28 Classic Years
A Snapshot Guide to the History of the Arnold Classic
In 1989 Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer staged the first ever Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic in Columbus, Ohio. This coming March 4, the 28th rendition of a contest that, in prestige, is second only to the Olympia will take place. Back in 1989 the event was a one-day affair, encompassing just two contests: The Arnold Classic for men, and the Ms. International for female bodybuilders. Over the years the extravaganza has mushroomed to a point where its action is spread over five days and 18,000 athletes will compete in over 40 different sports.
As a starter here’s a whirlwind guide to the previous 27 stagings of the Arnold Classic.
1989: RICHARD THE FIRST
1989: Rich Gaspari jumps for joy as he wins the first ever Arnold Classic watched by Samir Bannout (4th) and Bob Paris (5th).
The initial winner of the Arnold was Rich Gaspari. In a pro career that commenced in 1985 and included three straight Olympia runner-up spots (1986-’88), this was the last of The Dragonslayer’s nine pro victories. In 2013 Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the contest’s namesake.
1990: NOW YOU SEE HIM NOW YOU DON’T
This was the year that Shawn Ray’s hand was raised in victory at the Saturday night finals and then slapped six days later when the results of the drug tests (the first ever in an IFBB pro contest) were announced. Thus the Shawnster lost the title and it was awarded to runner-up Mike Ashley. Of the 13-man line-up, Samir Bannout, Nimrod King and Rolf Moeller also failed the test
1991: BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
1991: This is how Britain’s Pumping Press celebrated the wins of Shawn Ray and Tonya Knight.
A year after his 1990 experience Ray returned to Columbus to nail down a straight firsts placing at the 1991 soiree.
1992: INVINCEABLE, ALMOST
In 1991 and 1992 Vince Taylor competed in 14 contests and won nine of them, one of them being the 1992 Arnold. Momo Benaziza was second and was dead seven months later just hours after winning the Dutch Grand Prix.
A week after winning his first pro contest (the Ironman) Flex Wheeler stormed to victory in Columbus. Lee Labrada was second and Mike Matarazzo (6th) collapsed with severe dehydration after the contest and was rushed to hospital.
1994: KEVIN’S HEAVEN
Kevin Levrone flexed his way to the winner’s plinth ahead of Vince Taylor, but the main talking point was Paul Dillett. In the midst of a cramping type seizure he toppled onstage like a Canadian giant pine right into the arms of a surprised expeditor, who helped by colleagues eventually carted the 280 pounder offstage.
With back development he didn’t have a year previously hometown boy Mike Francois beat pre contest favorite Flex Wheeler into second place. It was the peak of Mike’s career as from then on severe colitis played havoc with his physique, threatened his life and forced him to retire three years later.
1996: KEVIN’S HEAVEN, FLEX’S HELL
1996: Flex Wheeler checks out controversial winner Kevin Levrone.
In maybe the most controversial Arnold result ever Kevin Levrone took his second Columbus victory over Flex Wheeler. Personally I saw it for Flex and Kevin and I exchanged words about the outcome for the rest of the year. Making his pro debut in ninth spot was Jean Pierre Fux who created a sensation and was tipped as the next Dorian.
1997: WHEELER RETURNS
Flex Wheeler took his second Arnold relegating Nasser El Sonbaty to runner-up status. In his first Arnold Ronnie Coleman was fourth.
1998: WHEELER’S DEAL
The top two from 1997 returned in 1998 to finish first and second again. In this humble scribe’s opinion this was Flex’s best shape ever.
1999: NASSER FINALLY
With Wheeler not competing El Sonbaty eased into first place ahead of Kevin Levrone.
2000: FLEX GOES FOURTH
Flex Wheeler took a record fourth Arnold a week after losing the Ironman to Chris Cormier. For Columbus Wheeler hammered himself into shape by doing three hours of cardio a day in the week leading up to the contest.
