Reigning Olympia Champion Breon Ansley leads a crowded field of competitors for the first-ever Arnold Sports Festival Classic Physique contest. And the buzz is growing for the main open show. German star Dennis Wolf plans to return to the stage to challenge current Arnold champ, Cedric McMillan. Check out our predictions for the top placings of these two highly anticipated competitions.
History is in the making at the 30th rendition of the Arnold Classic on March 2-4 in Columbus, Ohio. Renamed as the Arnold Sports Festival (ASF) a few years ago, the Arnold Classic is how bodybuilding fans still refer to the world’s largest multi-sports event. This year’s men’s open bodybuilding battle has one of the most stacked lineups in history, as 2017 Arnold Classic Champion Cedric McMillan tries to hold on to his title from some of the top bodies in the sport.
This year marks the first-ever Classic Physique contest at the ASF, two years after the official launch of the division in 2016. Classic Physique, which favors the Golden Era ideal of wide shoulders, tapered torsos, and flaring lats, is becoming a fan favorite, and bodybuilders are flocking to the new category. The Classic Physique division requires a standard endorsed by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, who indirectly inspired the new category a few years ago, so it was only a matter of time before the Classic became a showcase at Arnold’s annual fitness celebration.
Here’s how we see it shaking out in Columbus this year for the top placings in both shows.
CLASSIC PHYSIQUE: THE BREON SHOW
More than 30 athletes are expected to compete for the inaugural Classic Physique crown at the ASF on Friday, March 2, headlined by 2017 Olympia Classic Physique champion Breon Ansley, who is also an Old School Labs Ambassador.
This year, officials have added five pounds to the height and weight caps of the Classic Physique category, which could help those who previously found it difficult to make the cut. With that in mind, here are our predictions for how it will all go down in Columbus.
Despite the huge lineup expected in Columbus, only a handful of competitors from last September’s Olympia are taking the stage at the ASF. Missing are Olympia runner-up Chris Bumstead, considered Ansley’s chief rival, and George Peterson, the third-place finisher from the Olympia. Also absent are two fast-rising stars in the category, Terrence Ruffin and Rylon McDuell-Batiste. These elite competitors appear to be biding their time for the Olympia in September.
Still, this will be no cakewalk for Ansley. He’ll be pushed by 2016 Classic Olympia Champion Danny Hester and perennial top placer Arash Rahbar. But expect a few obscure newcomers to make a name for themselves before the night is out. This new division that’s filling up fast with great, young talent and proven veterans from other divisions. Anything could happen. This is a Wild West scenario, where fresh-faced gunslingers from every region will be going for glory on one of bodybuilding’s biggest stages. Here’s how we see it shaking out for the top five.
5th Place: Danny Hester. Despite pushing 50 years old, Hester still has enough quality mass and poise to push his way into a high placing. The first-ever Mr. Olympia Classic Physique champ in 2016, Hester will continue to struggle against the enormous influx of talent that’s quickly expanding the Classic category. Still, his densely muscled 5’6”, 180-lb frame is aesthetically proportioned, and his skills as a poser are among the best in any division. He should make top five.
4th Place: Lee Banks. The man with the prodigious arms, Banks is a late bloomer who started bodybuilding after turning 30 years old. Despite being in his mid-40s, Banks brings enough size and polish to do enough damage to break into the top five. He’s earned several high placings in both open bodybuilding and Classic Physique, so he knows how to perform in the spotlight. While he finished ninth in the 2017 Classic Olympia contest, most of that contest’s top placers won’t get in his way this time. He could finish higher, but we see him here.
3rd Place: Arash Rahbar. The Iranian-American competitor is one of the true superstars of the Classic Physique division. He should continue his streak of top placings in Columbus. A former Men’s Physique contestant, Rahbar won the New York Pro and Pittsburgh Pro Classic Physique contests in 2016, and finished fourth in the 2017 Classic Olympia after being runner-up the year before. While always a threat to win it all, the well-proportioned 5’11” bodybuilder will likely fall short of the winner’s circle and finish third.
2nd Place: Darnell Ferguson. At 6’4”, the man they call “Action Figure” will benefit from the extra bodyweight addition in the division. It should make all the difference. With a history as a competitive collegiate athlete, Ferguson is gunning for the top spot, packing on muscle while trying to keep his lines Classic quality. During the offseason, he posted a photo on Instagram where he topped out at 261 lb. If he dials it in, he’s going to be an intimidating presence. There’s always one wild card in these high-level Classic Physique battles, and we believe Ferguson is the guy most likely to cause a ruckus in this show. But it still won’t be enough for the top trophy.
1st Place: Breon Ansley. The always upbeat Ansley is close to contest-shape year-round, so he didn’t hesitate to jump into the Arnold when the inaugural Classic Division contest was announced. Unlike his chief competition, Ansley didn’t feel pressed to take the entire year off to prepare for the Olympia after winning the Classic title in Las Vegas last year.
Not that he’s taking anything for granted. Ansley knows that with so many new competitors nipping at his heals, a few athletes are bound to make a big splash onstage at the Arnold. He knows they’re all coming for him, and he’s busting his ass to be better than ever. Check out this video displaying Ansley’s intensity and dedication. Look for OSL Ambassador, Breon Ansley to take home the trophy in the first-ever ASF Classic Physique contest.
