That Killer Instinct (Do you have it?)


At the recent Arnold Classic Australia, 4 Time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler was interviewed by the RxMuscle website.  Jay was asked what advice he would give to runner-up Cedric McMillan, the genetically gifted bodybuilder who seems to have everything needed to win the Mr. Olympia but always seems to miss out on winning the big titles.

Jay’s advice to the man who nearly defeated Kai Greene only two weeks earlier, was to be more aggressive and get in Kai’s face onstage. “He needs to show why he thinks he is the greatest when he’s onstage”, Jay explained.

Cutler is a bodybuilder who understands what it means to show that championship aura onstage. For four long years, Jay took a disappointing second place to the reigning champ Ronnie Coleman. For most of those years, Coleman seemed insurmountable, an immovable mountain of muscle that could not be beaten. Cutler, however, kept at it, chasing Ronnie year after year until finally he overcame the legend on a history making night in 2006.  This historic occasion marked the first time that an incumbent Mr. Olympia had been defeated in 22 years.

Bodybuilding is a sport in which a competitor’s stage presence and attitude are almost as important as their physique. In bodybuilding, it’s not exactly what you have, it’s what you show onstage that counts. We have all seen incredible physiques onstage who did not present themselves properly and end up losing to inferior physiques. There are also times on a physique stage when bodybuilders with glaring flaws present themselves so exquisitely that they are able to defeat others who have better bodies.

The drive to win should go beyond what a bodybuilder presents in the gym or in the kitchen. Stage time is where all the chips are on the table. This is the worst time to relax and mellow out. In a sport where physical performance is limited to flexing and posing, the attitude and presence you project to the judges and audience is crucial. The fans are living their bodybuilding dreams through the competitors onstage. They WANT to see a bodybuilder who is hungry to win!

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a great example of a competitor who did anything he could to win onstage and off. When Arnold made the impromptu decision to compete in the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest with only 8 weeks of serious training, after being retired for five years, he found himself in the competitive fight of his life.

Arnold was one of the tallest and biggest competitors in the 16 man line-up at the Mr. Olympia in 1980. However, with only two months of hard core training behind him, his celebrated physique was only 80% of his best. His legs were much smaller than the last time he had stepped on a bodybuilding stage and his conditioning and hardness were lacking in comparison to the top competitors during that time (Frank Zane, Chris Dickerson, Mike Mentzer and Boyer Coe).

During the prejudging, Arnold did everything he could to win. When the head judge asked him to hit a side triceps pose (not his most flattering pose), he pretended to have trouble hearing him and then proceeded to hit a one arm biceps pose instead. When he was being compared to the other top bodybuilders during the mandatory posing round, Arnold smiled and looked like a winner. While the other bodybuilders looked serious and stressed out, Arnold’s persona convinced the audience and the judges that he was the obvious choice as the winner.

During his posing routine at the finals, Arnold concentrated on hitting his most popular “Arnold poses”. He incorporated sweeping, dramatic poses like the three quarter back pose, twisting arm poses and the most muscular. All in an attempt to draw the attention away from his thin quadriceps and wide waist and bring the focus to his massive arms, magnificent chest and that signature radiating smile.

After the contest was over, bodybuilding legend Bill Pearl told Arnold that he was the most competitive bodybuilder he had ever seen onstage. Pearl, who was originally supposed to be the head judge but dropped out because his student Chris Dickerson was competing, had Arnold in fifth place.

When IronMan Magazine reported on the 1980 Mr. Olympia, the writer of the article admitted that he had Arnold in first place after watching the prejudging and finals. However, after taking some time to view the more than 500 slides and photos that he took at the contest, he could honestly only place Arnold in eighth. Looking at the photos of the contest from an objective viewpoint, he could see Arnold’s flaws. Witnessing Arnold perform his magic onstage live, he was a victim to the “Arnold charisma” and saw him as the winner.

Which brings us back to Cedric McMillan and the current Mr. Olympia winner Phil Heath. Each Mr. Olympia victory brings out the critics of Heath’s physique. In fact, Heath has been noticeably off his previous best the last two years but still walked away with the winning Sandow trophy in hand at the end of the night.  When Heath is onstage, he breathes fire and exudes victory in his entire being. He DARES anyone to take the title from him. When Kai Greene showed up in great shape in 2013 (filmed for the movie “Generation Iron”), Phil seemed to take it personally and was out for the kill by the time of the evening finals. Hitting each pose as if his life depended on it, Phil easily defeated Kai and took home another title.

One can only imagine how exciting the Mr. Olympia would be this year if a genetic marvel like Cedric McMillan would get mad and angry enough to take the title away from Phil Heath. Cedric is taller, wider and bigger than the current champ, but he needs more than that to win. As Cutler said, Cedric needs “to show why he thinks he’s the greatest”. It’s not enough to just have the physique.  Big Ced needs to believe in his heart and soul that he is the greatest bodybuilder in the world and he IS Mr. Olympia.

Heath loves being Mr. Olympia and he’s not going to relinquish that title to anyone. If Phil is going to get beat, it’s going to a be a bloody battle to the end.  When Arnold was finished competing, he would often advise other top bodybuilders who were preparing for a contest. He would tell each of them the same thing. “If I had your physique”, Arnold would say, “I would win”. The implication was obvious. It takes more than just a perfect body to be a champion.  A champion has to be hungry, determined, aggressive and, above all, a winner.  If they don’t believe it, neither will we.


A three-time Natural Mr. Universe and the first Natural Mr. Olympia champion, John is the author of the book Natural Bodybuilding (2005, Human Kinetics). A 14 year columnist for Ironman Magazine, John is the founder of where he covers the NPC Florida Bodybuilding scene and interviews legendary bodybuilders. John is also the promoter of the NPC Natural Suncoast Classic and offers consultations on training, nutrition and posing – in person and online.