Arnold Classic recap

This past Saturday, Sept. 25 saw the 2021 edition of The Arnold Classic take place in Columbus, Ohio. Among the many divisions competing, Men’s Open Bodybuilding stole the headlines, per the usual. The 2021 lineup was stacked. Current and former Olympians littered the stage, and the show didn’t disappoint. Some fell from the lofty heights predicted for them, others shocked and rose to the fore seemingly out of nowhere. Let’s take a look back at some of the main talking points that arose from this weekend in Columbus: 

Nick Walker takes the crown

The main talking point coming out of the final placings was newcomer Nick Walker’s win. A very young pro bodybuilder at only 26 years of age, he is known as “The Mutant” for the combination of freakish mass and conditioning he brings to the stage. And on Saturday he repeated this feat in only his third ever professional bodybuilding show. Having previously took fourth in his first show, the 2020 Chicago Pro, this year he has come on strong to first convincingly win the New York Pro title and qualify for the 2021 Mr. Olympia. This was impressive enough in and of itself; bodybuilders typically peak well into their 30s due to the necessary time requirement to build elite quality muscle size and density. Yet, Nick managed to go one better, bringing an even bigger and more cut physique to the Arnold stage than New York. He topped Ian Valliere, Steve Kuclo, Akim Williams, Sergio Oliva Jr. and many other established Olympia-level pros to win the second-most prestigious title in bodybuilding.

Steve Kuclo robbed 

Steve Kuclo can rightly be quite furious about his placing at this year’s Arnold. On the surface, this may not seem to be the case; he finished third, ahead of favorites like Akim and Sergio  and was only beaten out by Ian, who took seventh at last year’s Olympia and has since won the Tampa and Texas Pro shows, and Nick, who was fresh off his aforementioned New York Pro win. However, the final placings were a bit suspect. All through prejudging and most of the night show, Steve was clearly being considered a top-two placer by the judges. He was consistently in the first callout, and even had a special callout between himself and Nick. This seemed to indicate he was assured of a top-two spot, and deservedly so, I thought. He brought tighter conditioning that Ian on the day, and accompanied that with the freaky mass he’s been known for throughout his career in the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness (IFBB). He also notably proportionally outsized Ian in a few key areas, with the forward-facing and leg-dominant poses exposing Ian’s lack of calf and chest size in comparison to Steve, whose physique was far more complete on the day. In the end, he wouldn’t have qualified for the Olympia anyway, as only the winner received a place at this year’s Mr. O. Still, he did lose out on an extra $25,000 in prize money, which won’t sit well.

Sergio’s posing outcry 

Sergio Oliva Jr., son of the legendary Sergio Oliva, took home the Best Poser award for his individual routine at the Arnold, making himself $10,000 in the process. So, why was he up in arms about the way posing was judged at the Arnold? A quick look at the judges’ score cards answers the question. For a bit of background, bodybuilding shows have three rounds that are scored: one round that takes place on the morning of show day (referred to as “prejudging”), an evening round (the “night show”) and an individual posing routine (this takes place at each of the morning and evening rounds. A well done routine allows the athlete to show off his strengths/more favorable muscle groups, and receive credit for things like grace and elegance). Bodybuilding is like golf in that lowest score wins. This is because the score each judge gives the athlete in each round is where they would place them. So, if a judge thinks an athlete looks the best in prejudging, for example, they would receive a score of one for that round, or a two for second best, etc. The theory then is that the scoring for the posing routines would reflect that Sergio had the best posing routine, and his score would be the lowest in this category.

This wasn’t the case. He received a score of 29 in the posing round, which amongst the five judges, works out to around an average score of six (or sixth best) in the posing round. Clearly this doesn’t add up, with the prevailing theory being that posing really isn’t taken into account when scoring bodybuilding shows anymore. The judges made the call that Sergio deserved to place sixth, so they made sure the scores they put in for his routine were such that his overall score (prejudging + night show + posing) placed him in sixth. However, his routine was so good as to earn him the Best Poser award. As such, it becomes clear that posing is no longer taken seriously in professional bodybuilding, something Sergio took to social media to express his frustrations with. This is a real shame, as it signals the elegant side of the sport is being thrown away. I personally am very disappointed to see this change occurring. Bodybuilding has always been about building a physique that combines muscle mass with aesthetics, and places an emphasis on the beauty of the human figure through posing. Take away the posing, and all one is left with is mass building, which while impressive in its own right is nowhere near as difficult as placing all of that mass into a position of dexterity, balance, and grace. It’s a sad sight to see.

Looking forward, the Arnold is by no means the pinnacle of the bodybuilding season. The Olympia is still to come in merely two weeks time (be sure to read my article on it afterwards), and we now have some great insights into what to expect. Big Ramy, Hadi Choopan and Brandon Curry may still be the favorites, but Nick will be sure to give them a run for their money; William Bonac will want redemption after missing the Arnold due to travel issues; and there’s always the wild card that is Roelly Winklaar. The drama is just beginning.