Defeating Mr. Olympia

“The wolf on the hill is not as hungry as the wolf climbing the hill.”
“That’s true, but when he wants the food, it’s there.”

– Quote from the movie “Pumping Iron”

Since its inception in 1965, there have only been 13 Mr. Olympia winners. It is a very elite company and once you are declared the King of Bodybuilding, it is not easy to be dethroned. In less than three months, Phil Heath will attempt to win his fourth Mr. Olympia title. Vegas money is on him doing it again. What would it take for someone to enter the contest and knock Phil off his throne? Let’s take a look at the history of the Mr. Olympia contest to see some of the more memorable examples of when the reigning champ was defeated by the hungry wolf climbing the hill.


1970 Mr. Olympia – Arnold beats Sergio

The Mr. Olympia contest was only five years old when Arnold Schwarzenegger put a stop to the reign of “The Myth” Sergio Oliva. Sergio was an incredible bodybuilder with outrageous muscle mass combined with never before seen proportions. His tiny 28-inch waist contrasted with his wide shoulders, huge chest and back and enormous 22-inch arms. His massive thighs and calves completed the masterpiece (one of his thighs measured bigger than his waist when Sergio was in his prime).

Sergio was so dominating that he won his second Mr. Olympia title in 1968 unopposed because no other bodybuilder had the guts to be compared to The Myth.
So how did Arnold defeat probably the most genetically gifted bodybuilder in history? First of all, Arnold was no slouch in the physique department himself. The youngest Mr. Universe winner in history (at the age of 20), Arnold was taller and bigger than Sergio even if he didn’t share his mythic proportions.

His huge biceps and massive chest were the highlights of his physique and had made him a bodybuilding star after his Mr. Universe win in 1967. Schwarzenegger had a bigger structure than Oliva so he wasn't blown away by Sergio’s size when they stood together onstage.

Arnold first competed against Sergio at the 1969 Mr. Olympia contest. Weighing approximately 235 pounds, the lean and mean Schwarzenegger was defeated by the reigning Mr. Olympia but it was a close decision. The judges awarded Sergio his third title by a slim 4-3 vote. Arnold had an upper body that firmly challenged Oliva and his muscle definition was actually slightly superior. However, Sergio had those incredible proportions and muscle bellies and was again the judges’ choice for the best physique in the world.

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After his defeat, Arnold obtained films of Sergio posing and studied his physique and his posing routine. Arnold saw how Sergio would hit the same poses in the same order each time he posed. He also took note that Sergio would often make mistakes during his posing, like leaving his legs unflexed when he did a most muscular pose.

Also, Sergio wasn’t the most graceful poser and he seemed to rely on the dominance of his physique to blow away the judges. Arnold also studied his own physique, taking note of both his strong and weak points. His massive chest and incredible biceps were superior to any bodybuilder in the world at that time. However, his waist was a little wide from the front, especially in comparison to the tiny-waisted Sergio. His legs, although very separated and defined, were not as big as the massive Oliva.

To overcome these shortcomings in his physique, Arnold added poses to his routine in which he would twist at the waist to make his upper body appear larger and his waist smaller. He also did more side poses so he wouldn’t have to compare with Oliva directly from the front. Finally, he worked on his routine over and over again, increasing the speed in which he could transition from one pose to another in order to attract the judges’ attention. He knew Sergio was slow moving in his posing routine so he hoped to take advantage of this weakness in the champ.


Arnold also made dramatic improvements to his physique from 1969 to 1970. He trained like a madman with the intention of defeating Sergio and becoming the new Mr. Olympia. When he arrived in America in 1968, Arnold was massive at 250 pounds but too heavy to win the top titles. One year later, he had overhauled his physique, losing 15 pounds of fat to compete at a lean 235 pounds. This allowed him to win two more Mr. Universe titles and take second to Sergio at the 1969 Mr. Olympia. His game plan for 1970 was get even bigger while maintaining his level of muscle definition. A bigger Arnold would be the winning formula for defeating the “unbeatable” Sergio.

His physique aside, one of Arnold’s strongest weapons throughout his life has been his charisma. Everywhere he goes, Arnold attracts attention because of his magnetic personality that seems to draw people to him. Obviously, this is a big asset for Arnold when he competes onstage. When Arnold stood onstage against other formidable bodybuilders, the eyes of the audience and judges would be drawn to him over everyone else.

Arnold was not only a determined bodybuilder in the gym but also a fierce competitor onstage. He would do whatever it took to win, even if it meant making his opponent look bad.

When Arnold and Sergio were doing a “pose-off” at the evening show of the 1970 Mr. Olympia, Arnold leaned over to Sergio and said “Hey Sergio, I’m beat, let’s get out of here.” Sergio agreed and started to walk off stage. The impassioned New York bodybuilding fans started to voice their displeasure by booing. Arnold, hearing the roar from the crowd, stopped in his tracks and made it seem like Sergio was abandoning the fight and leaving the stage. He then motioned for Sergio to come back onstage.


