The Arnold Classic Loses Big Names

by Christian Duque

Promotions for the 2022 Arnold Classic are in full force as millions of bodybuilding fans look to Columbus, OH, as the second biggest contest in physique-based sports is scheduled to take place. Its expo, one of the largest in the world – always draws a who’s who of stars and legions of faithful fans. Two of the biggest bodybuilding champions, in Brandon Curry and William Bonac, will be battling for the title and the prize money, in what can only be described as an all out war!

That said, the competition is also a fantastic place to discover new talent. So many big names have created a huge media interest by taking the stage at this historic event. Over the years, guys who place well at the ASC, have gone onto doing huge things during the pro season. Whoever wins the contest, usually becomes the most talked about bodybuilder for the proceeding six months, until the Olympia; however, this year, will be extra special. The Olympia, now back In Las Vegas, NV, won’t be happening until December!! That means that whoever wins in Columbus, will be the talk of the sport for nine months!!

Just imagine the marketing possibilities of winning big in Columbus and then making noise from March till December. The buzz is so huge, that it surpasses the interest harnessed by the previous year’s Olympia runner-up. This is the case every single year, so what’s to say 2022 would be any different. With all that said, The Arnold’s competitor pool has shrunk considerably in just a matter of a couple of weeks. The situation has become so chaotic, that I’d imagine The Arnold promoters may rethink their invitational approach. So who all is out?

Legendary Bahraini bodybuilder Mohammed Shaban, Britain’s Nathan De Asha, Brazil’s Rafel Brandao and America’s Akim William’s are all out of the competition. All of these guys could have been legitimate threats to the Top 6, with De Asha and Williams, being threats to winning the entire competition.

The fact that these huge names are not going to be competing, will undoubtedly affect tickets sales and PPV #’s throughout the world. Although the sport is far more of a niche in America, in other countries it’s totally different.

For example, who can forget Big Ramy’s win at the Olympia? He’s always draped in the Egyptian flag, the Egyptian fans take over the event hall, and he’s celebrated like a king upon his return to his homeland. While there’s some celebrating in the States, it dramatically pales in comparison to other countries around the world. Imagine if Brandao had pulled the upset, or Shaban, for that matter. And that’s just it, there are no guaranteed outcomes in bodybuilding. If the stars line up and one guy is the best he’s ever been, who’s to say he couldn’t win the contest. Not everyone comes out of the gate as a front runner; some guys, like Ronnie Coleman back in the day, take a little bit of time to find their way. Once they do, however, there’s no stopping them. That said, every single man on the Arnold Classic stage has been vetted and has been invited to be there.

Although the Arnold Classic offers huge prize money and bragging rights, it’s very different from any other contest on the pro circuit. Unlike other pro shows, pro’s can’t just take the stage in Columbus, OH. And unlike The Olympia, which requires competitors to qualify in order to compete, the Arnold Classic is an invitational. The criteria is based on a variety of factors.

To further add to the confusion, there’s no set list of factors which must be met to get an Arnold invite. It’s not based on the number of contests won, social media followings, or sponsorships. There isn’t a limit to how many competitors can come from each country and/or where competitors placed the year prior.

For example, at the Olympia, any competitor who places Top 6, is automatically qualified for the following year’s event. With the Arnold Classic, you could get runner-up one year and not be invited the next. Where you place, simply, doesn’t matter. This approach has always been their calling card, however, 2022 may have them rethink that. Right now, it looks like they have ten bodybuilders competing. At the rate they’re going, if just another competitor drops out – for whatever reason – they’ll be down to single digits. Not only would that be boring for the fans, but it would make the second toughest show in bodybuilding, an easy payday for guys like Curry and Bonac.

Whereas the Arnold has been a 2 man show in my mind – between The Prodigy and The Conqueror, it’s now starting to be just that, in reality, as well.

Brett Wilkin could potentially win it all, in an upset, but if you want my honest opinion, he’ll be lucky to take 3rd. He’s up against Arnold Champions and Top 2 Olympians. The odds of him overtaking both of these living legends, no matter how strong he is in the gym, seem low to me. What’s interesting is how impressive The Brooklyn Beast, Akim Williams, was looking. And although I hadn’t seen Nathan lately, when he’s on, he’s incredibly hard to beat. The fact that both De Asha and Williams are out, all but guarantee Wilkin a far higher placing than had he had to battle them.

When it’s all said and done, placings are what go down in history. When people look at the 2021 Arnold Classic, they’ll see that NIck Walker won it. What they won’t see is that WIlliam Bonac wasn’t able to compete. Who knows if Bonac had been able to hit the stage in 2021 in Columbus, OH, maybe Walker wouldn’t have won the title. I, for one, don’t think The Mutant would have been able to pull it off against a totally peeled Bonac, firing at 100%.

Assuming we have a Top 3 composed of Curry, Bonac, and Wilkin, might be enough to keep the fans at the edge of their seats, but there won’t be much guesswork to who’ll make Top 6 when you only have 10 guys. The fact is, we’re living in much different times and with no end in sight to the havoc brought on by the pandemic, there’s no telling how many mutations may arise over the years. The fact is, vaccines and boosters can only go so far. One thing’s curbing the effects of the pandemic, which undoubtedly saves lives, but it’s quite another to remove their spread throughout the world.

Contests like The Arnold may need to rethink their invitational model or face more years where competitor lists are cut short due to health concerns. Let’s just hope, for the contest’s sake, that no more competitors drop out. I can’t imagine an Arnold Classic with only eight or nine guys – total! That, surely, would look absolutely awful!