Arnold Classic 2021: The 3 Biggest Takeaways

Nick Walker Arnold Classic 2021

Our biggest takeaways from the Arnold Classic 2021.

It’s hard to believe but the Arnold Classic 2021 has already came and went. After a long wait due to delays and rescheduling, the Arnold Classic finally took place on September 25th – albeit a much shorter and condensed version due to the global pandemic. Regardless, the event was still an exciting one that gave us a new champion in the form of Nick Walker.

The Arnold Classic, usually taking place in March, was held just two weeks before the Mr. Olympia. The Olympia itself is also happening at a later date this year due to the pandemic. What’s really notable here is that both of these major events are just two weeks apart. It will be interesting to see how this effects those who decided to compete in both the Arnold Classic and the Mr. Olympia.

The Arnold Classic 2021 only held four divisions all competing in one night. This differs from a typical year of the Arnold Classic – often holding eight divisions over the course of two nights. There was also no expo held nor the hundreds of other athletic events that usually take place – such as the Arnold Classic Strongman, powerlifting events, and much more. Luckily, there was a free live stream of the full pro bodybuilding event. You can still watch the replay in full for free – check it out here.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has already stated that the Arnold Classic will be back in full by 2022 back on its original schedule. Which means we’ll have a much shorter wait for next year’s big event.

Now that we’ve had some time to think over the outcomes from the event – here are our three biggest takeaways from the Arnold Classic 2021.

Arnold Classic 2021 Nick Walker

Nick Walker Has Solidified Himself As A Leading Competitor

Ever since Nick Walker exploded onto the scene in 2020, fans have been singing his praises as the next coming of Dorian Yates. But if we’re being honest, this kind of early hype happens at least once a year in some form or another. It’s just as likely that many of these young up-and-comers burn out quickly after an initial shot in the arm from a good competition.

Nick Walker show incredible promise in 2020, and he then encouraged more hype after his impressive showing at the New York Pro 2021. Still, it would all come down to the Arnold Classic and Mr. Olympia to see how he holds up against older icons currently competing in the sport.


With the Arnold Classic 2021, Nick Walker has proven that he is not just a flash in the pan. He has shown consistent improvements and his physique at the Arnold Classic was a continued step up over what we saw at the New York Pro. Upon first appearing for his individual routine during the pre-judging, it all became crystal clear. He showcased the kind of size and conditioning that required no comparison rounds – the world knew that he was truly a force to be reckoned with.

Later going up against the others during comparison rounds further proved it. While there were many top tier athletes who dropped out from this competition (more on this later), Walker was up against many other up-and-coming athletes with hype. Walker proved that he was a notch above other hyped athletes like Iain Valliere and Justin Rodriguez. He’s truly pulled in front of the pack.

Some may say he always was ahead – and they’re right – but consistency is what matters. This win has proven he can stay consistent even under big pressure. After winning the Arnold Classic, Walker told Cicherillo that he expects to place in the top 5 at Mr. Olympia. This would usually be a cocky claim for such a young athlete. But this time – we believe him.

William Bonac

Arnold Schwarzenegger Is Still Unhappy With Men’s Open Physiques

One notable aspect of this year’s Arnold Classic 2021 was the announcement that Arnold Schwarzenegger himself would provide some sort of commentary. It wasn’t clear just how detailed this would be before the show. Luckily, it turned out that he provided commentary throughout the full men’s division pre-judging and final rounds. It was a pure joy to see Schwarzenegger directly comment on specific athletes, routines, and comparisons throughout the entire broadcast.

His continued presence also made one thing crystal clear – Arnold Schwarzenegger far prefers Classic Physique to Men’s Open. During both the pre-judging and finals, Schwarzenegger made multiple comments about his distaste for the stomachs of Men’s Open. He even directly references PED use (though just calling it “stuff”) as a cause for distended stomachs.


While the Men’s Open were on stage, Schwarzenegger would make calm but critical comments about many of the athletes on stage. He would stress that an athlete is judged every second they are on stage – not just when they are in a mandator pose. He would often catch an athlete’s stomach loosening and distending in between poses. If Schwarzenegger can see it on camera, he argues, then so too can the judges.

Conversely, every time the Classic Physique competitors were on stage, Arnold Schwarzenegger had nothing but positive things to say. He would beam with pride at the physiques and the posing on display. He also compared them directly to Men’s Open multiple times. The ultimate takeaway was clear. Arnold Schwarzenegger still wants more change to the Men’s Open division.

William Bonac bodybuilder

The Pandemic Is Still Having A Major Effect On Pro Bodybuilding

It’s fantastic that the IFBB and NPC alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger were able to provide the Arnold Classic in some capacity this year. That being said, it’s obvious that the pandemic is still creating a sort of asterisk next to these big shows. In the lead up to the Arnold Classic 2021, there were two major Men’s Open athletes due to travel issues directly related to the pandemic. 

William Bonac, the returning Arnold Classic champion, had to bow out just days before the show. While the details were never explicitly stated – it was confirmed that he was held up by surprise travel problems due to the pandemic. Problems he didn’t foresee coming that forced his hand to drop out last minute.

Lionel Beyeke, another strong competitor, announced dropping out as well. Though he knew a bit sooner (by about a week) than Bonac. Beyeke’s withdrawal was also directly related to travel issues caused by the pandemic.


The 2021 pro bodybuilding season has seemed less marred by the pandemic. Most shows went off without a hitch compared to 2020. But it must be noted many of these shows were local – requiring less international travel. Yes, some international athletes have traveled with no issue. But when the bigger shows come around, a higher volume of international competitors are brought out. This leads to the inevitable travel issues due to the Delta variant of COVID-19 still causing travel restrictions.

Nick Walker’s Arnold Classic 2021 win was fantastic. But it would have been even more fantastic if he had managed to win against returning champion (and top 5 Olympia athlete) William Bonac. It would have given even more credence to our first segment in this article. Until the pandemic ends, we will continue to have these “what if” conversations in our head.

It should be noted that many major international pro bodybuilders have already arrived in the states for the Mr. Olympia. So the likes of Big Ramy and Hadi Choopan will be present in two weeks without issue. Hopefully, there will be no sudden drop offs within the next two weeks. Also hopefully, athletes like William Bonac will have their issues settled to appear at the Mr. Olympia in October.

Wrap Up

The Arnold Classic is a standout competition that is rivaled only by the Mr. Olympia. It’s a watershed moment each year that helps us determine the current quality and standing of pro bodybuilding. There’s no doubt that 2021’s event was electrifying. But it was also a reminder of how things are not truly back to normal.

You can recap our entire coverage of the Arnold Classic 2021, including pre-judging analysis, color commentary, and result reports, by heading over to our official Arnold Classic coverage page right here.

*Header image courtesy of W. Wittman Photography

Derek Dufour
Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.