Here’s Why the Arnold Classic Is More Unique Than the Mr. Olympia

Published 11/14/2023, 11:18 AM EST

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is the most influential and richest bodybuilder by far. With a net worth of $450 million, Schwarzenegger transitioned from winning seven Mr. Olympia titles to becoming an action cinema legend. After conquering acting, Arnie went into politics. Even at 76, the bodybuilding legend is the most followed personality related to bodybuilding on the internet. However, what makes Arnold Schwarzenegger stand out, is his continued support of bodybuilding through his influence and health. While bodybuilding might not have made him rich, it made him a movie star and the Austrian Oak returned the favor by establishing the Arnold Classic in 1989.

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Nine years after his final Mr. Olympia title win, Schwarzenegger established the Arnold Classic to help give a platform to as many bodybuilding and fitness athletes as possible. Schwarzenegger stuck a deal with the IFBB, and the Arnold Classic quickly became a popular contest. Within a few years after its inception the Austrian champion’s namesake contest grew in prestige. With new additions, it became the other premier annual bodybuilding contest, besides the Mr. Olympia. However, some technical limitations kept it from surpassing the Olympia. Now, 35 years after it started, let’s take a look at how the Arnold Classic has surpassed even Joe Weider’s Olympia in more ways than one.

Lighting and streaming quality: Mr. Olympia vs. Arnold Classic

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Despite being the premier contest in the sport, Mr. Olympia has failed to address some nagging concerns. A simple Google search is enough to understand that fans have been complaining about the production quality of the IFBB Mr. Olympia for years. Even competitor James Hollingshead complained in 2022. “The light and the space, the route in which to get backstage. The temperature of the backstage… This is the Super Bowl of bodybuilding… You just expect a certain level of execution,” said Hollingshead.

via Getty

It’s also become a recurring gripe among people who stream the content. Bodybuilding is a global sport, and only a fraction of fans can afford to travel to Florida to witness the annual contest. However, the way the stage and lighting are set up makes it quite hard for fans to judge the competitors’ conditioning on stage. It’s not uncommon for bodybuilders to look far more detailed in photographs than during the live stream. However, the Schwarzenegger Classic has dealt with this problem. From better lighting to painting a somewhat darker backdrop, the production quality of the Classic is superior.

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Overcoming the prize money limitation

When the five-time Mr. Universe struck a deal with the IFBB, he had to agree to a clause. Joe Weider was a true visionary, and it might be a possibility that he thought Schwarzenegger’s popularity would lead to his namesake contest overshadowing the Olympia in the future. Hence, a rule exists that states Schwarzenegger cannot offer higher prize money than Mr. Olympia. Currently, the Mr. Olympia (Open division) receives $400,000 for winning the Sandow. Meanwhile, the Arnold Classic offers $300,000.

 

However, Schwarzenegger innovatively circumvented this limitation. While the rule prevented the bodybuilding contest from offering higher monetary prizes, it had no other restrictions. So, Arnie offered other things things to those who won his show. Starting in 1992 the competition offered the winner a Hummer SU and an Audemars Piguet wristwatch in addition to the prize money. Eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman once confessed to participating just so he could win a Yellow Hummer. However, these aren’t the only things unique to the Arnold Classic.

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The Arnold Classic sets itself apart

While the Arnold Classic is the biggest attraction, it’s part of the Arnold Sports Festival. Similar to the Olympia weekend, the Arnold Sports Festival is also a multi-day event with an expo. However, unlike the Mr. Olympia, the Arnold Sports Festival is a multisports event. Besides the Classic, spots like Strongman, Powerlifting, and even Cheerleading are part of the event.

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The Classic also has special awards that the Mr. Olympia doesn’t have. Every year, Arnold Schwarzenegger presents a lifetime achievement award to those who have contributed to the sport. Flex Wheeler, Ronnie Coleman, Joe Weider, Reg Park, and many other legends have won the award. In 1994, Arnie also started a unique Women’s bodybuilding category named Fitness. It remains unique to the Classic to this day. The competition also hands out additional monetary prizes like the Most Muscular and Best Poser awards.

Hence, it’s quite clear that despite the chemical limitations, the Arnold Classic is more unique than the Mr. Olympia. The reason the Olympia remains the bigger stage is because of the heritage, increased prize money, and the fact that Mr. Olympia winners often skip the Arnold Classic due to the short gap between the two shows. However, besides these points, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s creation has carved an identity that no other contest can replicate.

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Written by:

Sagnik Bagchi

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Sagnik Bagchi is a senior sports writer at EssentiallySports who writes for the bodybuilding division. Holding a Master's Degree in English Literature from a top university, he uses his hold on language to weave interesting stories for our readers. A passionate bodybuilder himself, Sagnik uses his knowledge of bodybuilding to bring a unique perspective to his coverage of the sport’s events and athletes.
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Edited by:

Smrutisnat Jena

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