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The 2018 Mr. Olympia came down to a closely contested competition between challenger Shawn “Flexatron” Rhodan and defending champion Phil “The Gift” Heath.
As they stood next to each other in the Orleans Arena at the Las Vegas Convention Center, waiting for the final results on Saturday night, the weight of the moment and their one-on-one battle filled the air.
After a brief pause for dramatic effect, the big reveal started off with two words that haven’t been uttered after the weekend’s main event in eight years.
With that announcement, