of our Olympia champions by comparison to his time. Lee is and was the best Mr. Olympia I have ever had the pleasure to come across as a man and athlete.

- Shawn Ray
IFBB pro bodybuilding legend
1991 Arnold Classic winner
NPC National's champion

For my money the best two Mr. Olympia winners of all time are Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman. Their respective contributions to professional bodybuilding are great.

- Lou Ferrigno
IFBB pro bodybuilding legend

In my opinion the best Mr. Olympia winner of all time was Ronnie Coleman, especially when Ronnie was in top condition shape, dry and shredded. At that time, Ronnie even managed to combine aesthetics and size; he then personified the best total package to win the Mr. Olympia.

The physique of Ronnie was a composite of full muscle bellies, distinctive separation, density and definition, all in perfect proportion and with symmetry - his small waist and narrow bones made him appear even bigger than he really was.

- Francis Benfatto
IFBB pro bodybuilding legend

So Who Is The Greatest Of All Time?

When discussing past Mr. Olympia champions everyone has their personal favorite, the reasons for their choice being as varied as the physiques that take to the stage each September come Olympia time.

However, the purpose of this article is to determine the best based on objective criteria, the specific conditions - to be mentioned soon - surrounding each champion's victory and the overall impact they made. Selecting an overall winner on this basis, though hard, can be done.

Once again, and taking into consideration the era in which each champion competed, choosing the greatest Olympian ever requires a detailed analysis of all of the critical factors governing each of their wins in conjunction with an assessment of the physical development they presented.

It must also be mentioned that each new bodybuilding era presented concomitant technological advancements: while competitors of the '70s, for example, progressed with comparatively little training and nutritional guidance and few high tech resources (including the sophisticated array of anabolic drugs that today's competitors enjoy and the advantages these confer), the champs of the '90s benefited from an environment vastly more conducive to bodybuilding success.

It is only fair that this also be factored into a 'best of the best' assessment. Could you imagine if the phenomenally gifted Sergio Oliva had access to the drugs, training methods and advice of today? He had no such thing.

Rather, he worked 10 hours a day, took a few Dianabol tabs and trained whenever he could. Although it is purely hypothetical to suggest that he could have beaten a Ronnie Coleman had he benefited from Coleman's lifestyle, it is nevertheless an important consideration. Let us now begin with our top six comparisons to determine the greatest Mr. Olympia ever.

Top six (in no particular order):

  1. Dorian Yates: pioneered extreme size, six-time champion, unmatched conditioning.
  2. Lee Haney: began the mass era, eight-time champion, great balance.
  3. Ronnie Coleman: ultra-freaky size with great proportions and conditioning, eight-time champion, largest Mr. Olympia of all time.
  4. Sergio Oliva: first truly massive competitor, three-time champion, near-perfect symmetry and proportions.  
  5. Arnold Schwarzenegger: powerful aura and image, seven-time champion, most recognizable bodybuilder of all time, demonstrated great proportions and size.
  6. Frank Zane: classic physical dimensions, three-time champion, excellent aesthetics, perfect posing and presentation.

Ladies and gentlemen, after careful consideration your top two are:

  1. Ronnie Coleman
  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Pose Off:

Athletes Are Graded From 1 - 10 (10 Being A Perfect Score)

Body Part Comparison:


  • Schwarzenegger: 9
  • Coleman: 10

While both competitors possessed full and massive arm development Ronnie has an advantage in conditioning, separation and symmetry (one of Arnold's guns was slightly larger than the other and he had fewer cuts overall).

Quads And Hamstrings:

  • Schwarzenegger: 7
  • Coleman: 10

Though Arnold had nicely shaped quads, his hamstring development was sorely lacking. Ronnie, on the other hand, possessed huge, cut and balanced quads and hams.


  • Schwarzenegger: 10
  • Coleman: 8

Arnold was known for his massive, shapely calves. Ronnie, suffering the black man's curse, had average calves compared with the rest of his astounding physique.


  • Schwarzenegger: 10
  • Coleman: 10

Both champions presented perfectly developed pectorals.


  • Schwarzenegger: 8
  • Coleman: 10

While Arnold had good back cuts and reasonable lat development his back was not complete and was especially lacking in the lower region (ever notice how few of his photos are back shots?). Ronnie is known for his thick, wide back development - perfect from top to bottom.


  • Schwarzenegger: 8
  • Coleman: 10

Given he had such a massive chest, Arnold needed sublime shoulders to accentuate his width. His deltoids, however, were sloping (especially when standing relaxed) and did not have that cannonball look. Like the rest of his upper body Ronnie's shoulders were fully developed, huge and sliced to ribbons.


  • Schwarzenegger: 9
  • Coleman: 7

A small tight waist benefited Arnold immensely on stage, while Ronnie was sometimes caught with a protruding stomach. Abdominal development is about equal, but a tight and small waistline is always a competitive asset.

A Small Tight Waist Benefited Arnold Immensely On Stage. A Small Tight Waist Benefited Arnold Immensely On Stage.


  • Schwarzenegger: 9
  • Coleman: 10

While Arnold presented some great body parts his physique did not flow as well as Ronnie's: discounting his weaker calves Ronnie's development was perfectly balanced.

Overall Muscle Size:

  • Schwarzenegger: 8
  • Coleman: 10

At a competitive peak of around 235 pounds at 6'2" Arnold was considered one of the larger competitors of his day. At 5'11" and averaging 275 pounds (and with better conditioning compared to Arnold) there is no question that Ronnie was more muscular and larger overall.


  • Schwarzenegger: 7
  • Coleman: 10

When Ronnie hit his stride he was one of the most peeled men on stage with paper-thin skin, which accentuated every cut and furrow. Arnold, while in great shape for his time, probably never competed ripped to the bone - as all competitors today must.

Posing And Presentation:

  • Schwarzenegger: 10
  • Coleman: 9

Known for being the king of charisma and showmanship, Arnold always entertained the crowds. His posing was graceful, yet powerful. Ronnie's posing had great impact, but he did not have the Oak's presentational abilities.

Number Of Mr. Olympia Wins:

  • Schwarzenegger: seven (7 points)
  • Coleman: eight (8 points)

Level Of Competition:

  • Schwarzenegger: 8 - average number of competitors in Olympia contests he won: five (most of them well out of his physical league).
  • Coleman: 10 - average number of competitors in Olympia contests he won: 20 (most of them balanced, huge and ripped).


  • Schwarzenegger: 10 (did remarkably well despite limited, or no access to the technologies enjoyed today).
  • Coleman: 8 (had access to a full array of bodybuilding chemicals and advanced training and nutritional practices).

Overall Impact Off Stage:

  • Schwarzenegger: 10
  • Coleman: 8

While Ronnie is admired the world over for his humble, approachable manner and commendable values (which have presented bodybuilding in a positive light), Arnold took bodybuilding to the masses through the high official positions he has attained and his impact within the political and acting spheres.

Total Scores:

  • Schwarzenegger: 130
  • Coleman: 138

And the winner is: Ronnie Coleman

Ronnie Coleman


With a vastly superior physique and most number of Mr. Olympia titles being won while competing against stiffer competition, it is on this basis that Coleman is the greatest of all time. Will another equally imposing bodybuilding force come along to rival his impact? With genetic engineering, anything is possible.