Ready To Rumble In Columbus!

One writer’s preview of the super-stacked field competing at the 2011 Arnold Classic.

Ready To Rumble In Columbus

On March 5, 2011, the annual Arnold Classic bodybuilding spectacular will again play host to the world's most impressively muscular physiques and, as usual, what a fantastic lineup of competitors there will be come contest time.

Perhaps unlike previous Arnold Classic events, however, this year's competition does not heavily favor one competitor (as when, for example, Dexter Jackson and, earlier, Flex Wheeler, could almost be relied upon to win it) with at least four men in the running for top honors.

Should either frontrunner not arrive in their best ever shape, the door will be left wide open for the next closest title threat to come barreling through.

With Evan Centopani having recently further entrenched himself into the IFBB top tier with another big pro win—this time at the Flex Pro Bodybuilding Championships–besting Dexter Jackson, who has, with three Arnold Classic victories, proven he can win when it truly counts, a battle for supremacy between the New York sensation and the Blade may be the highlight of the show.

Though with the inclusion of additional favorite Branch Warren, who has come close to winning the Arnold on several occasions and truly has the tools to pull it off, and, not to be counted out, 2007 Arnold Classic winner Victor Martinez, who continues to present tough opposition for any pro competitor, it will not be easy for either Centopani or Dexter to slice through the competition.

Then there are the dark horses. Winner of the 2010 Europa SuperShow open men's class Essa Obaid, a phenomenally gifted athlete with great aesthetics and full, sharply-conditioned muscle mass, will almost certainly be in the mix for top placements as will the ever-popular and consistently improving Ronny Rockel who placed a career-best 6th at the 2010 Mr. Olympia.

Add in Fouad Abiad who recently placed third at the first-ever Flex Pro Bodybuilding Championships, multiple pro show winner Toney Freeman, rising star and emerging threat Ben Pakulski, 2010 New York Pro winner Roelly Winklaar and German monster Dennis Wolf and you have the makings of quite possibly the most exciting Arnold Classic ever to be held and one where picking a definite winner is all but impossible.

One thing is for certain, though: if all competitors come in their best shape the 2011 Arnold Classic will be one of the most hotly contested pro bodybuilding events of all time.

Here are my top 10 predictions:

10th Place: Essa Obaid

Making a tremendous splash by winning his first pro show—the 2010 Europa SuperShow—Essa Obaid signaled to his pro peers that he is for real.

In fact, with his size, shape and muscle density, the new sensation could in the very near future—if he can pull a Kai Greene and present a physique several pounds heavier than his presently is—win a major bodybuilding contest. He is that good.

At 5'8", 250 pounds, and with an almost perfect structure for pro bodybuilding with no apparent weak points, all that might be missing for 2010 Arnold Classic Amateur Champion Obaid at this point is freaky contest-ready size, the likes of which is possessed by current monsters Greene, Cutler and Warren.

Another factor which might conspire against him and which often plagues other pros new to the game is a lack of experience peaking for major events. If he can bring his best package to date, though, he might be on track to shock a few people at this year's Arnold Classic.

9th Place: Ben Pakulski

Since he began his pro career in 2009, Ben Pakulski, blessed with tremendous shape and formidable muscular development, has never placed outside of the top seven; with his freaky size, he has always been a threat to the IFBB top order.

Now, since his impressive showing at the 2011 Flex Pro, where he blew away most of his competition with some of the biggest legs in the sport and an upper body not too far behind, he must be feeling extremely confident.

He has, however, yet to be tested at Arnold Classic level where only the strongest and most seasoned of athletes can survive. Lacking the experience needed to take on the more established competitors will probably see Pakulski garner his lowest placement since turning pro.

8th Place: Ronny Rockel

A competitor who has taken the best part of a decade to find the kind of winning form that has made him the 6th best bodybuilder in the world, Ronny Rockel is as persistent as they come.

His 'never say die' attitude has kept him battling the IFBB elite despite having received many unjustified placements; his near perfectly balanced physique capped off with full, striated muscle mass has seldom failed to impress bodybuilding fans, but rather has, until recent years, not appeared to have really captured the interest and attention of the judging panel.

With additional mass to enhance his symmetry and balance - not coming at the expense of it—and a newfound ability to get super shredded, Rockel is now in line to beat most of his fellow pro competitors in any show he enters.

With the competition being better than ever it is unlikely that he will recapture his career-best 6th place 2010 Arnold Classic finish, but this is not it say it cannot be done. Never count out the 'The Rock'.

7th Place: Victor Martinez

Although Victor Martinez appears to be—at least on paper—in line for a second Arnold Classic title it is doubtful that he will bring the conditioning needed to win big against men like Dexter Jackson and the future champions of the game who comprise the 2011 Arnold lineup, men who have perfected the art of getting super sliced.

While Martinez has obvious physical gifts and could conceivably win another Arnold if he can once again put it all together—as he did in 2007—whereupon his position in this preview may in fact prove to be incorrect by six placements—he may find some of his more consistently successful fellow pros tough to beat.

By placing 8th at the 2010 Mr. Olympia, a show he was touted to win three years earlier, and indeed has the potential to win today, he has lost a great deal of traction while his rivals—most less genetically gifted than he—have gained the career momentum needed to overtake him by many strides.

6th Place: Dennis Wolf

A competitor who has been at pro bodybuilding's forefront ever since he placed fifth at his second Olympia appearance in 2007, Dennis Wolf has always had the mass appeal to finish highly regardless of the competition he has faced.

When such size—including shoulders, arms and chest that are probably unequalled in the game today—is combined with extreme definition then it is very hard to bet against the big German.

