In what is always one of the highlights of the bodybuilding season, the Arnold Classic for 2003 turned out to be another great event. The awesome bodybuilding team of Jim Lorimar and Arnold Schwarzenegger have been promoting superior bodybuilding competitions since 1976 and no one does a better job of bringing class and high gloss entertainment to the bodybuilding fans than these two.
As for the competition itself, the dominance of Jay Cutler after his unanimous victory at the Pro IRONMAN Invitational was challenged by several new competitors including Chris Cormier, Dexter Jackson, Kevin Levrone and, especially, monstrous Markus Ruhl.
Although I missed the men's pre-judging earlier in the day, I was able to witness the evening finals from a very good vantage point. Here is my assessment of the competitors in the 2003 Arnold Classic held March 1st, 2003 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio.
1st Place - Jay Cutler - Iron Jay won his second pro show this year with another unanimous decision over a much tougher field than he faced two weeks earlier when he dominated the Pro IRONMAN. Jay was at least 5 pounds lighter than he was at the IRONMAN in an effort to show off a more refined physique.
In my opinion, I thought he looked better at the IRONMAN than he did here. Jay looked a little flat in the pecs at the Arnold and his abs did not have the crisp look that he displayed when he almost stole Ronnie Coleman's title at the 2001 Olympia. He still brought the most proportionate physique to the stage with his wide, wide delts and incredible legs but his condition was not as full and impressive as the one that he showed off in California.
With Cutler's incredible structure, I think he can compete hard and ripped at over 260 pounds. The extra weight will readily translate into fuller and harder muscles that seems to suit Jay better. His legs were still huge and striated and his back, arms and delts were thick and full but the pecs and abs were not as impressive as he has shown in the past. However, as anyone who has competed knows all too well, hitting your peak onstage is a very tricky process. The physique that Cutler displayed at the Arnold was enough to do the job but he can be better.
2nd Place - Chris Cormier - For the fourth year in a row, Chris Cormier landed in the runner-up position at the Arnold Classic. Looking much smaller than he's looked in years, Cormier was very hard and separated and he showed off his symmetrical physique to his advantage but I think he was very lucky to place as high as he did. I haven't seen Cormier this small since he turned pro in 1993. Gone was the impressive thickness and mass that he displayed at the 2001 Pro IRONMAN and Arnold Classic.
Chris had a very detailed and muscular back but his legs from the rear were not as hard as they have been in the past. The hams and glutes were soft compared to the rest of his physique. However, the lack of muscle size and thickness in the torso, arms and delts was startling.
Chris had a very entertaining posing routine that included some cool Michael Jackson moves but I didn't think he deserved the runner-up position. I think Markus Ruhl, Dexter Jackson and, possibly, Darrem Charles could have placed above him. The detail and hardness were there but where was the muscle??
3rd Place - Markus Ruhl - The surprise of the show was the German Beast, Markus Ruhl. I've never been a big fan of Markus in the past due to his lack of aesthetic appeal and somewhat blocky physique. However, Markus won me and the rest of the crowd over on the night of the Arnold Classic. I would have placed him a close second to Cutler.
At an incredible 280 pounds, Markus was the most dominant bodybuilder onstage. Standing next to Cutler, he actually made Iron Jay look small. His incredible quads, huge pecs, wide, thick lats and unbelievable (are they really real?) deltoids made as much an impression when he took center stage as a Tyrannosaurus Rex would have had the prehistoric dinosaur decided to join the rest of us in Columbus that evening. The audience roared its approval as he stood in front of the appreciative crowd.
Markus looked like he brought the size of his waist down which made his symmetry better. On the other hand, it's possible he just increased the size of everything else which created the illusion that his waist was smaller. He was a true beast onstage with thunderous thighs, huge arms and an armor plated chest.
Cutler had Markus beat in the back shots with his harder hams, glutes, calves and back. However, Ruhl definitely made an impression at this year's Arnold Classic and if he shows up at the Olympia looking like this, he should definitely make the posedown against Gunter, Jay, Ronnie and the rest.
