Will Health Get His 8th? Plus More Olympia Predictions!
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This year’s Mr. Olympia is likely the deepest and most competitive lineup in its 54-year history. That just goes to show how quickly the competition keeps getting better from one year to the next, but it also shows just how great a champion Phil Heath has been during his seven-year run. Heath’s critics annually declare some reason or another why one of his rivals will dethrone him, and we’re still waiting. Every year since 2011, Heath has simply shut the door on those trying to take the Sandow. The natural question, then, is why should this year be any different?
In a pair of women’s divisions, two new champions will be crowned. Olympia Women’s Physique champion Juliana Malacarne and defending Fitness Olympia champion Oksana Grishina will hand over their respective titles as they’re both absent this weekend. Who will stand atop the dais in the footsteps these fabulous champions have left?
In all three other men’s divisions—Men’s Classic Physique, Men’s Physique, and Men’s 212—the lineups are stacked! The top five in each class will truly come down to who nails their condition onstage. Each class has an interesting mix of the old guard versus a new generation of athletes swiftly climbing the ranks.
Figure and Bikini also have jam-packed lineups filled with athletes who have legitimate shots to become a class champion.
Let’s take a closer look at each division with predictions.
MEN’S OPEN BODYBUILDING
1. Phil Heath. The Gift aims to tie greats Ronnie Coleman and Lee Haney for the record number of Sandows with eight. Heath has had a tremendous career in bodybuilding, but he says he wants 10 before all is said and done. Nobody brings more fullness to his frame in the entire pro ranks than he does, coupled with inside-out conditioning. When it comes to a complete physique from head to toe, nobody’s better than the reigning seven-time Mr. Olympia champion. Some may get close, but unless Heath is far off his best, you’re looking at an eight-time champ when the dust settles in Vegas.
2. Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay. Maybe the fan favourite of the entire division, the gentle giant (all 300 pounds!) brought his best to the Olympia stage a year ago. However, his best wasn’t his potential best, and he was still outclassed in terms of muscle density and conditioning from behind, especially in direct comparison to Heath. From the very limited pictures and videos recently leaked from his camp, we’re able to tell that he seems to be in matching or improved condition, which I’ve been saying for years is the only missing component of the Big Ramy puzzle. In 2018, I think he will get even closer to dethroning “the Champ" but is just going to lack that last few percentiles of conditioning to truly reach his onstage peak. Look for it to be a battle, though, and if Heath is off, all bets are off: It’s neck and neck for the title.
3. William Bonac. After an immensely productive and impressive start to the 2018 season, The Conqueror went into the shadows to focus on the big dance. The knock on Bonac is his bone structure—something he cannot fix—but he’s done everything in his control to dissipate that disadvantage. He has absolute sinew-splitting fullness onstage and pairs it with insanely dry and hard conditioning. If he replicates the package he brought to Columbus earlier this year, he’ll finish no worse than third. If the top two are off, Bonac can steal the title, especially if he’s able to improve in the months between after his March contest.
4. Dexter Jackson. To me, regardless of who wins the title, The Blade might well be the most impressive bodybuilder onstage that weekend. It speaks to Jackson’s dedication, perseverance, and discipline for him to remain one of the best bodybuilders in the entire world deep into his 40s, which is nothing short of amazing. Jackson is always one of the most conditioned athletes in every lineup, so don’t expect this weekend to be any different. As he’s said before, he’s made a career of being in shape when others aren’t, so he’s always there if a slip-up occurs! It’s not beyond imaginable that “Uncle Dex” takes home his second Sandow this weekend, but I think it’s more probably he lands somewhere in the 3 to 6 range.
5. Shawn Rhoden. Once upon a time, Rhoden was seen as Heath’s most formidable opponent. To me, that ship has sailed. I’ve made it absolutely no secret that Rhoden has had one of my favourite versions of any physique ever (2013 Mr. Olympia), but since then he hasn’t progressed onstage. In fact, I’d argue that Rhoden has regressed. The wasp waist he once had has started to show signs of distention and general enlargement. He also seems unaware of the lack of midsection control he displays onstage in recent years. Believe me, it pains me to write that. All in all, Rhoden is still one of the best in the world. Still, I can’t foresee any scenario where he claims a podium position this year.
Places 6–10 (in no particular order): Brandon Curry, Nathan De Asha, Roelly Winklaar, Cedric McMillan, Charles Griffen.
