Heath, Greene, Warren, Wolf. Flex Lewis vs David Henry. Evan Centopani’s Olympia debut and more. Part II of our 10 Storylines to Watch Olympia preview.
#5 The Showdown Opens Up
With three titles since 2009, Kevin English has owned the 202 (Now 212) Showdown stage in recent years. But English won’t be in the mix this weekend after deciding to sit this one out due a degenerative knee condition. Had he competed, a fourth title was no sure thing – in large part because of the ever-improving Flex Lewis.
At 28 years old, the Welsh Dragon is just now entering his prime … even though no one would have argued had Lewis emerged as the Showdown winner a year ago. In fact, Lewis led on the scorecards after the morning prejudging before English scored a comeback win in the finals.
Now, Lewis will have to deal with Jose Raymond, Eduardo Correa and 2008 Showdown Winner David Henry, who returned to the stage after a one-year absence due to obligations with the Air Force. Henry, the runner-up to English in both 2009 and 2010, began his comeback with a win at the Europa Super Show.
Flex Lewis and David Henry
#4 Top Six Shuffle
No Cutler, no Victor Martinez. That means two spots open up in the top six. Who’s most likely to break into that group? 2008 Mr. Olympia Dexter Jackson, for one. At 41 years old, Jackson knows his best days are behind him. But that doesn’t mean the Blade can’t make at least one more run at a top-five finish.
He’ll have to contend with a new wave of talent – led by Shawn Rhoden, Lionel Beyeke and Ben Pakulski – and a savvy veteran who is seemingly defying Father Time in Toney Freeman in order to do so.
Rhoden, who earned his pro card at the 2009 North Americans, flew under the radar in his first two years as a pro until his Olympia debut last year. He didn’t crack the top 10 in that lineup – he placed 11th – but he announced his presence as one to watch in 2012. He hasn’t disappointed. He started the year with a 4th at the FLEX Pro and an 8th at the Arnold Classic before kicking it into high gear with back-to-back wins this summer – making the Jackson-Rhoden matchup one of contest’s most interesting storylines.
Beyeke started the year with a win at the FLEX Pro and a sixth at the Arnold. But he hasn’t faced a lineup like this, where conditioning – the Frenchman’s achille’s heel – is at a premium. He’ll have to come in sharper than he ever has before to give himself a chance at a top-six Olympia debut.
Pakulski, who will carry as much muscle per inch as any competitor in the lineup bested Jackson, Beyeke and Rhoden at the Arnold, finishing 4th with what was without a doubt his best look to date. If the Canadian can show some improvement in the back shots and control his midsection, he could be in the mix for a top-six placing when it’s all said and done.
Last but not least, Freeman who, at 46 years old, has to go down as one of the best older bodybuilders in history. Although his 2008 conditioning is a thing of the past, Freeman looked rejuvenated this summer with consecutive top-three finishes at the Tampa Pro and the Europa Super Show. He’ll need a couple of the names mentioned above to come in off but, if they do, that could be all the opening the X-Man needs for another top-six Olympia finish.
Dexter Jackson vs Shawn Rhoden is one of the most intriguing top-six matchups
#3 Rookie Rising
Fact: The Olympia is not kind to rookies.
Fact: Evan Centopani is no ordinary Olympia rookie.
Following the Phil Heath strategy in electing to bypass the Show of Shows in his first three years as a pro, Centopani finally steps on stage with the best of the best. He more than held his own in March at the Arnold Classic, going toe-to-toe with Branch Warren and Dennis Wolf before settling for third. But at just 30 years old, Centopani has of room to improve. How high can he climb?
In the past 30 years, only seven competitors have managed to crack the top three in their Olympia debuts. That list speaks for itself: Lee Haney (3rd, 1983), Rich Gaspari (3rd, 1985), Vince Taylor (3rd, 1989), Dorian Yates (2nd, 1991), Kevin Levrone (2nd, 1992) Flex Wheeler (2nd, 1993) and Phil Heath (3rd, 2008).
Is Centopani that good? Probably not. A top-five placing is much more realistic. But as they say, that’s why they play the games.
Centopani, Wolf and Warren at the 2012 Arnold Classic
#2 Four Is A Crowd
We’re skipping ahead here, but we’ll go out on a limb and say this without a doubt: Phil Heath will not place outside of top two. No way. No how. Not happening.
That leaves three – Kai Greene, Branch Warren and Dennis Wolf. Who’s the odd man placing outside of the top three? The case for, and against, each:
Considered a potential future Olympia winner after his coming out party at the 2007 Olympia, Wolf finds himself back in that conversation after a couple down years, during which most wrote him off as a legitimate contender. But that was before last year, when Wolf once again impressed on the Olympia stage en route to a 4th-place finish. Earlier this year, he gave Warren all he could handle in Columbus before settling for 2nd. To match that in Vegas, he’ll have to solve the conditioning problems that have seen him fade throughout the prejudging.
photo courtesy of MuscularDevelopment.com
Winner of the last two Arnold Classics. Recovered from a potential career-ending knee injury in record time to come back and win this year’s Arnold Classic. Crowd favorite. Will be thick, hard, grainy and downright ornery when he steps on stage Friday night. Truly believes he can beat anybody in the world. Has come closer than anybody else in the lineup to winning the Sandow, finishing second to Cutler in 2010. Shape, detail and separation holds him back, especially in the back double and most muscular. Put all those things together and what do you have? In all likelihood, a virtual lock for a top-three placing.
When he’s on, Greene – another two-time Arnold Classic winner – has the most potential of the group and is the most likely candidate to stand in the way of the reigning Mr. O collecting his second Sandow. He took the entire year off to prepare for this weekend, electing to sit out the Arnold Classic and focus on the one goal he has yet to achieve. Greene won’t say it outright, but privately he truly believes that if the two come in at their best, his best is better than Heath’s. He also knows that this year is his best – and possibly last – chance to prove it.
#1 Long Live The Gift?
Is this dawn of a new era? Heath has seemingly been destined for greatness since he exploded onto the scene after his Overall win at the 2005 Junior Nationals. Much has been expected, and he is one of the rare few to deliver on those expectations. Last year, some of the most respected names in the business – Dennis James, Flex Wheeler, Dorian Yates, Chris Cormier – put Heath’s showing up there with some of the best – if not the best – they’ve ever seen on a bodybuilding stage. What does he do for an encore? He’s gotten better every time out, so there’s no reason to expect anything different this time around.
Heath knows that a second title will go a long way in cementing this as his time and, at just 32 years old, set him up for a run that could potentially rival some of the sport’s greats. He still has that chip on his shoulder – the one he’s had since Dexter Jackson and numerous others questioned his decision to bypass those early Olympias – and he’ll bring that, along with his playground, this-is-my-court attitude – to the Orleans Arena on Friday night.