In 1965, co-founder of the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), Joe Weider, announced the Mr. Olympia contest. Weider created the competition to help bodybuilders continue competing after the Mr. Universe concluded. The National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association (NABBA) held the first Mr. Universe contest in London to coincide with the Olympics. However, the event gradually turned into a premier bodybuilding competition that happened every year from 1950. Back then, owing to the stronghold of the Mr. Universe, the IFBB’s Mr. Olympia was considered inferior in 1965. However, within half a decade, the tables would turn in favor of Joe Weider’s Olympia.
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Weider desired to make Mr. Olympia the most prestigious contest in bodybuilding. So, he tapped into the zeitgeist of bodybuilding in the late 60s and 70s and promoted the competition, while the NABBA banked on the richer history of the Mr. Universe competition. However, this did not turn out to be enough. Fans yearned for a rematch after Arnold Schwarzenegger defeated Sergio Oliva in 1970 at the Mr. Olympia. However, Joe Weider banned everyone except Arnie from competing in 1971 because they had competed in the 1971 Mr. Universe. The audacious move paid off and Mr. Olympia became the premier bodybuilding contest. However, decades later, in 1989, Arnold Schwarzenegger started his namesake sports festival. Since then, the Arnold Classic has taken the second spot. Now, an unspoken rivalry exists between the two events. A question however, remains in the minds of bodybuilding enthusiasts: Will the Arnold Classic overtake the Olympia?
The IFBB Mr. Olympia vs. The Arnold Classic
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After dethroning Mr. Universe as the be-all and end-all of bodybuilding contests, Weider’s Olympia didn’t have competition. So it gained popularity through the years as the NABBA and its once prestigious Mr. Universe became a shadow of its former self. However, after setting the original record for most Olympia wins, Arnold Schwarzenegger became a brand in his own right. The five-time Mr. Universe and seven-time Mr. Olympia conquered Hollywood. In 1989, at the height of his Hollywood prime, Arnie founded an event that changed the bodybuilding landscape forever.
The Arnold Sports Festival did justice to its name, being a multisport event. However, despite hosting powerlifting, strongman, CrossFit, and so on the Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition still remains the most popular attraction at the festival. While it started with open bodybuilding, divisions such as Classic Physique and 212 (lbs.) have found their place in the contest. Besides his star power and competition in different sports, Schwarzenegger also established a separate identity for the competition. While Open bodybuilding transitioned into the mass monster era, the Arnold Classic stayed true to its name. The event doesn’t decide a winner based on size and conditioning. Instead, the Arnold Classic judging focuses on posing, muscularity, and symmetry.
This contrast is further highlighted as winning the best poser award at the Arnold Classic is an honor for many bodybuilders. Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding contest also gave out a much more unique set of prizes than the Olympia. Since Arnie endorsed the Hummer, Arnold Classic winners in the early 90s and 2000s won a Hummer and an Audemars Piguet watch besides the cash prize. While all this looks great on paper, there is a reason the Arnold Classic is the second most prestigious show in bodybuilding.
The Arnold Classic significantly impacts the bodybuilding landscape
The annual bodybuilding contest has always shaken up the bodybuilding landscape shortly after each year’s Mr. Olympia. Since Mr. Olympia’s winners often skip the Arnold Classic, it gives the runner-ups a chance to shine. Last year, Chris Bumstead won his fourth Mr. Olympia Classic Physique title in a close contest with Ramon Dino. While Bumstead didn’t compete in the 2023 Arnold Classic Physique, Ramon Dino did. At the 2023 Arnold Classic, he defeated Bumstead’s other rival, Urs Kalecinski. Dino’s slightly improved physique and Arnold Classic win had solidified the hype around the Brazilian. At this year’s Mr Olympia, fans see Dino as an even bigger threat to Bumstead’s crown.
Similarly, open competitor Samson Dauda won the 2023 Arnold Classic. While he showed potential at the 2022 Mr. Olympia, fans think he has a genuine chance to dethrone current Mr. Olympia Hadi Choopan. While last year’s runner-up Derek Lunsford didn’t compete, his presence at the Arnold Sports Festival also generated some buzz. While it might seem like Mr. Olympia is losing its luster compared to the Arnold Classic after reading so far, things are not as black and white as one would think.
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The Mr. Olympia will remain at the top
The Arnold Classic keeps growing every year. The 2023 edition awarded its winner the largest cash prize in the contest’s history. It might seem like history is repeating itself slowly but surely and that Mr. Olympia is set to suffer the fate of the Mr. Universe competition. However, nothing of this sort might happen soon, or probably ever. The difference between 1965 and now is that the Arnold Classic falls under the IFBB. The federation won’t allow one of its properties to cannibalize the other.
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In fact, the IFBB struck a deal with Arnie to ensure the ASF could never offer more prize money. Hence, Schwarzenegger compensated with the Hummers and the watches. While the seven-time Mr. Olympia desires to offer more prize money, he cannot award more than $400,000, the current cash prize for winning Mr. Olympia. Additionally, since the contest happens within three months of the Olympia, the winners of the Olympia title generally do not compete. Again, Chris Bumstead acts as an example. The four-time Classic Physique Olympia winner hasn’t competed in the Arnold Classic. So, Weider’s Olympia remains the stage where the biggest rivalries pay out. Hence it’s safe to say that Mr. Olmypia’s luster remains intact, at least for now.
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