The fight for places 6 through 10 will be a dogfight as well. Although it might not carry the accolade of being top five at the Super Bowl of bodybuilding, being in the top 10 is still quite an achievement. If I were to name two bodybuilders out of this group that have the best shots of making it into the top five, it would be Brandon Curry and Nathan DeAsha. However, at the rate Roelly Winklaar seems to put on muscle, he could show up with jaw-dropping size and good enough condition to pop himself into that coveted Olympia first callout.
Best of the Rest
Iain Valliere and Alexis Rivera have the best chance of cracking a top-10 spot of the remaining competitors, but they’ll have their hands full at their first stops in Vegas. Olympia veteran Steve Kuclo has looked great in his last few showings, but I don’t believe he’ll be able to surpass the top-echelon bodybuilders on Olympia weekend because of a slight disadvantage in conditioning. Expect Juan Morel and Michael Lockett to be held back because of comparatively smaller legs, but each man may be able to squeeze into way into the second callout and find himself in the top 13.
MEN’S 212 BODYBUILDING
1. James Lewis. The longtime king of this division will be taking the 212 stage for the last time here. “Flex” Lewis hasn’t always had it easy in Las Vegas, but it’s been quite hard to argue against him taking home each title. This weekend, I see it no different. Lewis takes the trophy home one last time before passing the torch. Expect Lewis to move up to the Open next fall.
2. Ahmad Ashkanani. Ashkanani burst onto the scene just a few years ago and is seen as the heir apparent to the 212-class throne by many. Ashkanani carries as much muscle as anyone in the class and shows up with nasty dryness. Lewis won’t be off, so Ashkanani will have to wait at least one more year to taste Olympia gold.
3. Jose Raymond. One of the popular faces of the lighter division, The Boston Mass has been a perennial top-five finisher in Vegas for several years now. When it comes to freaky conditioning, no one epitomizes that better than Raymond. Unfortunately, sometimes distension and structure hold Raymond out of the top three. With this being his final Olympia appearance, expect him being at his absolute best and grabbing at least a third-place finish.
Rounding out the top 10:
Derek Lunsford has been posting a multitude of pictures leading into September, and judging by his progress, I think the aforementioned men with have difficulty keeping him from leapfrogging them this year in. David Henry is another competitor who hasn’t been shy of giving glimpses of progress, and it seems as though he’ll be dialed in and ready by contest time. Kamal Elgargni looked good enough for an Arnold Classic title earlier this year and could easily make another statement with a top-five finish at his first Olympia. Canadians Mahmood Al Durrah and Zane Watson make their way to Las Vegas, and with luck could both find themselves in the 5 to 8 range. Also don’t count out Shaun Clarida, who has continually packed on muscle and showed improvements year after year. Charles Dixon and Nicolas Vullioud are two more who have displayed physiques that could garner themselves a top-10 finish. Dwayne Qamina and Samir Troudi could also shock a lot of people and propel themselves well into the top 10 if they nail their conditioning.
MEN’S CLASSIC PHYSIQUE
1. Chris Bumstead. There just seems to be a sweeping momentum behind this young gun from Canada. In addition to displaying the most “classic” physique that embodies the spirit of this new division, Bumstead carries as much mass as anyone. That’s about as lethal of a combination as you can ask for here, but when you consider the jaw-dropping condition “CBum” brings to the stage, it really makes a winning formula. A bolder prediction is that Bumstead will not only take the 2018 crown but also hold onto it well beyond 2020.
2. Breon Ansley. Make no mistake, Ansley is a hell of a bodybuilder and is a formidable champion of this ever-popular division. For Ansley, the one huge disadvantage in comparison to the likes of Bumstead, Regan Grimes, and Arash Rahbar is his structure. His frame just doesn’t match the size of those competitors. Ansley is perhaps the greatest poser of the bunch, matches nearly all competitors in conditioning, and is arguably the most proportionate. Having said that, I still give Bumstead the nod.
3. George Peterson. For one reason or another, Da Bull is sort of an afterthought by casual fans when talking about the elite Classic Physique competitors. To me, Peterson is the Kai Greene of CPD–an otherworldly back fully equipped with striated lats and traps thicker than Kleenex boxes, cross-striated quadriceps, and softball-sized biceps. He doesn’t quite have the “flow” to his physique that Bumstead or Ansley have, but he’ll be nipping at their heels.
Who else will be fighting for the first callout?
