Upon seeing the word Buff in The Daily Post today, my first thought was body building. I have been in love with the world of weight lifting and body building since I was a young boy. The 80s were fueled by larger than life characters. Cartoons characters like He-Man (my personal favorite) and Thundercats; wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior; or actors like Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, or Arnold Scwarzenegger were enough to cause the most mentally strong among us to develop body dysmorphia. Getting back to our friend Arnold. He wasn’t just known as his work in Conan or the Terminator…no no no. Arnold was a champion bodybuilder. When we finally got HBO in the 80s, I watched a little documentary about the unknown sport of bodybuilding: Pumping Iron. Pumping Iron was released in 1977 and there is no doubt that it launched Arnold’s popularity into the mainstream, but it also brought light into a sport that was very misunderstood.
With the advent of social media and video platforms like Youtube, bodybuilding is an ever growing and ever changing sport. Bodybuilding is defined as “the use of progressive resistance exercise to control and develop one’s musculature,” while an “individual who engages in this activity is called a bodybuilder.” These bodybuilders appear in lineups and perform specified poses for panels of judges who rank their scores based on symmetry, muscularity, and conditioning. This comprehensive list will be throughout time and will be not necessarily be based on IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding) sanctioned competitions wins at the Arnold, Mr. Universe, or Mr. Olympia (which its winner is recognized as the world’s top male professional bodybuilder); but will be based on a combination of their aesthetics, physiques, training regiment/work ethic, and over all influence on the sport. Bodybuilding developed in the late 19th century but traditional stone-lifting traditions were practiced in ancient Egypt, Greece and Ireland whie weightlifting developed in Europe in the late 1800s. Strongman feats of strength for public display was to showcase their strength while bodybuilding is based on the muscularity and one’s physique. The “Father of Modern Bodybuilding” would be considered Eugen Sandow and he even organized the first bodybuilding contest on September 14, 1901 which was called the “Great Competition”. Though I do list Sandow on my list of greatest bodybuilders, Sandow’s lasting impression on the world of bodybuilding is seen every year when “The Sandow” (a trophy in his likeness) is presented to the winner of the Mr. Olympia contest.
So with that being said, I present to you Top Cat’s Top 10: Greatest Male Bodybuilders of all time.
Franco Columbu – At only 5’4″, Franco Columbu accomplished a lot in the world of bodybuilding. The two time Mr. Olympia and former World’s Strongest Man competitor did not let his height stand in the way of his domination of anything that he put his mind to.
Frank Zane – Frank Zane ruled the bodybuilding world from 1977 to 1979, when he won the overall Mr. Olympia title all three years. Besides being one of three men to have beaten Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bodybuilding competition and being one of the few Olympia winners under 200 lbs; Zane became known as “The Chemist” due to his supplement and amino acid use back in the day. It also could have also had something to do with the fact that the math and science teacher received a bachelor of science degree from Wilkes University in 1964 and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cal State in 1977.
10. Branch Warren – I began repping House of Pain workout gear around 2002; when I began to be serious about my weight lifting. At that time Branch Warren was beginning to be a big name in weight lifting and his sponsorship through House of Pain brought images of a bald headed brute doing dips with 240 lbs of chains around his neck to the homepage. As time grew, I would watch his videos and modify my workout plans because of his results in certain areas. He was and is a huge motivation for me in regards to weight lifting. Oh. I got so caught up with my stuff that I forgot to mention that he has placed within the top 10 at the Mr. Olympia competition 8 times, won the Arnold Classic 2 times and has countless other show wins/accolades. His bare bones, heavy weight lifting regiment is criticized by some because of the risk of injury but it has gotten him the results to place him amongst the greatest.
9. Phil Heath – The current and 6-time Mr. Olympia has placed first in every competition from 2011 to 2016. The multi-time champion is a Seattle, Washington native and is known as the Gift. Whether he is known as the gifted because he is gifted or because he has been ‘gifted’ a lot of things in the sport is of much debate to number 8, Kai Greene. I don’t like him, but I have to give credit where credit is due. He is a great bodybuilder and is definitely influential. Okay. That’s all the nice things that I’ll say about him.
8. Kai Greene – The soft-spoken, philosophical bodybuilder is known for his eccentric ways; but the ‘mind-muscle connection’ bodybuilding technique, as well as the utilization of his self-portraits allows Green to maintain his ideal physique. The avid artist is a formidable influence in the world of body building.
7. Flex Wheeler – Despite the former police officer being known for his arrogant behavior in the world of bodybuilding, his multi decade influence on the sport cannot be denied. Fellow bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman stated that Flex Wheeler was the ‘best bodybuilder that he ever competed against’ while Arnold Schwarzenegger said that he was one of the greatest body builders that he had ever seen. His amateur titles starting coming in as early as 1985 while his professional titles started in 1993 and didn’t stop until 2003. Flex even hinted at a comeback during the 2017 season. I guess the bodybuilding world hasn’t seen the last of Flex.
