What a difference a few short years make! Cedric McMillan got no respect from the judging panel at the 2013 Arnold Classic, relegated to sixth behind a host of structurally inferior athletes. Despite his incredible mass, shape, height and proportions, McMillan was severely punished, reportedly for such minor indiscretions as “not enough oil” and “tan wasn’t dark enough.”
After some major campaigning by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cedric’s amazing physique began to be viewed in a different light. Arnold, who’s still the King of Bodybuilding and a tireless advocate of the old school (also known as “bodybuilding the way it’s supposed to be”), didn’t hold back last year at the Arnold Seminar, where he openly criticized judges for rewarding bodybuilders who look eight months pregnant, can’t pose to save their lives and are completely out of proportion and lacking symmetry.
Arnold’s comments went viral on social media, leading to a decision to start judging the posing round again at this year’s Arnold Classic. For the first time in a decade or so, the way bodybuilders posed would factor into their scores and could affect their placings. Arnold felt that it was a first step toward getting bodybuilding back to where it used to be.
This year’s precontest hype centered around the enigmatic Kai Greene. One of the most popular competitors in the sport, the mysterious Kai decided not to compete in the Mr. Olympia contest last year after three consecutive runner-up finishes. When he entered the 2016 Arnold, opinions started flowing. Some felt that he would win in a landslide while others theorized that Kai’s unpredictable ways could lead to a stunning upset.
Some bodybuilding experts, forgetting Arnold’s impassioned speech last year about “bottle-shaped bodies” and the lack of aesthetics in the sport, predicted that mass monster Justin Compton would be the one to upset Kai’s return to competition. Those who were paying attention to the changing tides held that the time was ripe for Cedric to step into the winner’s circle.
One week out from the Arnold, McMillan won the Levrone Classic in Poland, beating out Branch Warren and rising star Joshua Lenartowicz from Australia. Even after that, most critics weren’t predicting a top-three finish for Cedric in Columbus.
What a pleasant surprise it was to see the change in the fan response after the prejudging! As the callouts came to a close, the contest had obviously become a two-man battle for first between precontest favorite Kai Greene and (surprise, surprise!) Cedric McMillan. The bodybuilding media had all jumped on the Cedric bandwagon, and everyone—even his sharpest critics, who had previously labeled him “wasted potential” and “not hungry enough”—conceded that Cedric had the best physique and deserved to win.
Mass monster Compton, although bigger than last year, didn’t live up to expectations and dramatically faded during the judging. The distended stomach was still present, just as the sharp muscle separation and detail were noticeably absent. Justin ended up in fourth, one spot lower than a year ago.
Lenartowicz was surging with momentum and enthusiasm after his runner-up finish to Cedric the previous week, and he jumped ahead of the rest of the field to place a strong third. Josh is a tall man and could use even more beef to fill out his frame, but he came prepared and was excited to be among the sport’s best on the Arnold Classic stage. His enthusiasm was contagious to both the judges and the audience.
Branch Warren lived up to his reputation as a tough fighter who never gives up. He reminds me of that Monty Python sketch about the medieval warrior who wants to keep fighting even as his opponent chops off his arms and legs one by one. Though his physique is heavily criticized for lacking in aesthetics, has endured it’s share of muscle tears, and appears more U-shaped than V-shaped, Branch never gives up. He comes alive onstage and practically wills himself to get harder, grainer and freakier with each callout. In the end, he ends up beating opponents who are structurally and aesthetically superior—in this case, Maxx Charles, Evan Centopani and Juan Morel. Don’t ever count Branch out because he will keep fighting until they drag him off the stage.
In the end, Arnold got his wish—the 2016 Arnold Classic came down to the posing. Cedric, who was leading after the prejudging, performed a classical routine full of kneeling, twisting poses that brought to mind Schwarzenegger, Mentzer and Haney. Using the theme song from the movie “Avatar,” Cedric did a routine that was elegant but without great drama and emotion. Like a love story without the tearful happy ending, Cedric’s posing was technically perfect but emotionally unsatisfying. At the conclusion, he received vigorous applause but no standing ovation.
Kai took advantage of the focus on the posing round and performed as only he can. Moving with the coiled energy of a cobra, he lunged, twisted and writhed his massive, ripped body through a series of poses, transitions and contortions, to the delight of the sold-out hall. This was modern-day posing and as far from Cedric’s classical display as Frank Sinatra’s music is from Kanye West’s. It was a routine full of energy and drama, and it swayed the judges enough for them to place Kai first in the posing round.
So Kai Greene earned his third Arnold Classic victory while Cedric McMillan was awarded second place—to a chorus of boos from the audience. That said, the posing was markedly improved across the board, and the judges are becoming more critical of distended bellies. Posing is now being judged at the Arnold and it can actually make a difference in the outcome. And Hallelujah – Cedric McMillan is now recognized by both the judges and critics as having one of the best physiques in the sport.
The real winners are the bodybuilding fans. Thanks to Arnold, bodybuilding has kept a watchful eye on the Golden Era, a time when bodybuilding was a sport….and an art form.
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 FloridaPhysique.com 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.