This small act of upstaging the champ may not have been the full reason for Arnold’s victory but it may very well have been the final nail in the coffin for Oliva’s Mr. Olympia reign. Sergio had let his ego get in the way of his contest preparation by gaining more weight after his surprising loss to Arnold weeks earlier at the AAU Mr. World contest in Columbus, Ohio. In the end, he was too smooth to beat a polished and hungry Schwarzenegger who used every advantage possible to become the new king of bodybuilding.


1984 Mr. Olympia – Lee Haney beats Samir Bannout

After Arnold retired from bodybuilding in 1975, there was no dominant figure to take his place. At first, it looked like either Lou Ferrigno or Robby Robinson was going to be the one to step into the vacancy left by the king of bodybuilding. However, Robby was defeated for three consecutive years by the smaller but more symmetrical Frank Zane and Lou went to Hollywood to star in “The Incredible Hulk” TV series instead of pursuing his bodybuilding career.

Both Arnold and Franco Columbu staged comebacks in the early 1980s but those victories were met with a storm of controversy and actually threatened to undermine the reputation of the Mr. Olympia title. Chris Dickerson won the title in 1982 followed by the ripped and symmetrical physique of Samir Bannout in 1983. But, again, there was no dominant bodybuilder to take over like both Oliva and Schwarzenegger had.

That all changed in 1984 when Lee Haney stepped onto the Mr. Olympia stage in New York. For the first time since Arnold, the bodybuilding world had a Mr. Olympia winner who possessed the structure, muscle mass and symmetry to dominate the sport and hold onto the Mr. Olympia title for years to come.

Lee Haney was one of the most successful bodybuilders when it came to contest victories in the history of the sport. From his win at the 1979 Teenage Mr. America to his sweep of the top amateur titles in 1982 (NPC Jr. Nationals, NPC Nationals, IFBB Mr. Universe), Haney was on top of the world at the ripe age of 22 years old.

When Lee made his professional contest debut in February of 1983 at the Pro World Championships in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he took a very respectable third place behind Mohamed Makkawy and Greg DeFerro. However, the big and wide Haney physique definitely made its presence known as Lee dwarfed the line-up of veteran top professional bodybuilders, including his boyhood idol Robby Robinson.

His next professional contest was met with a resounding victory when Haney won the 1983 Night of the Champions contest. Makkawy sat this contest out but Lee did defeat Greg DeFerro at this contest, demonstrating the improvements his genetically gifted physique was able to make in only three short months.

Haney made his Mr. Olympia debut later that year in Munich, Germany. The fifteen-man line-up included three-time Mr. Olympia winner Frank Zane and the extremely massive Bertil Fox as well as the incredible Samir Bannout and the Magical Egyptian himself, Mohamed Makkawy. At 5’11” and weighing a massive 230 pounds, Haney took a strong third place in his Mr. Olympia debut, losing only to Samir and Makkawy.


Instead of being overjoyed at placing third in his first Mr. Olympia contest and beating former Mr. Olympia Frank Zane, Haney was disappointed because he felt that he had screwed up his contest preparation for the 1983 Mr. Olympia. Lee was planning on competing at a massive 240 pounds but he ended up standing onstage at a mere 230 pounds because of a mistake in his diet preparations.

The startling potential of Lee Haney became apparent at the three Grand Prix events that took place the week following the Mr. Olympia. Placing third at the first show, Haney took a very close second to Mohamed Makkawy at the next two competitions, literally growing before our eyes with each contest. In only one week, Lee Haney had become bigger and more ripped as the week wore on, so much so that nearly everyone except the judges thought he deserved to beat Mohamed Makkawy at the final Grand Prix event in London.


Before 1983 was over, Lee Haney would notch another victory in his competitive career by winning the Las Vegas Grand Prix in November of that year. Held in conjunction with the Women’s Grand Prix (developed specifically for the movie “Pumping Iron 2: The Women”), the men’s competition was an easy win for the massive 240-pound Haney who caught most of the professional bodybuilders he was competing against in off season shape. The incredible Makkawy, normally as sharp and polished as the finest diamond, was way off top condition and slipped to eighth place.

With no Night of the Champions contest held in the spring of 1984, all eyes were focused on New York City in the fall when the Mr. Olympia contest would finally return to the Big Apple. Samir Bannout, the reigning champion, was being upstaged by the exciting return of The Myth himself, Sergio Oliva. After twelve years away from the Mr. Olympia stage, Sergio had been convinced to forgive all his problems with the IFBB and return to the contest that had made him a legend.

