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One-On-One With Mr. Olympia Dexter Jackson

Ruth Silverman

Dexter_Jackson_cover.jpgMUSCLE INSIDER sits down with the one of the biggest, baddest names in pro bodybuilding and learn just how Dexter Jackson keeps going strong and proving them wrong.

Two unforgettable moments from the ‘08 Olympia: Jay Cutler, on a bench backstage, a little dazed; Dexter Jackson, onstage, triumphant —also a little dazed. For those in the seats at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, it was a moment of history: the first Mr. Olympia in many of their lifetimes who wasn’t a behemoth. From Haney to Yates to Coleman to Cutler to Dexter Tyrone Jackson—for every lover of size who insisted that the judges would never pick the 5'6", 230-pound one-time bantamweight from Jacksonville, Florida, some lover of aesthetic physiques was sighing in relief. Finally, the judges had gone for substance over size.

Since then, Jackson’s fortunes have been up and down, albeit within that rarefied circle of the top six at the Olympia and the Arnold Classic. In 2011 he won several shows, dropped to fifth at the Mr. O, came back and won the Pro World Masters, and then dropped again to sixth at the ‘12 Arnold Classic. The predictions leading up to the Olympia were dire. Some thought that the 42-year old man known as the Blade couldn’t cut it at the top anymore, that he’d be muscled out by bigger guys, many of whom had beaten him recently—Mr. O Phil Heath, two-time Arnold Classic champ Branch Warren, two-time A.C. champ Kai Greene, Dennis Wolf, and Evan Centopani, among other candidates. Didn’t happen. Dexter fi nished a deserving fourth and at the time of this interview was 17 days out from the renamed Masters Mr. Olympia, which was widely expected to be a big payday for him. If he was nervous, it didn’t show. If anything, the Jacksonville Jaguar was in a mellow mood and maybe a bit reflective. Not so surprising, as his forty-third birthday was just a couple of days off, and he was looking forward to his family joining him in Los Angeles, where he lives part-time in Venice, California.

His reign as Mr. Olympia had been “amazing,” he said, and full of opportunities. “It took me six, seven months before I even started accepting people calling me Mr. Olympia.” Though he’d been convinced before the contest that Cutler was “at a standstill” and could be taken—and that he could be the one to do it—Jackson hadn’t been absolutely sure. Size wasn’t the issue, he insisted. “It’s just that Jay is so popular. He’s everybody’s Mr. Olympia. It’s hard to knock the champ off, and he was the champ—in his hometown. So up until they called my name, I really didn’t think I would win, but I believed in my heart that if it was judged right, it could happen.”

The judges agreed, leading to those contrasting moments in time recalled above. A year later, the story was completely different, almost as if they’d let the Floridian with the fantastic aesthetic  have the crown only to take it away.

“I shoulda won that year too,” Jackson said with a chuckle. “I was even better than I was when I won.” 

Some might say he had been robbed, and not just at the ‘09 Olympia. Three years after the fact, however, he wasn’t about to cry over spilt milk. Instead, he evoked the universal anthem of those who’ve had to make their peace with the decisions of others. “It is what it is,” he said, “and everyone has their own opinion. No Mr. Olympia has ever lost in shape and placed third, but it is what it is. All I do is come in and do my best, and may the cards fall where they may.”

So what was the difference, really, between 2008 and 2009? Different judging panel? Competition in different shape? Luck of the draw? 

He paused. “I can’t answer that. My whole career, I’ve had to work for everything I’ve gotten. I’ve earned what I won. Every show that I won, I won because I was supposed to win—I was the best on the stage that day. We’ve had champions that looked like crap, but they still won because of their name or whatever. That’s never happened to me.” The result, he said, “makes me feel good that I actually earned and wasn’t given nothing.”

That comment seemed ironic in light of something else that was different from 2008. Jackson was not currently under contract with any companies or publications. How does that happen—that Dexter Jackson doesn’t have a contract?

“I don’t know,” he said, “But we’ll see.” He was talking with several companies. “It’s just takin’ a little time, choosing the company I want to be with.”

In the meantime, he has the three NPC contests he promotes annually with girlfriend Gail Elie to keep him busy—the Dexter Jackson Classic and the Jax Physique in Jacksonville and the Dexter Jackson Memphis Classic in Tennessee.

“I tell everybody all the time: I want to be the Jon Lindsay of the East Coast,” he said when the conversation turned to what he would do when he finally stopped competing. “I want to do 12 shows—that’s my goal. By the time I retire, I want tohave about five shows, and we’ll go from there.”

Dexter dominates the competition at the 2012 Masters Olympia.

The inevitable question: How long can he keep going? “I don’t know,” he said. “Right now I’m feeling very competitive.” Pointing out that Toney Freeman, who he would face at the Masters O, is 48, he said that five more years did not seem impossible to him now. “I’mma keep going until I feel it’s time for me to retire, but as long as the fire is here, the dedication is here, and I’m competitive,
I’ll keep going.

