Top 6 Bodybuilding Rivalries

From Arnold vs. Oliva to Phil vs. Kai, these six monster matchups have left an indelible mark on the sport of bodybuilding

December 3, 2013

By Alex Zakrzewski, Online Editor

6. Phil Heath vs. Kai Greene

For the last two years Phil and Kai have been locked in mortal combat over bodybuilding’s most coveted crown. While “The Gift” has managed to edge out “The Predator” two Olympias in a row, Kai is showing no signs of slowing down and instead seems more focused than ever on usurping his archrival. Will Greene’s hard work and deeply philosophical approach to the sport eventually overcome Phil’s near-flawless natural talents? Either way, the ongoing battle between these two mass monsters is helping to bring bodybuilding back into the mainstream.

5. Jay Cutler vs. Ronnie Coleman

Jay Cutler has stated that the only time he seriously considered quitting bodybuilding was when he finished second to Ronnie Coleman for the fourth time in a row. And who could blame him? Ronnie’s 2005 Olympia win was his eighth straight and it genuinely seemed that the crown was his along as he kept showing up. However, “Cuts” stuck with it like a true iron warrior and went on to establish a dynasty of his own. Still, one can’t help but wonder just how many more Sandows would currently be gracing Jay’s mantelpiece had Ronnie retired from competition in 2001.

4. Rich Gaspari vs. Lee Haney

Rich Gaspari was known for taking training, dieting and, as a result, striation and definition to new extremes. “The Dragon Slayer” burst onto the scene at the 1985 Olympia where at just 22 years of age he placed third in his rookie showing. He was immediately touted as a bodybuilding wunderkind and few doubted that he would finish his career wrapped in Olympia laurels. Unfortunately for Rich the Lee Haney era of unprecedented dominance was in full swing and for the next three years in a row he was forced to settle with second place while Haney took home Sandow after Sandow.

3. Flex Wheeler vs. Kevin Levrone

The Flex vs. Kevin rivalry was both one of the most intense and longest in bodybuilding history. Just over one month apart in age, the two first met at the 1991 NPC Nationals and battled each other for over a decade following until their final showdown at the 2002 Mr. Olympia. Although neither one was able to capture bodybuilding’s top title, by the end of their epic feud Levrone claimed two Arnold Classic wins and Wheeler boasted a record-setting four. The two were known for their aestheticism in an era dominated by mass monsters and remain household names to this day.

2. Frank Zane vs. Franco Columbu

As with Phil and Kai, what made the Frank vs. Franco rivalry so intense was the fact that the two have never liked one another. Even to this day Franco maintains that he beat Zane as many as 20 times (a totally fabricated number) while Zane has called Columbu “a legend in his own mind.” Their ongoing animosity is no doubt fueled by the markedly different approach each took to the sport and the radically different physiques they achieved. Whereas Franco packed on pounds of striated mass by lifting more weight than a forklift, “The Chemist” looked like statue straight out of the Parthenon thanks to his meticulous diet and training. Regardless of who won more contests, both are two of the biggest legends to come out of an era of bodybuilding that seemed to produce nothing but legends.

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sergio Oliva

The two first met at the 1969 Mr. Olympia where Oliva took home his third-straight title. It proved to be the last time any bodybuilder beat Arnold on the Olympia stage. In the following years the two continued to battle it out and although “The Oak” managed to best “The Myth” at both the 1970 and 1972 Olympias (Oliva sat out in 1971) Sergio pushed him to the limit with his mythic combination of definition and massive muscle bellies. Although by 1973 it was apparent that the torch had passed and Arnold was set to herald a new age of bodybuilding dominance, Oliva continued to notch up wins in non-IFBB contests and maintained for years that he was still the best in the world.