The 2021 bodybuilding season is still in its infancy — there are almost five months between this writing and the Mr. Olympia contest — but the lineup is taking shape. Two of the spring contests for the Men’s Open have taken place. Justin Rodriguez won in Indianapolis while Nick Walker took home the prestigious New York Pro title. Several contests are set to happen in the spring and summer. Still, between past champions who are forever qualified, up-and-comers who have earned a seat at the table, and perennial contenders with a high chance of returning to the big stage — we’re going to take a shot at predicting the 2021 Mr. Olympia winners.
Specifically, we’re discussing the Men’s Open division, the main attraction of the entire event. The show is set to take place in Orlando, FL, on October 7-10, 2021. Here’s who we think wins.
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Based on history, confirmed athletes competing, and performances onstage leading to this point, here are the favorites to become the world champion of bodybuilding for 2021.
In past years, the champion is the favorite to retain the title. There have been four champions in four years — Phil Heath in 2017, Shawn Rhoden in 2018, Curry in 2019, and Elssbiay in 2020. Seeing as the man from Egypt took the crown last year, we’re saying that it’ll be hard to take it back if he can improve or even match his package from 2020.
Curry improved in 2020. Had it not been for Elssbiay, he most likely would’ve repeated as champion. So it’s certainly possible for him to win. To snag that win, Curry will have to improve even further on how he looked last year, specifically his legs, and Elssbiay missing his peak would certainly help his cause. Should he hoist the Sandow after the finals, Curry would become the second man to regain the title after losing it onstage. Jay Cutler reclaimed the title in 2009 after losing it to 2008 champion Dexter Jackson.
Winklaar is the X-factor of this contest because we haven’t seen him on stage since his fifth-place finish in the 2019 Olympia. He says he was “off” at that contest, yet he still managed to place fifth. The year before, in 2018, he got third in the Olympia. Fans were excited to see him return in 2020, but he couldn’t compete after testing positive for COVID-19. Winklaar’s arms are considered among the best in the world, and he has had no issues with controlling his waist in recent years. If he does make it to the stage this year, he’ll be a problem for anyone.
The Iranian has only competed in the Olympia twice, but he placed third (2019) and fourth (2020) in both years. Some felt that he should’ve placed higher in 2020. He has packed on serious mass in the offseason and is committed to coming to the US to take the title. He is outsized by Elssbiay, but his conditioning is second to none when he has been on stage. If someone is off, they will lose their spot to the “Persian Wolf.”
“The Conqueror” is a two-time Arnold Classic winner and has finished as high as second in the 2019 Olympia. At 5’6”, it will be hard for him to add more mass to his frame without sacrificing symmetry. If he can match the size he has added with the conditioning that he had in 2019, it’s possible that he’ll be the 17th man to win the Olympia.
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Of the five names on the list above, all but one athlete (Winklaar) is qualified. In total, nine men officially qualified to take the stage and face the judges at the Mr. Olympia. Their names, along with how they qualified are below.
There are also three positions up for grabs that competitors can earn by points. As of this writing, here are the top three on that leaderboard.
The season is far from over. The California Pro is scheduled for May 29th in Anaheim. Aside from that event, here are the Men’s Open shows on the schedule as of this writing. There are scheduled contests taking place after the Spain event, but any show after Sept. 12 qualifies athletes for the 2022 Olympia. The Europa Pro will be the last chance to dance in Orlando this year.
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Competitors can qualify for the Olympia in five ways:
There are several contenders from the 2020 contest that have yet to qualify for the 2021 contest, and if they were to jump into any of these shows, they would have to be considered favorites to punch their ticket to the Olympia. That list, along with their placings from last year, is below.
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Looking at the names so far, the lineup is stacked, but several big names are missing for various reasons. Though their return isn’t guaranteed, here are a few athletes we expect to return to the competition.
There is no official word on if Heath will compete or not. Because he’s a past champion, the Colorado native has a lifetime qualification. Anyone that has accomplished what that “The Gift” has must be considered a top contender in any contest he enters. He’ll have to show up in much better shape than his physique in 2020 — good enough for third — to tie Ronnie Coleman and Lee Haney with eight total Sandows.
No, we didn’t forget about Flex Lewis. The Welsh Dragon is a seven-time 212 Olympia winner, after all, and his decision to compete in the Open was some of the biggest news in the sport. Unfortunately, an injury kept Lewis from his 2020 debut, but he claimed to be gunning for 2021 last year. If he does wind up getting an invite to compete, he’ll be an absolute force on the stage. No invite has been officially offered as of this writing.
The 2017 Arnold Classic champion has shown glimpses of greatness, but he has yet to hit his peak on the big stage. His highest career placing is seventh, but many experts feel that he has the structure to place much higher if he nailed his conditioning. He is still recovering from a variety of injuries from a bike accident. There is no word on if he will attempt to qualify this season or not.
Kuclo placed sixth at the 2019 Olympia, and he followed that up by finishing fourth at the 2020 Arnold Classic. He then took an extended offseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he withdrew from the Olympia this past December. “Kingsnake” could march up the placings this fall should he earn his way to Orlando.
De Asha’s highest placing at the Olympia had been seventh, but he was blossoming as a contender before injuries and legal issues in the United Kingdom sidelined him. He has made it clear that he wants to grace the Olympia stage this year, but he hasn’t indicated which show he plans to enter.
The former New York Pro champ has been called the future of the sport. Many feel the Olympia is his destiny since his father held the title from 1967 through 1969. No father-son combination has ever won the Olympia in the contest’s 56-year history. Speculation has been that Oliva Jr. will enter the Chicago Pro. If he does, it would be the first time we’ve seen him compete since finishing 5th at the 2020 Arnold Classic.
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