“I’ve been very blessed in this sport,” he added. “I have no gripes that I’ve been rewarded or haven’t been rewarded. I’ve had a wonderful career. I’ve won three Arnolds—and the Olympia, man. That’s just unbelievable. I’ve won 15 shows, and I’m still beating young guys at my age. I’m very happy and blessed to be able to have done what I’ve done.”

Taking stock after the last round of ups and downs, Jackson knows he must use his resources wisely. He doubted that he’d do the Arnold Classic in March but might look for a tune-up show closer to the Olympia, although that could change. “My body’s been acting weird because of my age,” he admitted. “I came in sixth at the Arnold because I looked like shit. I didn’t ever not place in the top three when I was 100 percent.

“It’s getting time for me to take long breaks and do one or two shows a year,” he concluded. “That’s what helped me come in the shape that I was in at the Olympia. So I’ve got to keep reminding myself that I can’t do all these shows like I could when I was young.” 

He’s been working with Charles Glass for nearly three years and spends much of his time in Venice. What has master trainer Charles done for Dexter’s patented aesthetic package? “When I first got here, we picked out a couple of things that we needed to work on, and we got at it. And we’ve been attacking them every single time I come out here to train with him.” 

Renowned professional trainer Charles Glass has been one of the driving forces behind Dexter’s incredible success.

Still, he admitted, his main motive was motivation itself. “Where I’m from, there’s not a lot of hard core training guys. Coming out here and training with Charles when I’m getting ready for a competition, in Gold’s Gym, where it all started, it’s like a dream. The atmosphere here is so rich, you wanna train. It’s like, I’m gonna work my ass off because I don’t want to let Charles down—he’s a legend. If it had not been for him, I’d probably be retired by now because there’s no motivation where I’m from.”

To that end, he said, his fans “aren’t going to see a bigger and better Dexter. I’m old,” he added, laughing heartily. “I’m just keeping it the same package. All I want is to be my trademark condition, and we’ll be fine.”

Jackson assessed his fellow Olympia winners with a clear eye and again rejected the notion that the judges have a thing about size. “You can’t argue with Ronnie because he’s the greatest ever. No one can beat that package he brings, especially when he was at his best. Jay at his best: very hard to beat. He’s a great champ. So let’s not get this whole thing twisted. You can’t say just because they’re big that they don’t have no aesthetics.”

Can Cutler, who has signed a contract to compete at the ‘13 Mr. Olympia, come back and win? Can Dexter beat him—or Phil? He chuckled again. “What I always said was, when Phil wins … when he gets that muscle maturity, he’s going to be very hard to beat. But Jay’s a different breed.

“Phil’s not big like Ronnie. He’s big for his size—and he’s got crazy muscle bellies.… That’s the beauty of this sport. We have crazy muscle bellies, and it makes us look a lot bigger than we are. Phil is big, but he’s not the widest guy. And Jay can exploit that ‘cause Jay’s a lot wider.” He paused, and laughed again. “I’m saying it like it’s easy for him to do—it’s not. I’m saying that if he can come in the best shape of his life—especially like the way he pushed Ronnie in, what was it, 2001?—oh, yeah, he can win.”

About Shawn Rhoden, the symmetrical sensation who slid into third ahead of him at the Olympia and won the Arnold Classic Europe and British Grand Prix, Jackson was complimentary but frank. “Do I feel I should have beaten him at the Olympia? Of course.

He was pretty comparable from the front, but from the rear, he’s still lacking that maturity.” That said, Rhoden does have the stuff to make it to the top. “He’s got crazy, crazy shape, his conditioning is through the roof, and he’s got one of the best shapes in the business right now,” he said. “If he trains and applies himself professionally and in the gym, of course he can.” And where will Dexter be? More laughter. “Right up in the top fi ve, like I prove everybody wrong every year.”

Dexter makes history by becoming the first man to ever win both the Mr. Olympia (open class) and the Masters Olympia (open class). The Blade is back!


  1. 1995 NPC USA Championships, (Light-Heavyweight)
  2. 1998 North American Championships, (Light-Heavyweight and Overall)
  3. 2002 Grand Prix England
  4. 2003 Show of Strength Pro Championship
  5. 2004 Grand Prix Australia
  6. 2004 Ironman Pro Invitational
  7. 2004 San Francisco Pro Invitational
  11. 2008 IFBB Australian Pro Grand Prix VIII
  12. 2008 IFBB New Zealand Grand Prix
  13. 2008 IFBB Russian Grand Prix
  14. 2008 MR. OLYMPIA
  15. 2011 FIBO Pro
  16. 2011 Pro Masters World Champion
  17. 2012 Master's Olympia
  18. 2013 Arnold Classic
  19. 2013 Tijuana Pro