4th Place - Dexter Jackson - Dexter "The Blade" Jackson showed up in his characteristic ripped and ready condition and repeated his placing from the Olympia. Dexter has an awesome physique but he was overlooked on this evening due to the monstrous presence of Markus Ruhl.
Despite Dexter's aesthetic and ripped physique, he doesn't seem to improve much from year to year. He has somewhat high lats which tends to lengthen out his torso in front shots such as the double biceps and lat spread. This hurts him when posing down with mass monsters such as Ronnie Coleman, Gunter Schlierkamp and Jay Cutler. I think Dexter would be well served by taking the rest of the competition year off and focus instead on adding some quality beef to his frame. A thicker and ripped Dexter would be a force to be reckoned with at the Olympia.
5th Place - Kevin Levrone - What a disappointment for last year's Olympia runner-up! Kevin was back to his animalistic size and thickness and was much improved over last year's Arnold Classic where he was competing while training around a hernia. Unfortunately, despite his improvements, he was still not sharp enough to win a competition such as this and he was way off from the condition he displayed at last year's Olympia.
Kevin performed the same posing routine that he did at the Mr. Olympia but it didn't have quite the same impact due to his less than peaked condition. Levrone has been criticized the last couple of years because of his subpar leg development but I don't think his quads are that much out of proportion to his upper body. They are somewhat thinner than they were in the early '90's when he first turned pro so maybe he needs to start squatting heavy again to quiet all the critics.
All in all, I was impressed with the look that Kevin displayed at the Arnold Classic and I'm looking forward to seeing what he looks like at the Olympia. If he can make the same improvements from the Arnold to the Big O that he did last year, he could win that coveted Sandow trophy.
6th Place - Darrem Charles - Darrem looked fantastic at the Arnold Classic this year! In perhaps his best condition ever, Darrem brought the house down with the most outstanding presentation of the evening. It was definitely the most deafening applause of the night and Darrem is to be commended for connecting with the audience by presenting his physique in a way that only Darrem Charles can.
As for his physique, I thought Darrem looked even better than he did two weeks earlier at the Pro IRONMAN Invitational. He was full, ripped and hard. True, he doesn't weigh 280 pounds like Markus Ruhl but he still displayed an outstanding physique. I could have seen him as high as third or fourth place.
7th Place - Ahmad Haider - Ahmad displayed his characteristic rock hard abs and symmetrical physique and duplicated his Pro IRONMAN placing despite much tougher competition. He placed ahead of competitors such as Melvin Anthony and Troy Alves who had beaten him two weeks earlier.
Ahmad looked more polished and harder than the IRONMAN and this made a difference in his placing. I still think he needs bigger arms and a greater V-taper to move up the competition ladder. He is competing at a bodyweight of only 220 pounds so he needs to create the illusion of size by emphasizing his aesthetic shape.
8th Place - Melvin Anthony - In a dramatic drop from his runner-up placing to Jay Cutler two weeks ago, Melvin Anthony has to be wondering what he did to deserve eighth place on this evening. I could see that Melvin lost some of his conditioning the moment he stepped onstage for his posing routine. That, coupled with the addition of top notch competitors such as Cormier, Ruhl, Levrone and Jackson, helped to push Melvin out of the top six.
Despite an inspired posing routine that brought the crowd to life, Melvin was just not as sharp as he was two weeks ago. Although he has one of the smallest waistlines on the professional scene, Melvin does not have the superior structure that Cutler has so he needs to be ripped and ready to place ahead of some of the bigger competitors. When he does show up rock hard, watch out!
9th Place - Quincy Taylor - Big Quincy Taylor was much improved from his condition two weeks earlier at the Pro IRONMAN. He missed his peak for that show but he was hard as a rock at the Arnold. Lonnie Teper announced that Q.T. was weighing 294, down almost ten pounds from the IRONMAN two weeks ago.
Quincy has some of the greatest promise of all the professional bodybuilders competing today. At a height of 6'4", he has the potential to be an incredible champion as soon as it all comes together. Presently, he displays absolutely incredible quads and huge arms and, as soon as he brings his torso in proportion to his massive arms and legs, he will be entering the winners circle.