OPEN CONTEST: TIME FOR AN UPSET
Five-time Arnold champ and former Mr. Olympia Dexter Jackson and the highly anticipated comeback of German legend Dennis Wolf are the marquee attractions in this stellar lineup, but expect the reigning champ McMillan to face his biggest challenge in William Bonec. Here’s how we see the top six playing out.
6th Place: Dennis Wolf. Former Arnold Classic champ Dennis Wolf is making his long-awaited return to the competition stage after several years away from the sport to recover from major back surgery. Wolf hasn’t competed since 2015 when he took 4th place at the Mr. Olympia and 3rd place at the Arnold Classic Europe, respectively. His last Arnold Classic competition was in 2014 when he beat out Shawn Rhoden for the title. Wolf has was always been considered a potential Mr. Olympia winner if he ever peaked perfectly. However, Wolf seems to have trouble nailing his condition on contest day. This year he’s working with Dennis James. But Wolf, at nearly 40 years of age and more than two years away from the stage, will be fortunate to place in the top six. We see him finishing here.
5th Place: Roelly Winklaar. Winklaar finished 2017 strong, placing sixth at the 2017 Mr. Olympia, before taken the top spot at the Prague Pro Championships. He’ll be returning to the Arnold Classic for the first time in three years. Since then he’s established himself as a force in the sport. With a magnificent hyper-muscular physique and some of the biggest arms in bodybuilding, the Dutch superstar will certainly stand out. But he still hasn’t proven he can reach his ultimate peak at the right time. If he can enter this year’s Arnold Classic shredded with excellent conditioning, while keeping his midsection under control, Winklaar’s overwhelming size and detail could make him hard to beat. Considering his history and this stacked lineup, fifth place is a more likely landing spot for Winklaar.
4th Place: Shawn Rhoden. Rhoden has been one of the top pros over the last six years. He has finished in the top four of each Mr. Olympia since 2012, including a second place in 2016. He seemed to lose momentum when he tried competing at a heavier bodyweight and dropped down to fifth place at last year’s Mr. O. His last Arnold Classic appearance was in 2014, when he took second place to Dennis Wolf. If Rhoden dials it in, he’s a threat to win it all in Columbus. But he’ll have to reverse the recent trend in his career where he seems to be slipping further behind. We’ll see.
3rd Place: Dexter Jackson. The winningest IFFB pro in history, Dexter “The Blade” Jackson has nothing to prove. Still, he’s not slowing down. At 48 years old, The Blade is an anomaly. He began competing as a bantamweight. He then worked his way up to winning his pro card as a light-heavyweight competitor at the 1998 IFBB North America Championships. He’s become one of the best pro bodybuilders in the history of the sport. The pinnacle of his career was winning the 2008 Mr. Olympia contest, but he’s also won the Arnold Classic a record five times. Still, he’s only human. The Blade dropped down to fourth place last year at the Mr. Olympia, so momentum is not on his side. Because Jackson is always consistently shredded, he’ll be in the mix. But if he’s slightly off, he’ll be fighting for a top three spot. We see him in third place for this show.
2nd Place: Cedric McMillan. McMillan will be returning to the Arnold Classic for the first time as defending champion. Even at his size, McMillan embodies a classic Golden Era aesthetic. He’s a favorite of Arnold himself, who loves Cedric’s combination of mass, shape, symmetry, and proportion.
McMillan always seems to hit his peak at the Arnold Classic. He placed in the top five for three consecutive years before finally winning the title last year. The Mr. Olympia contest is a different story. He has always struggled to reach his peak at the Mr. Olympia. At the 2017 Mr. Olympia, he could manage only 10th place. This was a big disappointment to his fans. Many were hoping to see McMillan exert his considerable physical presence at the Olympia.
With that bad experience behind him, the reigning champ should be in top shape again. A great poser, he can bring a crowd to its feet with his inspirational music choices. He once memorably performed to theme song from the movie “Conan the Barbarian.” If he succeeds here, this will be his greatest victory ever, considering the stacked lineup. But if he’s even just a little bit off, it will cost him.
1st Place: William Bonec. Bonec will be entering his first Arnold Classic, coming off a strong third-place finish at last year’s Mr. Olympia. With his tremendously thick muscle mass matched with his rock-hard conditioning, Bonec has made great improvements. He went from 15th place at his first Mr. Olympia appearance in 2014, moving up to 8th place one year later, then placing the top five in 2016. Many experts felt that Bonec should have placed second to Phil Heath at last year’s Mr. Olympia contest, and with his steady gains, he should be better than ever in Columbus. If Bonec can reach his physical peak at the 2018 Arnold Classic, he will achieve a career highlight. He’s already defeated Rhoden and Jackson at last year’s Mr. Olympia. With his thickness and conditioning, Bonec can win it all at the 2018 Arnold Classic.
What do you think? Who are your top picks for the open men’s show and first-ever ASF Classic Physique contest in Columbus? Tell us in the comments below.