One key attribute Wolf has over his opposition is his width; onstage he is impossible to overlook.

In any lineup the eye is immediately drawn to his structure and when his conditioning is on point—which sometimes it is not, a definite black mark against the champ—he presents an immense challenge for those who hope to take his scalp.

Not having the finesse of a Dexter Jackson or the balanced mass of a Branch Warren will, however, always keep him out of major title contention, but he can make it life extremely difficult for any lineup, in any event he enters.

5th Place: Fouad Abiad

A true dark horse to win the 2011 Arnold Classic just might be Fouad Abiad who came extremely close to beating Dexter Jackson at the Flex Pro earlier this year.

Standing alongside eventual Flex Pro winner, Evan Centopani, Abiad more than held his own as he accepted third place, a position that could easily have been swapped for the winner's check: the competition was that close.

Now, attuned to the fact that he is now considered a veritable top contender in any pro event, the huge Canadian will no doubt be gunning for victory at the Arnold Classic.

With his size, shape and conditioning he is fully capable of unsettling the established order to pull off one of the biggest upsets the sport has seen. Can he do it? We will see come March 5.

4th Place: Evan Centopani

In winning his first two pro bodybuilding events—the 2009 New York Pro and the 2011 Flex Pro—with the kind of massive size and shredded conditioning expected of the modern day pro bodybuilder, Evan Centopani must be considered a favorite to trounce the opposition at this year's Arnold Classic.

Though he has yet to be tested against the best of the best, as will be featured at the 2011 Arnold Classic, he still has a solid chance of sealing victory should he bring his A-game. He has, after all, already beaten one of the sport's best in Dexter Jackson.

With balanced muscular development—albeit made less appealing with a wide waist and a slightly blocky shape—Centopani's strong suit is his ability to achieve razor sharp conditioning without sacrificing any hard earned muscle, a process that, for him, results in full development with more cuts than the last person to anger legendary samurai warrior Musashi.

Should Centopani present an even more muscular physique compared with that of two weeks ago when he won the Flex Pro then it could be bad news for most, if not all of his Arnold Classic competition.

3rd place: Roelly Winklaar

Despite placing 7th at the 2010 Arnold Classic—his first ever pro outing—and 14th at the Mr. Olympia later that same year, Roelly Winklaar has gained an impressive following of fans who feel he will someday become the next big pro bodybuilding star.

And it is not surprising considering the undoubted potential he has. With full muscle bellies and Dexter-like shape, but with the added dimension of freaky muscularity, Winklaar is an impressive sight to behold on any pro stage.

It will interesting to see whether his relative newcomer status and concomitant lack of experience has any bearing on his 2011 competition results or whether he will 'break out' to secure victory in a major bodybuilding event.

What we are certain to see from the massive 2009 Arnold Amateur Championships winner, though, is some of the sickest development ever seen; arms, back, chest, legs and shoulders: every body part developed to its fullest.

Such development combined with shredded conditioning should place Winklaar as a 2011 Arnold Classic frontrunner. Third place, at this point, seems extremely likely.

2nd Place: Dexter Jackson

As a three-time Arnold Classic champ (winning the crown in 2005, '06 and '08) Dexter Jackson has proven his onstage abilities and as a former Mr. Olympia winner (2008) he has cemented his place as a bodybuilding legend.

Over recent years, however, the Blade has fallen back in the rankings to where he is being overtaken by those he would have once routinely defeated.

With the competition (and possibly time?) having caught up to the still-hungry and ever-dangerous champ he is faced with the additional pressure of bringing a package that will convince the judges that he is still in the running.

Jackson being Jackson, though, the former bantamweight competitor turned 230 pound professional standout tends to present what has always worked best for him: a ripped beyond belief physique that is as balanced as can be found on any pro stage. And he never fails to impress.

The big question for Dexter at this year's Arnold Classic will be: can perfect presentation overcome extreme mass and conditioning? We all know his closest Arnold rival Branch Warren has a great deal more muscle compared with Jackson but what many people do not realize is that Branch also takes a backseat to no one when it comes to conditioning.

And he is never off his form, unlike Jackson who occasional is at less than 100 percent, as was shown at the recent Flex Pro Bodybuilding Championships.

At the 2011 Arnold Classic we will see a classic match-up between the current mass monster of the game and a man known for his excellent symmetry and proportions (Branch and Jackson respectively).

But there is a feeling in the air that it is time for a new champ and Warren, at this point in time, appears to be the obvious choice.

Winner: Branch Warren

Placing third at the 2010 Mr. Olympia and second the year prior—in the process beating Dexter Jackson twice and signaling to the world that his successful run over recent years is a result of the improvements he has made, not good luck—has positioned Branch Warren as the man to beat at the 2011 Arnold Classic.

In addition, Warren has placed third at the last two Arnold Classic events, bested only by three men, Kai Greene, Phil Heath and Victor Martinez, the former two of which will not be contesting this year's Arnold; which leaves only current Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler as being the only other man to have beaten him in the past two years.

If Warren can bring to the 2011 Arnold Classic the grainy, hard and overwhelmingly massive physique which has earned him his recent successes he will be extremely hard to beat. But he will, as always, face tough opposition from Dexter Jackson who has for over a decade made winning the Arnold Classic his personal mission.

So, while many people favor Warren to win the 2011 Arnold there are undoubtedly an equal number who feel Jackson has the goods to walk away the victor. And then there are those—the IFBB judges in particular—who appear to consider Evan Centopani the way of the future.

Warren will have a hard battle but he should, given the improvements he continues to make, finally win a major pro show.