10th Place - Troy Alves - Another competitor who dropped way down from the Pro IRONMAN was rookie pro Troy Alves. Troy has a nicely shaped physique with big arms and good legs. He was dry and hard for the IRONMAN and seemed to duplicate that condition here. He needs more thickness in his back and could also use a little more fullness to his pecs. At only 220 pounds, I think Troy will need to add another 20 pounds of beef to be competitive with the likes of Cutler and Coleman.
11th Place - J.D. Dawodu - Massive J.D. Dawodu was out of the top ten despite his size and thickness. Although J.D. has plenty of beef, he is not the most aesthetic physique competing today. I think J.D. was on the right track last year when he streamlined his waistline and came in hard as a rock. With all of his muscle mass and his limited structure, J.D. would be better served by coming in lighter and improving his shape.
12th Place - Tommi Thorvildsen - Tommi "Glutezilla" Thorvildsen was again off form. Tommi seemed to be bigger and much harder at the Arnold Classic last year compared to the look he displayed at last years Olympia and at this event. Maybe his recent move to sunny California has become more of a distraction than he originally anticipated. Tommi is another one with a limited structure so he really needs to be full and ripped to do well. Even his famous glutes were not as hard as his nickname would suggest. On the plus side, Tommi's posing routine is always exciting due to his now patented back flip. Everyone in the audience knows its coming and they hold their breath while this 250 pound bodybuilder launches himself into the air.
13th Place - Eddie Abbew - Eddie was in good condition for the Arnold. He looked very hard but he doesn't have the size that many of the top competitors do. Eddie has big arms with a good peak but he needs more mass throughout the rest of his physique. During his posing routine, Eddie attempted to do the splits while hitting a front lat spread pose. When he walked off, he was noticeably limping. Lonnie Teper announced to the crowd that Eddie had pulled his hamstring during the day and still came out to pose like a champ. Great Job!
14th Place - Stan McCrary - Stan "Topomania" McCrary ended up in the last place position at the Arnold. Stan was in good shape and looked pretty hard but he needs to improve his V-taper and his overall thickness. He always seems to have fun onstage and certainly appears to enjoy his status as an IFBB pro.
Before the final awards were presented, Arnold Schwarzenegger presented the annual Life Time Achievement award to physique legend, Frank Zane. The three time Mr. Olympia winner was given this prestigious award after we were treated to an awesome video on the life of Frank Zane. I especially enjoyed the comparison of Zane's classic physique to the sculptures of Michelangelo. Frank Zane was truly a master of creating his own body into a work of art. It was fascinating to see how Zane experimented with different exercises in order to create detail and refinement on his body that no other bodybuilder displayed. Unfortunately, his physique seems to be the end of that era in our sport due to the current trend of the mass monsters.
When the final six were announced, the audience was treated to an awesome posedown that extended out into the audience. Jay Cutler lead the way and leaped into the crowd to begin what eventually became a 10 minute posedown that turned into an up close and personal experience for the fans. It's one thing to see a world-class bodybuilder on stage and another to see them only inches away. The fans loved it!
After the posedown was completed, it was time to award the Most Muscular trophy. This award is presented to the bodybuilder who exemplifies the biggest and most muscular physique onstage. Everyone in the audience clearly expected Markus Ruhl to easily win the award. After all, at a height of 5'10" and 280 pounds, is there anyone bigger than the German Beast?
Surprisingly, Jay Cutler won the Most Muscular trophy. Iron Jay made a short speech at the microphone and thanked everyone in his family who had come out to support him for this competition.
When the final awards were handed out, it was anticlimactic that Jay Cutler was the winner of the 2003 Arnold Classic. No one had the same combination of size, proportions and definition that Jay had. Jay is one of the few bodybuilders (along with Shawn Ray and Flex Wheeler) to win the Arnold Classic two years in a row.
Congratulations to Jay on his big win (how does $100,000, a brand new H2 Hummer and a $20,000 Rolex watch grab you?). Now, it's on to the Mr. Olympia which should be one of the most exciting Olympia's in years as the current champion, Ronnie Coleman, takes on Jay Cutler, Gunter Schlierkamp, Kevin Levrone and the new threat, Markus Ruhl. See you in Vegas!!