This was the first of six consecutive Arnold runner-up spots for Chris Cormier. For more on that unprecedented run see Chris Cormier: His Unwanted Arnold Six-Pack December 12, 2014
2001: MR. O COMES TO TOWN
2001: In arguably his best ever shape Ronnie Coleman took Columbus by storm.
Ronnie Coleman became the fist reigning Mr. O to enter the contest and was a clear winner and in many peoples opinion was that day in the best shape of his life.
2002 JAY WALKS IT
Fresh off his controversial runner up spot at the 2001 Olympia Jay Cuter appeared in Columbus to take the first of three consecutive Arnold titles.
2003 CUTLER AT THE DOUBLE
Jay Cutler carved out a repeat over the seemingly perennial bridesmaid Chris Cormier.
2004: CHRIS CROSS
This was the one that many thought Cormier should have won, as threepeat champ Cutler seemed a little flat this time out.
2005: JACKSON ACTION
With Jay Cutler not contesting the 2005 event the way seemed clear for Cormier to finally climb atop the Arnold ladder. But having finished third in 2004 Dexter Jackson vaulted ahead of the Real Deal to take top honors.
2006: DEXTER BACK-TO-BACK
Dexter Jackson successfully defended his title with Branch Warren in second.
2007: MARTINEZ THE VICTOR
Jackson was thwarted in his dream of a threepeat as Victor Martinez nudged him out of first place.
2008: THE BLADE’S TRIPLE
Jackson took his third Arnold victory with future Mr. Olympia Phil Heath in second.
2009: GREENE PARTY
Kai Greene joined the Arnold roll of honor by muscling to first ahead of Victor Martinez.
2010: GREENE SHADES IT
Kai Greene was top dog again in Columbus, but many thought runner-up Phil Heath should have emerged the winner.
2011: BRANCH TAKES ROOT
In the biggest win of his career – up to that point – Branch Warren became the 2011 Arnold champ with Dennis Wolf second.
2012: WARREN FACTIONS
The result was a duplicate of 2011 but many thought Wolf should have finished ahead of Branch (back in action six months after tearing a quad) this time out.
2013: WHAT A SWELL PARTY THIS IS
Dexter Jackson took his fourth Arnold title to draw level with Flex Wheeler’s haul. But the most discussed topic of the contest was a sudden outbreak of distended midsections –about six or so of the 13-man line-up.
2014: HOWLING WOLF
At his third attempt Dennis Wolf won his first Arnold title, one that many thought should have been his two years earlier. Finishing second and third respectively were shape merchants Shawn Rhoden and Cedric McMillan.
2015: JACKSON TAKES THE FIFTH, ARNOLD TAKES AIM
2015: Dexter Jackson takes a record breaking fifth Arnold title.
Dexter Jackson emerged victorious to claim a record breaking fifth title with Branch Warren and Justin Compton finishing second and third. A major controversy erupted the morning after the contest as Arnold Schwarzenegger conducted his Sunday morning seminar. Singing the praises of fourth placed Cedric McMillan he complained that judges were, choosing “The guys with the biggest neck and the biggest muscles" and spoke of bottle-shaped" bodies. It was an anthem that reverberated around the bodybuilding world.
2016: POSING THE QUESTION
2015: Arnold Schwarzenegger unleashes his tirade about modern judging.
After several years of the posing round not being judged it was re-instated at last year’s event and for the rest of the global Arnold Classics. This was at the insistence of Arnold who saw it as an attempt to return to the classic form of bodybuilding he had preached about a year earlier citing Cedric McMillan as Exhibit A. Ironic then that Cedric was leading after the prejudging (due perhaps to Kai Greene’s swollen midsection) but was overtaken by Kai (minus stomach distention) in the evening due to his posing skills. Thus if Arnold had not insisted on bringing back the posing round, his champion, Cedric, would have won.
Kai Greene (left) beats out Cedric McMillan due to winning the posing round.