2009 Arnold Classic Recap

As everyone expected, the 2009 Arnold Classic was one incredibly exciting event. The 21st edition of what has become one of the biggest shows in bodybuilding was missing a couple of top competitors, but included enough elite pros to sell out the auditorium to a standing room only crowd.

Dexter Jackson, the 3-time Arnold Classic champ, and Phil Heath, who was a very close runner-up to Dexter in 2008, were missing from the lineup as was Dennis Wolf, who decided to wait until this year's Mr. Olympia before stepping back on stage.

Branch Warren and Kai Greene were both in lifetime best condition for the 2008 Arnold Classic, and they returned this year motivated to do even better. Of course, the favorite for this year's event had to be Victor Martinez. After beating Dexter Jackson to win the Arnold Classic Overall in 2007 and taking a VERY close second to Jay Cutler in that year's Mr. Olympia, Victor looked to be well on his way to winning another Arnold Classic after sitting out all of last year due to ACL surgery.

Here are my impressions of the 2009 Arnold Classic competition:

Marcus was in last place despite a very entertaining posing routine. But to win Best Poser, he'd have to beat Kai Greene. Marcus' overall good physique was no doubt hurt by his expanding stomach.

Floridian Ahmad Haidar, known as "Abzilla" because of his incredible abdominal development, just wasn't big enough to be a contender in a contest of this caliber. His back and arm development are weak points in comparison to those terrific abs and impressive quads.

Once one of the top names in pro bodybuilding, Gustavo Badell has dropped in placings the last few years. He has great arms and a very impressive back. Unfortunately, his legs look out of proportion to his upper body and his conditioning was an issue at the Arnold, particularly his soft glutes and hamstrings.

When he's in top shape, Ronnie Rockel has one of the best physiques in pro bodybuilding. Lately, however, his conditioning hasn't been what it could be. He just doesn't look as good from the back as he does from the front. When conditioning's off, this is even more of a problem.

Johnnie Jackson was in good shape for this year's Arnold Classic. He has incredibly thick pecs, traps and spinal erectors, no doubt a result of extensive powerlifting training. Too bad his arms and calves don't match up to his massive upper body and quads. Johnnie's conditioning was good so his lower placing must have been the result of structure and not muscular development.

This was the best I've ever seen Sergey Shelestov. Always one of the biggest competitors, Sergey came in much harder and more finished this year, thanks in part to his excellent color. This hard condition allows Sergey to showcase his wide, thick physique. He even finished off his posing routine with the splits.

Dennis is one of the thickest pro bodybuilders ever to step onstage. A pro since 1999, he's a 10-year veteran of the circuit and a few years back made the wise decision to streamline his physique instead of competing at a heavier body weight. I thought Dennis looked great at this year's Arnold Classic, and deserved to be in the posedown with the top six. He was impressively thick, and combined that mass with hardness and muscularity. His rear double biceps pose is still a weak point but I thought he had enough mass and hardness to be compared to the top five.

Considering that he missed the Top 10 at last year's Arnold, Moe placed very high in this year's event. He took second to Silvio Samuel at the Pro Iron Man and was carrying that momentum onto the stage. Moe has very impressive arms and a thick back, but I thought his pecs were flat. His symmetry was not the best, and I was actually surprised to see him place ahead of Dennis James. Better color would have helped Moe highlight his physique.

One bodybuilder who's never out of condition is Silvio Samuel, who won the Pro Iron Man Invitational earlier this year. Silvio doesn't have the size of a Toney Freeman or Victor Martinez so he needs to compete in ripped condition to place high. He was one of the few competitors to appear ripped to the bone at last year's Mr. Olympia and repeated that performance here.

The "X-Man" Toney Freeman was a favorite for pulling off an upset at this year's Arnold Classic. Unfortunately, he didn't come in with the same physique he displayed at last year's Mr. Olympia. According to interviews he gave following the contest, Toney said he was too flat for the pre-judging because he didn't have enough time to fill out in the morning. This pro's wide shoulders, small waist and huge thighs on a towering 6'2" frame present a terrific structure. When he's in top condition, combining both fullness and hardness, Toney's tough to beat.

Branch hit peak condition last year when he competed in the Arnold Classic, taking a controversial 4th while winning the Most Muscular trophy. This year, Branch was back after tricep surgery determined to win. With his massive development, he did repeat as Most Muscular. His legs are some of the biggest in the game with crazy vascularity covering his quads and thick cords in the hamstrings. Branch poses with aggression and energy and the crowd loves his thick, muscular physique. They booed when he was awarded third place.

As the pre-contest favorite, and with 18 months away from the competitive stage, Victor Martinez was close to being in top condition. Unfortunately, one of his legs was slightly smaller than the other. All in all, it was a good comeback after an injury. This Fall, Victor should be ready to challenge Dexter, Phil, Jay and the rest for the Mr. Olympia title.

Kai Greene surprised everyone by winning the Arnold Classic this year. There were rumors only 24 hours before the contest that he was employing drastic measures to lose weight and was on the verge of dropping out of the show. Looks like those rumors were way off as Kai competed in his best condition ever.

Kai's recognized as the most innovative and exciting poser in the sport, and he didn't disappoint performing handstands and other gymnastic movements that really highlighted his shredded glutes, ripped hamstrings and massive back. It was something to see and Arnold Schwarzenegger told Kai on stage that his performance was the best posing routine he'd ever witnessed.

Now that Kai has pulled off the biggest win of his career, it'll be interesting to see what happens at the Mr. Olympia. Victor needs to make improvements to his physique to get back at the top. Can Dexter make the necessary changes to repeat his Mr. O victory? Will Phil Heath pull an upset and win his first Olympia? How will Kai Greene do against the best of the best? These questions and more will be answered in Las Vegas come September.

John Hansen
Mr. Natural Olympia
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