In the lead up to the the Arnold Classic Columbus 2016 on March 3 to 6, Lonnie Teper shows us preview of the tops contenders.
Greene light in Columbus
Thus, Greene had to watch from afar, like the rest of us, as ‘The Gift’ recorded his fifth consecutive Mr. Olympia title, despite being ‘off’ at the Friday night judging. Yup, ‘off’ enough that even the most devout Heath groupies admitted this could have been the season Greene, runner-up to Heath the previous three years, finally was capable of yanking the crown from their hero. Six months later, I still don’t know the real story on why Greene chose not to place his signature on the dotted line — there’s been several versions — so let’s close the chapter on that episode and concentrate on the present.
The biggest news prior to the 2016 Arnold Classic is Greene did sign his contract and was the first contestant to do so. And what better place for image ‘rehab’ than at the Arnold Classic’s Battelle Grand Ballroom on March 5?
It’s been six years since the wildly popular New Yorker was onstage in Columbus, Ohio. The 5’8”, 250-pound (113 kg) mass of muscle padded his wallet to the tune of $230,000 after he bested the field in both the 2009 and 2010 encounters. His performance onstage moved Arnold Schwarzenegger so much he told Greene — and the capacity filled audience — “That was the best posing routine I’ve ever seen”.
With Dexter Jackson sitting this one out after recording his record-setting fifth victory in 2015, Greene is the logical overwhelming favorite to take home another $130,000 first-place check in the latest Schwarzenegger/Jim Lorimer production.
I’ll go along with the near-unanimous consensus that Greene will win his third Arnold Classic title, but I’m not convinced that it will automatically be a stroll through the park.
I’m honoured to be the MC again for the event (I began hosting the contest in 1993), and I think it’s possible I could be calling out another name as the winner of the Saturday night finals. Not probable, but not out of the question.
Two main reasons why Greene might be challenged more than people imagine: He’s getting a bit long in the tooth at 42 years of age (give or take a year or two); can he still display the quality physique of years past? Plus, this season’s line-up of 13 isn’t chopped liver. Yes, Jackson set a new Arnold Classic record last year at 44 years old — and went on to finish second behind Heath at the Olympia two months before his 45th birthday. But Jackson is an anomaly. Ditto for Toney Freeman, still flexing on stage at 48 years old, but it’s not quite the same quality Freeman showed off in his title contention days.
Let’s take a closer look at Greene’s main competition in Columbus. The second- through fifth-place finishers from 2015 return, and all have the goods to push Greene for the title if they nail their conditioning. It would also help their cause if Greene doesn’t nail his.
First off, Branch Warren, another two-time Arnold Classic champion and second-place finisher to Jackson last season, is back. The diligent Texan had been written off as a top-tier bodybuilder a couple of years back, but following consecutive sixth-place finishes at the past two Olympias, plus the strong showing last year in Ohio, proves you can’t ignore the 5’6½”, 245-pounder’s (111 kg) chances of nabbing his third crown.
Justin Compton, the 27-year-old out of Kentucky, had an auspicious third-place finish in his Arnold Classic debut a year ago. Compton, a 5’9”, 250-pounder (113 kg), definitely has the muscle to push Greene, but will he have the conditioning to go along with it? Can he match Greene from the back? Will anybody, for that matter?
Last year I felt Compton was about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) too heavy, but was impressive enough to have some fans predicting an Arnold Classic title in 2016, regardless of who’s in the line-up. Will Compton’s youth provide the advantage against older opponents like Greene and Warren?
Then there’s Cedric McMillan. Best lines in the whole show. He stands nearly 6’3” and weighs in the neighborhood of 265 to 270 pounds (120–122 kg). The Terminator, for one, wasn’t pleased with Big Mac’s fourth-place finish last year. On the other hand, the judges (and plenty of spectators) felt once again, McMillan did not have the sharpness necessary to finish any higher.
As I’ve said far too many times, if the cat who was supposed to be the next Lee Haney can ever totally dial it in, he would be hard to beat in any line-up. But, at 38, time might be running out on McMillan to realise his full potential.
Another guy who has fallen short of expectations on the pro level is Evan Centopani, fifth last year and back again for another try this season. Centopani won the NPC Nationals in 2007 and has shown flashes of brilliance as a pro, albeit inconsistently.
