Like him or not Phil Heath, “The Gift,” must be on a mental high right now and deservedly so. Phil has quickly climbed the mountain of success in bodybuilding that few have even approached, and he has done so in an unprecedented fashion. "The Gift" did what many felt impossible at the time by defeating the Goliath of Jay Cutler in a similar fashion to the way Jay did Ronnie in 2006. As someone in his position how could you not feel good about yourself and confident in your status given the circumstances it took to get there, and the fact that you were able to achieved it, it in this case a task only 12 other men have accomplished. Phil has climbed up the ranks to the highest status one can achieve in his profession which is an admirable accomplishment in any field and has crushed all those who stood in his way previously. Kai, Jay, and Rhoden have all been handedly defeated by Phil and so there is only one person right now who is still a legitimate threat in the mind of Phil Heath and that is Cedric McMillan.
Many would make an argument for Shawn Rhoden as a major threat at the Olympia title and, if you just look at his recent rise to fame and prominence last season, you must immediately acknowledge the potential he has to be an upset. This is still a stretch, and even Phil stated he doesn’t perceive Shawn as a threat on his Twitter. I do not think he is an afterthought as Phil claims, especially going from not placing at the beginning of the year to winning a series of shows the same year; however, Rhoden "only" received 3rd (at the hardest show on the planet) meaning his physique would still have to top that of a little fella named Kai Greene before he could even be in contention with Phil Heath. As lethal as the Aceto/Rhoden pair has been, we have to ask ourselves how much further can someone who's been lifting for well over a decade really push his physique beyond improved conditioning? The constant criticism I hear of Shawn is that he needs another 10 pounds to be invincible which may not seem like much for a novice lifter starting at nothing, but it is a whole different ballgame for someone who has been training for a while and already developed a physique. As well, Shawn is no spring chicken in that he's in his late 30s and growth factors have to start restricting at some point. Though I don't find it likely that Shawn will surpass Phil, he is a potential contender for years to come, and who knows what he's capable with a full off-season with Aceto.
Several of the problems facing Rhoden also apply to Kai too, particularly in that they are not getting younger. Remember the last time we all said Kai looked good? That was the first time he won the Arnold classic defeating none other than, you guessed it, Philip Heath, but that was almost four years ago now. We all know the saying “You’re only as good as your last contest,” and at his last show Kai was incapable of winning the Olympia at what I felt was his all-time best as he brought the same Arnold conditioning with additional size. Besides improving his presentation in the mandatory poses and miracle surgery that lessens the genetic width of his hips, there really isn't much more you can realistically add to improve Kai Greene. If Kai was incapable of winning it last year at his all time best (again he’s only getting older), what are the real odds of it happening this year? Phil knows this too, and though he isn't a quickly growing twenty-something anymore, if Kai, Dexter, and Tony are any indication, Phil Heath could not only maintain but improve his physique for another decade.
Last (and least), we have the white guys that are too old to do anything. Jay and Branch have been competing with one another since the early 90’s at the Teen Nationals, and as a consequence, both have cumulative injuries that have negatively affected their physiques, and more recently both acquired highly publicized major injuries: Jay with the purple bicep and Branch with a torn quad. Meanwhile Dennis Wolf has been relegated to a solid top-five pro. Dennis could possibly win a major show such as the Arnold Classic (I think it was a major mistake for him to pull out this year) or New York Pro, but I think Wolf will perpetually fall short of obtaining the Olympia title. Dennis is another one of those guys who is simply too old to add the mass necessary to defeat Phil, and cigarettes do not slow the aging process either...
This leaves us with one serious threat to the reign of Phil Heath and that is Cedric McMillan. This has the potential to be one of the greatest rivalries since King Kamali and Craig Titus, but instead of competing for fifth place at some third-tier show, both are after the most prestigious trophy in bodybuilding, the Sandow.
It is these type of rivalries that add a character factor to the sport of bodybuilding and thus increase its interest. What makes these rivalries even better is when you can tell these guys genuinely have no love lost between the two. Recently Aaron Singerman posted an article about an advertisement produced by BPI where Jay is indirectly attacking Phil. At first it seemed interesting, but the more I thought about it, the less amped I became about a resurgence of the Jay v. Phil rivalry. We have seen this battle already and we know how it ends... Phil wins eventually. On top of this, like Matt mentioned in one of his articles, how much rivalry can there really be between two supposed "best friends"?
Just a few months ago a post on Facebook went largely unnoticed that I believe will serve as the spark to the fire that is the ensuing industry-war between Cedric and Phil. While Jay Cutler's latest marketing scheme is a clear attempt to sell more products, Cedric essentially made the same comments months ago but instead of doing it in an ad to increase product sales, it sounded like a genuine heartfelt promise.
Although Cedric later recanted his statements, I think it’s pretty clear he is not a fan of Phil to say the least, and why should he be? Unlike the others mentioned in this piece who are beginning to get too old to be in serious contention, Cedric is only two years older than Phil and up until recently had been very lackadaisical in his diet, training, and supplementation. Discussing it with people “in the know,” it sounds to me like Cedric was very “Ronnie Colmanesque” in his prep. Much like Ronnie before getting with Chad Nichols (or in Ced’s case, Aceto), in that he was very sloppy in how he handled every facet of bodybuilding while coming up with his own program and admittedly wasn’t optimizing his physique. Yet Cedric has so much raw ability that he was still capable of winning NPC Nationals and later the IFBB Europa with a similar package. On top of that, serving a tour of combat duty for your country can be a little distracting from your bodybuilding aspirations (America, Fuck Yeah!). Aceto himself has stated that Cedric has a higher genetic potential compared to his other top-tier client Shawn Rhoden, and if his transformation with Aceto from his Europa win to NY Pro win is any indication, then Ced is just beginning to harness his potential. If Phil Heath doesn’t recognize him as a threat, he is a fool.
As you can tell from his breakdown following his win at the Europa, Cedric is very real guy who doesn't hold back, and that is in part what makes him interesting. There are very few real people in this industry, and even fewer interesting people, but I believe Cedric to be one of them. Clearly he has a goal in mind and one man stands in the way of him achieving it: Phil Heath. So why should we expect Cedric to adorn the person who’s keeping him from his goals and feel pressure to apologize for actions when he doesn’t? In fact, as a competitor, I am glad to see Cedric going after Phil the way he is, and it seems genuine unlike Jay’s feeble post-hoc attempt at throwing himself back in the mix this year. This mental approach may even give Cedric the advantage that Kai Greene lacked at this year’s Olympia and potentially lost him the show. Please Cedric, if you read this, don’t let Phil stand a foot in front of you on stage.
As Cedric prepares for the Arnold classic, I feel the classic Pumping Iron is only appropriate to provide an analogy for the situation. Cedric is the hungry wolf who is climbing the hill and just got his first taste of success ($$$), but now he is even hungrier and desires more, which is going to require him to challenge whoever is on top of the hill, and in this circumstance that is Phil Heath. When all is said and done, Phil is still current champ and should heed the advice from one Mr. Olympia to another:
“The wolf climbing the hill is hungrier than the wolf on the top the hill."
To which Arnold responded "Yeah, but if the wolf wants the food, it's there."