When the twenty-man line-up walked onto the crowded stage, all eyes were on Sergio. The romantic bodybuilding fans of The Myth were hoping the young Sergio of 1972 would magically reappear onstage and wipe out the current crop of bodybuilders. However, they were sadly disappointed when the 43-year-old Oliva walked out on stage. Although still an incredible bodybuilder in his own right, possessing muscle mass and proportions that even the younger bodybuilders could only dream about, Sergio did not have the modern day conditioning that the top level bodybuilders exhibited.

When the excitement settled down and the rabid bodybuilding fans took a serious look at the line-up, there was no doubt who the new Mr. Olympia would be. Lee Haney was dramatically transformed from the rookie pro who stepped onstage a year ago. Weighing a massive 243 pounds, Haney was not only the biggest man in the line-up but he also displayed a small waist and near perfect proportions.


The reigning Mr. Olympia, Samir Bannout, did not duplicate the incredible conditioning that he achieved one year earlier. Holding a slight film of water under his skin, Samir defeated himself by failing to live up to the high standards he had set in 1983 when he won the title. The judges were very harsh on the returning champ, relegating him all the way down to sixth place when most of the audience had him in the top three.

Regardless, Haney was a man with a destiny to fulfill. Never displaying a hint of doubt or uncertainty, Lee took to the stage like he had already won the title. His posing routine was majestic and fit for a king. Dropping the top 40 song he had used the previous year (“Heavy Metal” by Don Felder), Haney chose the music from the movie “Excalibur” for his posing routine. Demonstrating that he was in control of the audience, the new Mr. Olympia boldly took a chance by pausing in the middle of his routine, holding his arms out straight with his head down as he held his body in a lunge position. It worked! The audience held its breath as they witnessed the dramatic birth of a new bodybuilding champion.

In the end, Lee Haney became Mr. Olympia by focusing on himself instead of his competition. Although both Samir Bannout and Mohamed Makkawy were excellent bodybuilders, they were a completely different physique type than Haney – more elegance and beauty than mass and power. Instead of trying to “out symmetry” the aesthetic physiques of Bannout and Makkawy, Haney decided to get bigger and “Squash them like a bug!” By adding quality pounds of muscle to his large frame and capitalizing on his superior mass and shape, Lee Haney left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was the new Mr. Olympia.


2006 Mr. Olympia – Jay Cutler beats Ronnie Coleman

In the 22 years since Lee Haney beat the reigning Mr. Olympia Samir Bannout for the title, no one had ever defeated the reigning king of bodybuilding. Haney won eight consecutive Mr. Olympia titles from 1984 until he decided to retire in 1991. After Lee decided to step down from the podium, Dorian Yates took over the Mr. Olympia crown in 1992 and held off a very tough field of bodybuilders until he decided to retire in 1997 with six consecutive wins.

In 1998, to the surprise of many including the new champ himself, Ronnie Coleman won the title of Mr. Olympia. Ronnie defeated a hopeful group of potential successors including Nasser El Sonbaty, Flex Wheeler, Shawn Ray and Kevin Levrone. With each passing year, Ronnie seemed to grow bigger and more dominating until he was eventually dwarfing the competition with ease.

However, in 2001, Ronnie was caught by surprise by a new kid on the block. Jay Cutler, who only managed eighth place one year earlier, surprised the bodybuilding world by actually placing ahead of Ronnie in the prejudging.

Jay always showed great potential but that promise was actualized on the Mandalay Bay stage that year as he pushed the then three-time champ to the wire. Cutler matched Coleman in structure and size and his freaky striated quadriceps and rock hard abs had the reigning champ on the ropes after prejudging ended. The sold out crowd was energized at the prospect of a new Mr. Olympia being crowned that evening.


Unfortunately for Jay, Ronnie Coleman came back to the evening show with a second wind. Shedding much of the water bloat that plagued him at the prejudging, Ronnie showed a champion’s mindset as he pumped up the crowd with an upbeat posing routine that included an onstage wardrobe change in which he revealed a skimpy pair of red, white and blue posing trunks.

Jay Cutler, in contrast, arrived at the finals much too relaxed when he had the victory in his hands. Instead of going for the jugular with a knockout performance, Jay presented a slow and controlled posing routine that eased off the gas instead of pushing hard for the win. At the end of the night, Cutler substantially increased both his fan base and his status as a top Mr. Olympia contender but Ronnie Coleman was the one who took home his fourth Sandow trophy.

After sitting out 2002, Cutler was back to challenge Ronnie for the title in 2003. At this point, the previous top competitive threats to Ronnie – Kevin Levrone and Flex Wheeler – seemed to be past their prime and the only one who could legitimately take on The Big Nasty was Cutler. However, Ronnie was just too big and dominating to be beaten. Weighing an inconceivable 287 pounds in 2003, Coleman redefined the word “Freak” and left the judges and audience shaking their heads at the amazing display of mass and conditioning that arrived onstage that night.