CPD-newcomer Regan Grimes will be making his Olympia debut, but this won’t be his time to shine. With prep guru Chris Aceto in his corner, look for him to grab a top callout. Both Terrance Ruffin and Arash Rahbar are Olympia veterans by now, but each man will have to nail his conditioning to get into the elusive Olympia top six. If any of the above athletes miss their mark, it could be Danny Hester, David Hoffman, or Henri-Pierre Ano to elbow out the others for a first callout.
- Jeremy Buendia
- Andre Ferguson
- Raymont Edmonds
The real question for me is, “Has Jeremy Buendia’s pectoral tear regressed his physique?” because if it has, we’ll likely be looking at a new Olympia champ. This division progresses way too quickly for any regression on Buendia’s physique. If he’s his old self (2017 version) or better, he’ll retain the title. If not, it could be Raymont Edmonds, Andre Ferguson, or Brandon Hendrickson taking the title.
1. Natalia Abraham Coelho. This young, stunning star of the IFBB has found her home after a stint in Figure originally. She made the crossover after being told she was coming in too hard and conditioned for the division, but her onstage package seems to be a perfect fit here. Coelho brings great condition, a flawlessly beautiful feminine look, and dense development. She’ll be hard to beat if she’s on the money.
2. Shanique Grant. Perhaps the most genetically gifted athlete of the entire division, Grant has had hiccups offstage that have blunted her rise to the top of the formal WPD rankings. Grant hits the stage with a nearly nonexistent waist, sweeping quads, and tremendously flaring lats. Where I believe she lacks in comparison to Coelho is conditioning, overall back development (especially density), and development in the side poses. However, if Coelho isn’t perfect for prejudging, Grant could easily upset and take home the W.
3. Jennifer Taylor. Much like George Peterson in Men’s Classic Physique, Taylor is sort of the unsung superstar of this division. She’s beaten elite competitors before, and I believe this weekend will be no different. Taylor is consistently in great condition but lacks development in a few key areas that Grant and Coelho don’t. If both the top two are off, it could be Taylor who’s the last woman standing in Las Vegas.
Who else to watch out for?
Michaela Aycock simply improves each time she steps onstage, and I’d expect this time to be no different. Sooner or later, she’ll have a breakout Olympia performance, and I’m willing to wager it’s this year. Kira Neuman is always in the mix for top spots in Vegas; if she’s at her best, she may even catapult into a podium position. Heather Grace couples a streamlined physique with great development, and she can beat anyonein this lineup with a little help in the conditioning department and her major rivals off. Autumn Swansen, Sheronica Henton, and Majorie Beck could be fighting for the top callout as well if each woman nails her shape.
1. Myriam Capes. This Quebec native was bested only by Oksana Grishina a year ago. With Grishina not competing, Capes seems to be the front runner.
2. Whitney Jones. WoJo has had to overcome adversity this year, but nonetheless she finds herself back in the Olympia lineup . Although a serious knee injury sidelined her for much of the past year, she’s taking aim at her first Olympia title. Depending on how much her injury has stunted leg (and total-body) development, she could walk offstage with the first-place check.
3. Bethany Wagner. One of my absolute favourite fitness competitors ever, Wagner couples an outstanding physique with very entertaining routines. To me, her physique has been the benchmark for fitness competitors for years. If she can take her routine to the next level, she could be looking squarely at the title.
Who else to watch out for?
Ariel Khadr is pocket-sized but makes her presence astronomical onstage. She’s a lock for first callout. Ryall Graber and Regiane DaSilva should be two others who make first callout.
- Candice Lewis-Carter
- Latorya Watts
- Cydney Gillon
It’s a toss-up: Spots 1 through 3 will be among Latorya Watts, Cydney Gillon, and Candace Lewis-Carter. To me, Lewis-Carter has the most imposing physique of the three, but Gillon and Watts both possess their own specific strengths.
Melissa Bumstead, Heather Dees, and Ivana Ivusic are my picks for rounding out the first callout, but there are a number of athletes who may have something to say about that. My dark horses for the first callout include Bojana Vasiljevic, Jessica Reyes Padilla, and Martina Yabekova.
- Angelica Teixeira
- Ashley Kaltwasser
- Janet Layug
This will be another hotly contested division. Former champion Ashley Kaltwasser will try to dethrone 2017 champ Angelica Teixeira, but Jennifer Ronzitti and Janet Layug will also be competing with the W in mind. Olympia veterans Narmin Assria and Tawna Eubanks will bring a different look to the stage than most of the other competitors and are generally well rewarded, so look for each to upset a few along the way.