Breaking down the most exciting rivals in Olympia’s 50 year history.
Rivals bring out the best in us. They force us to dig deep down and push further than we ever thought we could go. They apply pressure, make us uneasy, never allow us to rest on our laurels – and the best rivals also give a pretty damn good show for the rest of us.
We have now celebrated 50 Mr. Olympia competitions. Many generations have come and gone. Many champions have stood on that magnificent stage. And many rivals have flexed side by side – trying to top each other for the #1 spot.
To commemorate fifty years of fitness, attitude, and lifestyle; we decided to recap the best bodybuilding rivals to ever grace the stage. For without them, we may not have had such massive and fantastic competitors – or so many glorious memories.
#6. Phil Heath vs Kai Greene
We’ll start off our list one of the newest rivals to hit the pro bodybuilding circuit. For four years Phil has been able to edge out the competing Kai in every Olympia competition. But Kai Greene is a classic underdog story – Generation Iron revealed the two personal stories of two very different men. Do you believe in The Gift or The Predator? Either way, their rivalry has pushed both beyond the limit and very well may still for the years to come.
#5. Rich Gaspari vs Lee Haney
When Rich “The Dragon Slayer” Gaspari appeared on the bodybuilding scene – the world all agreed that he would see a Mr. Olympia gold one day in his future. He was so incredibly buff, lean, and cut that he brought bodybuilding physiques to new extremes.
But Lee Haney wasn’t ready to back down. The 8x Mr. Olympia champion never let Gaspari ever grab the covered Mr. Olympia title. While these two may seem like boring rivals on the surface, the amount of intense pressure that Gaspari put onto Haney year after year pushed both athletes to new extremes and led to wonderfully exciting competitions for the world to watch.
#4. Kevin Levrone vs Flex Wheeler
Born just over a month apart from each other – these two heavy hitters were destined to not only be two of bodybuilding’s best – but two perfect rivals. They first met in the classic heavyweight class of the 1991 NPC Nationals. Levrone bested Flex – but a year later Wheeler earned his way into the pro division and got his revenge in the 1993 Mr. Olympia competition.
This started a constant back and forth between the two bodybuilders for the rest of their careers. Each one flipping the script on the other as time passed. They never let the other one have a moment to relax – which made every competition an exciting one to watch for the fans.
#3. Frank Zane vs Franco Columbu
The greatest thing about the Zane/Columbu rivalry is how different their physiques, attitudes, and techniques were from one another. Zane representing the slighter build but perfect aesthetic, while Franco was beefy and stocky by comparison. What even further accentuated their differences were their attitudes towards each other – that is to say, they didn’t like each other very much.
To this day Franco claims to have defeated Zane “10 or 20 times” but the truth is these two were very evenly matched. In the end, Zane comes out on top with one extra Olympia win over Columbu’s two – but that doesn’t change the fact that these two were fantastic rivals.
#2. Jay Cutler vs Ronnie Coleman
Ronnie Coleman is the undisputed king of bodybuilding. He is an 8x Olympia winner and had a body so large and so seemingly impossible that many people consider him to be the greatest pro bodybuilder of all time.
Jay Cutler had a lot to put up with during this time. He consistently came up second to Coleman four years in a row – to the point where he has gone on record to say the only time he considered quitting the sport was the fourth time he came second to Coleman. It wasn’t until 2006 that Cutler was able to one up Coleman and take the Olympia title. It was a truly liberating moment. A titan and eight year champion was taken down – and a hungry underdog finally got the well deserved spotlight.
#1. Sergio Oliva vs Arnold Schwarzenegger
They first clashed in 1969 at the Mr. Olympia. One a tried a true legend, the other an iconic legend waiting to happen. And even though Oliva won the big O that year, one thing was for certain – things were about to get interesting.
In 1970 Arnold came back with a vengeance and took away the Olympia title from Oliva (Arnold also claimed the Mr. World title form him that year). The score was tied and everyone was waiting to see who would pull ahead in the next Mr. Olympia. Somewhat disappointingly, Oliva sat out the 1971 Mr. Olympia – so the world had to wait until the next year for the ultimate showdown.
The 1972 Mr. Olympia became, to many, the final decision on who was the best bodybuilder of the era. Both men appeared to be in peak form and the world waited in baited breath to see who would pull out on top.
In the end, Arnold took the title – but to this day the decision has been debated. Oliva himself has gone on record to say that the ’72 title was stolen from him. While Arnold went on to become a 7x Olympia champion – Oliva never stopped bodybuilding and was constantly outspoken about his skill and talent over Arnold. Even thought it’s been 40 years – bodybuilders across the world constantly pick sides – who deserved to win that last Mr. Olympia and who is the better bodybuilder. The answer may never be decided upon – making it the best bodybuilding rivalry of all time.
In truth, this list could have gone on much longer. So why don’t you all let us know which rivals you’d put on the list. Send us a shout on the comments section or through our Facebook and Twitter pages. Stay pumped.