Centopani is no longer the 24-year-old new kid on the block these days; at 33, Centopani can still prove he deserves to be among the best at this level. The Trumbull, Connecticut, resident has plenty of beef at 5’11” and 265 pounds (120 kg), featuring wicked arms and calves. He is a modern-day version of the late Mike Matarazzo, for those who remember the original Boston Mass. Some people say Centopani doesn’t have the drive necessary to make it to the top. I’m not so sure about that — ask me again after the show.
One of the newcomers to the line-up, Juan Morel, is an impressive 5’11”, 260-pounder (118 kg) from New York who finished second at the 2014 Arnold Classic Brazil. Look for the 33-year-old to be fighting for a top-six finish after taking 11th at the 2015 Olympia.
Others vying for a top-six finish will be Johnnie Jackson, Australian Josh Lenartowicz, Freeman and — in perhaps the second most interesting story of the night behind Greene’s return to Columbus — Cody Montgomery. Maxx Charles and Lucas Wyler, the 2015 Arnold Amateur winner, are first-time performers in the Arnold Classic who hope to be in the mix as well.
Jackson has one of the best upper bodies in the game and is always in top shape. Lenartowicz is a big dude — he stands about 5’11” and weights around the 260 to 265 mark (118–120 kg) — who ended last year with victories at the San Marino Pro and the Ferrigno Legacy.
The biggest surprise in the line-up is Montgomery. A three-time Teen Nationals champion (2012, 2013, 2014), and the Collegiate Nationals victor in 2014 as well, Montgomery became the youngest NPC competitor to ever win the Overall at a pro qualifying event when, at 20 years old, he toppled the field at last season’s USA Championships. For those deficient in math, he’s but half Greene’s age.
Now the kid, who displayed a crisp 5’8”, 224-pound (102 kg) physique at the USA, is definitely one of the industry’s rising stars. Never been beat, in fact. But is he ready to make the leap to the Arnold Classic just seven months after turning pro?
The typical procedure would be to take at least a year off to add a few pounds of muscle as his body matures and enter a less congested contest in 2007, like the New York Pro or one of the Europa events. Remember the slow but sure path Phil Heath took after dominating the 2005 USA?
I’m a Montgomery fan — told him he should have done the USA in 2014, in fact — but admit to being one of many who feel finishing in the top six will be a challenge in Columbus. Which, I assume, has to be his main goal. But then again, how many people felt he could win the USA in his first crack at a pro qualifying show?
Raymond heads 212 list
There are only eight competitors on the 212 list as of press time, but the line-up is filled with quality. The two-top finishers from last year, Jose Raymond and Hidetada Yamagishi, respectively, are back. And David Henry, second to Flex Lewis in 2014, returns to the stage this year.
Charles Dixon, the thick 5’3 ‘and change’, 195-pounder (88 kg), is always a threat, and, along with the high-quality physiques of Guy Cisternino, Cory Matthews, Korean star Kyung Won Kang and Angel Vargas, this division should be very competitive. I say it’s all the way with Jose.
There were no invites to the Men’s or Women’s Physique contests — so, with the show ‘open’ to all, 42 men and 65 women have signed up to compete on the Expo stage. Hope the judges bring plenty of Advil for these sessions — remember, the women do posing routines.
Ashley Kaltwasser, defending two-time Bikini International winner, is bypassing the contest this year, so that puts Janet Layug in the favourite’s role. Layug took third in Columbus last season and finished second to Kaltwasser at the 2015 Bikini Olympia.
To win the title, Layug will have to hold off such sublime opponents as Courtney King, India Paulino, Justine Munro and Narmin Assria, to name a few.
In the Figure division, Camala Rodriguez-McClure was one of the biggest surprises of the weekend in Columbus, coming from 13th the year prior at the Olympia to winning the crown in 2015. But it won’t be easy to repeat this time around. Latorya Watts, who placed fourth last year, is back. Back, that is, following her upset victory at the Olympia. Not sure anybody can beat her if she’s spot on.
The battle for the crown should boil down to Watts; the two Candices (Keene and Lewis-Carter), third and second, respectively, last year; and Rodriguez-McClure. Great division.
Oksana Grishina has been dominating the Fitness scene the past couple of years, and I see the 37-year-old, who resides in North Hollywood, California, leaving the Battelle Grand with another grand first-place performance.
The Arnold Classic Columbus will be held on March 3 to 6 2016.