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Cutler shared his Olympia preparations each year with his ambitions to win the coveted Arnold Classic title six months earlier. Beginning in 2002, Jay won three Arnold Classic titles in a row. Feeling that his double prep each year was starting to diminish his chances of eventually beating Ronnie Coleman, Cutler decided to spend all of 2005 preparing solely for the Mr. Olympia title. After three runner-up spots at the Mr. O, Cutler was ready to move up to the top spot.

Cutler pushed Ronnie very hard in 2005 and he believed that he was the winner that night. For the first time, Jay was able to match Ronnie on the back shots. His rear lat spread pose, a pose that Ronnie used to refer to as “lights out” when it came to vanquishing his competition, was now on par with Coleman. However, in a close decision, Jay was again second at the end of the night. After losing to Ronnie for the fourth time, Jay was deeply disappointed and even contemplated retiring. However, this melancholy mood didn’t last long and Cutler was soon back in the gym ready to take on the reigning champ the following year.

Coming back in 2006, Jay was ready to win! He had increased his bodyweight over 10 pounds from the following year in order to overcome the incredible size of Ronnie Coleman. The reigning Mr. Olympia was still a beast and no one could outsize him, but he was now starting to show weaknesses in his physique. He seemed to be suffering from some type of nerve damage because his triceps and lats on one side of his body was dissimilar in development compared to the other side. Also, the tremendous amount of size that Ronnie had added to his physique since his win in 1998 had the unwanted side effect of increasing his waist size and causing stomach distension.

When Cutler stepped onstage at a massive 267 pounds, he acted like the winner. Sporting a deeply bronzed tan, Jay nailed every mandatory pose to perfection to convince the judging panel that it was time for a new Mr. Olympia to take over. Ronnie was not about to give up his crown without a fight though as he growled his way through the mandatory poses onstage. When they were finally compared to each other, the consensus amongst the experts was that Jay had the edge this year and his persistence and hard work had paid off.

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Another incident that may have played a factor in the crowning of a new Mr. Olympia that year took place at the press conference one day earlier. Looking at a record breaking nine consecutive Mr. Olympia victories if he won again, Ronnie was asked if he would retire should he win the title that weekend. Coleman’s reply was that he wasn’t going anywhere. He loved being Mr. Olympia and had no intentions of ever stopping. His candid answer was surprising to everyone in the audience. If Ronnie was never going to quit, then he would have to be beaten in order for a new Mr. Olympia to take over the crown.

When the evening show arrived, the buzz was in the air. Could Jay Cutler be the first bodybuilder in 22 years to actually defeat the reigning Mr. Olympia? The audience was on the edge of their seats as emcee Bob Cicherillo announced the winner of the 2006 Mr. Olympia. When he shouted the name “Jay Cutler”, the auditorium exploded into a sea of screaming and cheers. Ronnie Coleman had been dethroned and a new King of Bodybuilding had arrived.

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The intriguing reality of the Mr. Olympia contest is that the bodybuilding fans become restless after one person holds onto the title for more than a few years. There is drama and excitement when the reigning champ is dethroned and a new king is crowned. The same bodybuilder winning over and over again tends to get boring, even if that champ is dominating and the best bodybuilder in the world.
However, defeating the current champ is never easy. Someone doesn’t win the Mr. Olympia without having conquered all aspects of being a great bodybuilder. From their physique to their stage presence to their preparation for the contest, Mr. Olympia usually doesn’t make mistakes so it’s not easy to take the title away from him.

As the examples of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney and Jay Cutler have shown, it is possible to defeat the current Mr. Olympia. That hungry bodybuilder hoping to become the new king must present his physique at its absolute best and not try to play the same game as the champ. He also needs to have the mental mindset that the title is his and he needs to act like it onstage. There can be no doubt or hesitation if he wants to convince the judges and the fans that he is the new King.


Phil Heath is a great bodybuilder. Not only is his physique incredible with tremendous size and crazy muscle separation but he also has the mental mindset to dominate the stage. Many fans thought his conduct onstage at the 2012 Mr. Olympia was arrogant but Phil simply does not want to lose. In order to take the Mr. Olympia title away from him, someone is going to have to aggressively yank it out of his strong grip. They must have the mental fortitude to really BELIEVE that they are winner.

Will someone be able to take away the Mr. Olympia title from Phil Heath? Time will tell but the odds are against them. It will take an extraordinary bodybuilder who has both the mental and physical ability to dominate the stage and knock off the champ. The bodybuilding fans are ready and waiting for it to happen. Will someone step up to the plate and make it reality?


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