6. Jay Cutler – No. Not the former Chicago Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler. I’m talking about the blond highlighted, 4-time Mr. Olympia who made being a bodybuilder look cool. He lives in Las Vegas, drives a Rolls Royce, ate sushi, and talked about his fancy watches. Jay Cutler embraced his financial success and made weight lifting look cool. He has since retired from competition but his business ventures still working towards building a better future for the body building world.
5. Lee Haney – The former Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports is a devout Christian with a TV show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network who shares the title of most Mr. Olympia title wins with Ronnie Coleman (8 total). He spoke of clean living and clean eating and said that, “(i)t takes more than just a good looking body. You’ve got to have the heart and soul to go with it.” Between his training regiment and rich spiritual outlook, the bodybuilding great deserves his place amongst the greatest.
4. Dorian Yates – I just want to go on record (as much as it may matter) that Dorian Yates has/had the best back physique in the business. Despite his controversial political stances, the six time Mr. Olympia will forever be remembered as one of the top bodybuilders in history.
3. Dexter Jackson – Dexter Jackson aka the Blade only won the Mr. Olympia title one but he holds the distinction of winning a record-setting 28 IFBB professional bodybuilding titles and as of 2016 has made a record-setting 17 Mr. Olympia appearances. He won the Arnold Classic five times (which is more than anyone else) and is one of only three bodybuilders EVER to have won both the Mr. Olympia and the Arnold Classic bodybuilding competitions. He is also one of the oldest bodybuilders to ever win an open IFBB pro show at the age of 46. Jackson has competed and has been winning since 1992 and it doesn’t seem like he shows any sign of stopping since in 2015, he placed 2nd at the Mr. Olympia competition.
2. Ronnie Coleman – “YEAH BUDDY!” It wasn’t ‘nothing but a peanut’ for Ronnie Coleman to win the Mr. Olympia title eight years in a row. Through hard work and determination he is now regarded as one of the greatest of all time (and not just by me). Ronnie Coleman’s 26 record winning victories in IFBB sanctioned competitions were won by his rigorous training. He wasn’t afraid of hard work and loved utilizing free weights to maximize flexibility and be able to have a free range of motion. Early in my weight lifting days, I remember watching his videos and the comical videos that he made to show the food he ate. I’ll never forget his love of ketchup and BBQ sauce. I still use that excuse with my wife when we are dieting: “Ronnie Coleman drank soda and used BBQ sauce on his food and he won Mr. Olympia 8 times!”
- Arnold Schwarzenegger – Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t just a retired body builder. He is an actor, producer, businessman, investor, author, philanthropist, activist, politician, as well as a 7 time Mr. Olympia winner. The two term Governor of California is widely considered the greatest bodybuilder of all time, but he is body buildings icon. Pumping Iron put body building on the map, and Arnold was the poster boy. His legacy is commemorated every year when the Arnold Classic is held. The IFBB Arnold Sports Festival is a multi-sport event consisting of bodybuilding (the Arnold Classic), strongman (Arnold Strongman Classic), fitness, figure and bikini competitions. The event is the second most prestigious event in professional bodybuilding, physique, figure, and bikini competitions. Many of my top ten have won the Arnold Classic: Branch Warren, Kai Greene, Dexter Jackson, Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman, and Flex Wheeler). With that being said, the Austrian Oak is and always will be an important fixture in the world of bodybuilding. From his physique to his training to his positivity in the sport; Arnold is the greatest of all time.
Featured Image: Eugen Sandow image by Benjamin J. Falk, wikipedia.
Fredrick Winters during the 1904 Summer Games image attributed to unknown, olympic.org.
Model Jackie Coey with Mr. Los Angeles contestant Ed Fury in 1953 image; original uploader was Tillman at English Wikipedia – Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA LibraryPublication: Los Angeles Daily NewsTransferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48344990
Frank Zane image accredited to http://www.flickr.com/photos/d_vdm/ – http://www.flickr.com/photos/d_vdm/508414155/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14702262
Jay Cutler Bodybuilder 2008 image by and accredited to robbdenderivative work: Nesnad (talk) – Jay_Cutler_bodybuilder_2008.jpg, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6869850
Kai Greene 2009 IFBB Australian Pro Grand Prix IX image by and accredited to LocalFitness Pty Ltd (LocalFitness) – http://www.localfitness.com.au, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8132125
Flex Wheeler Autographed photo by and accredited to EnigmaGemini1975 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47574592
Dexter Jackson IFBB 2008 Australia 4 image by and accredited to http://www.localfitness.com.au – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3687963
Ronnie Coleman 8 x Mr Olympia 2009 Melbourne, VIC, Australia image by and accredited to http://www.localfitness.com.au – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8138844
Arnold Schwarzenegger before defending the title for his fifth Mr. Olympia contest in 1974 image by and accredited to Madison Square Garden Center – RMY Auctions, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50792011
All other images used are from Google search engine and are attributed to fair use.