When was the first Arnold Classic?

The first Arnold Classic was staged in 1989, and it’s been held annually ever since, usually on the first weekend in March, though Covid upended that for two years. It was preceded by the Pro World Championships, launched in 1979 and also promoted by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer in Columbus, Ohio. In addition, the pair promoted six Mr. Olympia contests in Columbus: 1976-79, ’81, ’86.

The first international Arnold Classic was held in Spain in 2011, followed by Brazil in 2013 and Australia in 2015.

Why Columbus, Ohio?

Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 1970 Pro Mr. World at the Veteran’s Memorial in Columbus, Ohio, defeating Sergio Olivia for the first time (two weeks before Arnold beat Sergio in the 1970 Mr. Olympia). There he began a friendship with that show’s promoter, Jim Lorimer, that later, after Arnold retired, led to them co-promoting pro contests in Lorimer’s Ohio hometown. (Jim Lorimer died in 2022 at 96.)

From 1970 to 2014, the Veteran’s Memorial auditorium was the closest thing bodybuilding had to a classic venue, its Wrigley Field or Boston Garden, home to six Mr. Olympias and 26 Arnold Classics. In 2015 it was demolished to make way for a true Veteran’s Memorial, including a grove, reflecting pool, and museum. Since then the Arnold has been held in the Battelle Grand Ballroom at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

How are Arnold Classic competitors selected?

The Arnold Classic is an invitational. A select few IFBB Pro League competitors are invited by the the promoters to compete in this prestigious event. The lineup of those who have agreed to compete is typically announced in December for the following March’s contest.

Arnold Classic history
Flex Wheeler, 1993 Arnold Classic

How many Arnold Classic competitors are there?

In the men’s open contest, there have been as many as 19 (1992), but in recent years the average is 13. Due to five competitors dropping out, 2022 was the smallest lineup with only nine competitors. There will be 10 competitors in 2023.

Who has the most Arnold Classic entries?

Sticking to only the prestigious American contest, Dexter Jackson competed in 17 Arnold Classics, a record of longevity and excellence that may never be broken. “The Blade” landed in the top five in all but his first one, and was in the top three 10 times.

Who has the most Arnold Classic wins?

Again looking at only the Columbus contest, Dexter Jackson has five Arnold Classic victories, another record that seems safe for the foreseeable future. Flex Wheeler has four. Kai Greene and Jay Cutler have three. Cutler is the only champ to win three in a row.

Arnold Classic
Jay Cutler, 2003 Arnold Classic

Who are the youngest and oldest Arnold Classic winners?

The youngest was Shawn Ray who was 25 in 1991. Nick Walker was the second youngest at 26 when he won in 2021.

The oldest was Dexter Jackson, who won his fifth A.C. title at 45 in 2015. He was also second at 50 in his 17th and final Arnold in 2020.

By the way, The Barbell‘s study concluded that the average age of Arnold Classic winners is 32.3.

How many Arnold Classic champs have also won the Mr. Olympia?

Only four of the 20 Arnold Classic champs are among the 17 Mr. Olympia winners. It took awhile to happen. Ronnie Coleman, then the reigning Mr. Olympia, was the first in 2001. Jay Cutler won the Olympia four times after winning the Arnold three times (2002-04). Dexter Jackson won the 2008 Mr. Olympia after winning three Arnolds (2005-06, 2008) and before winning two more (2013 and 2015). Brandon Curry won the 2019 Arnold Classic and Mr. Olympia and won the Arnold again in 2022.

As for the other Mr. O’s of the Arnold Classic era, Lee Haney and Dorian Yates never entered the Arnold. Phil Heath competed in three American Arnolds and finished second twice: 2008 and 2010 (when many thought he should’ve won). The late Shawn Rhoden entered two, placing second in 2014. So far, Big Ramy has been in only one, 2020, finishing third months before winning his first Olympia. But he is competing in the 2023 Arnold Classic.

Arnold Classic winners
Dexter Jackson with Arnold and the Arnold trophy, 2015 Arnold Classic

What other events are part of the Arnold Classic?

The Ms. International (women’s bodybuilding) was held with the Arnold Classic from 1989-2013. The Fitness International was launched in 1994 and has been a popular part of the Arnold ever since. Other categories in 2023 are: Bikini International, Wellness International, Classic Physique, Men’s Physique, and Pro Wheelchair, as well as the popular Arnold Strongman Classic, which has been staged every year since 2002. The Arnold Amateur (bodybuilding) and numerous other amateur sport and fitness championships are part of the broader Arnold Sports Festival.

Who are the Arnold Classic winners?

There have been 20 over the 34-year history of the Arnold.

1989 – Rich Gaspari

1990 – Mike Ashley

1991 – Shawn Ray

1992 – Vince Taylor

1993 – Flex Wheeler

1994 – Kevin Levrone

1995 – Michael Francois

1996 – Kevin Levrone

1997 – Flex Wheeler

1998 – Flex Wheeler

1999 – Nasser El Sonbaty

2000 – Flex Wheeler

2001 – Ronnie Coleman

2002 – Jay Cutler

2003 – Jay Cutler

2004 – Jay Cutler

2005 – Dexter Jackson

2006 – Dexter Jackson

2007 – Victor Martinez

2008 – Dexter Jackson

2009 – Kai Greene

2010 – Kai Greene

2011 – Branch Warren

2012 – Branch Warren

2013 – Dexter Jackson

2014 – Dennis Wolf

2015 – Dexter Jackson

2016 – Kai Greene

2017 – Cedric McMillan

2018 – William Bonac

2019 – Brandon Curry

2020 – William Bonac

2021 – Nick Walker

2022 – Brandon Curry