by Geoff Roberts
How many times have you heard that the 90’s era was the most competitive era in the history of bodybuilding? If you follow the bodybuilding industry at all, this is something you hear and have heard on a consistent basis. While making a case for this notion, people are quick to rattle off names like Flex Wheeler, Kevin Levrone, Nasser El Sonbaty, Vince Taylor and Shawn Ray. More to the point, this list of names is commonly used to make the case that Kevin or Flex would have won several Olympia titles had they been competing in the modern era. Which clearly implies that in the last ten years or so, the competition at the top of our sport cannot hold a candle to that of the 90’s. While very few individuals within our industry, if any, disagree with this notion, I feel a case can be made that the modern era is equally as competitive as the 90’s, or at least fairly close.
The idea that a sport was better and/or more competitive twenty years ago is one which can be seen in numerous sports. Basketball fans, particularly fans who are 35 or older, will go to their grave debating that the players of the 90’s would dominate the players of today. Great athletes of the past often get more credit than they might deserve due to the fact that over time, the more they are discussed and praised, the larger and more fantastical their legacy becomes. Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth come to mind. Lebron James could be the best player in the league five more years, break nearly every record in the league, win ten championships while riding a unicorn into the arena and older NBA fans would still chuckle at the idea of him being greater than MJ. Michael Jordan’s lore has swelled to an insurmountable level in the minds of most. Babe Ruth was certainly great, however he more than likely played against his fair share of scrubs in those days. He would potentially be helpless in today’s game, yet his legacy and allure has immortalized him by way of Hollywood movies, tall tales and greatest-all-time debates.
Phil Heath’s competition is and has always has been no joke. Much like Dorian in the 90’s, Phil’s competition has been comprised of some of the greatest, most legendary bodybuilders of all time. Big Ramy came on the scene in 2013 when Phil was attempting to win his third Olympia title. The instant Ramy turned professional he dominated the New York pro and was a threat at any pro show he entered, much like Flex, Kevin and Shawn in the 90s. Since then he has won four more professional titles, including the New York pro a second time. Ramy has also placed top five at the Olympia for three consecutive years, the most recent of which was his runner up finish last year. It’s safe to say that by the end of his career, Big Ramy will have built a resume on par with nearly any competitor in the 90s era.
Branch Warren may not have had the prettiest or most aesthetically pleasing physique of all time, but he is certainly a bonafide legend in our sport. Branch started his career by proving the countless individuals who claimed he did not have the genetics to be a top professional bodybuilder dead wrong. Branch went on to win nearly ten pro shows, including two Arnold Classic titles. Branch finished in the money at the Mr. Olympia a half dozen times, the most impressive of which was his shocking runner up finish to Jay Cutler in 2009. All of that said, Warren’s most impressive accomplishment came by way of arguably the greatest injury comeback in bodybuilding history. Branch tore his quad tendon slipping in a wet parking lot six months before the 2012 Arnold Classic. This was a truly herculean feat of strength and will, the likes of which is rarely if ever seen. Speaking of Jay Cutler, he was pretty good as well. Four time Olympia champion, who if not for Ronnie Coleman descending to earth from neptune, would have realistically been Mr. Olympia nine times. Jay is also the only Mr. Olympia in history to lose the title then gain it back, despite several great champions attempting this same feat throughout the years.
Now we come to Kai Green. AKA Mr. Getting it Done. AKA The Drama King. AKA Mr. Refuse to Answer Every Question Under Any Circumstance. AKA Mr. Pretend Introspective Philosopher. AKA one of the greatest physiques in human history. What more can be said about The Predator? Kai has competed in close to thirty professional events and had his hand raised in victory over ten times. What’s more, Kai has placed top four at the Olympia on five separate occasions, which include four runner up finishes. Last but not least, he has three Arnold Classic titles to his credit and displayed a physique at the 2009 rendition which many believe was one of the most impressive packages ever brought to a bodybuilding stage, in any era. In other words, he fits right into the same category as Shawn, Flex and Kevin.
How about Dexter Jackson? Is he any good? Dexter is the proverbial nail in the coffin in regards to making a case that the Phil Heath era is equally as competitive as the 90s era once was. Some say Dexter was part of both eras, which is a bit silly. Dexter began competing at the professional level in 1999, had his best year to date in 2008, placed second at the Olympia in 2016 and placed forth at the big dance just last year. Hard to make a realistic case for him being a “90s era” bodybuilder. First and foremost, Dexter is the most winning-est bodybuilder of all time and more than likely will remain as such for the remainder of time. Game. Dexter is also the sole leader in number of Arnold Classic Ohio wins, another record which may never be toppled. Set. How about Jackson’s Olympia success? Let’s see. He has been top five at the biggest and most prestigious show in all of bodybuilding a staggering sixteen times, including one runner up and of course, the 2008 Mr. Olympia victory. Match.
This case for the competitiveness of the Phil Heath era has been made void of mentioning names like William Bonac, Roelly Winklaar or Shawn Rhoden. As one can see, this Phil Heath era has been far from weak, far from boring, and certainly far from noncompetitive. At the very least, the athletes discussed above possess very similar pedigree to those of the much touted 90s era. It’s easy to let nostalgia take over and be of the opinion that Flex Wheeler or Kevin Levrone would have won a dozen Mr Olympia titles had they been born fifteen years later. We are all guilty of this nostalgic viewpoint from time to time when discussing the greats of various sports we enjoy. That said, we should cherish what we have available for us to enjoy today. The future of our sport may depend on it.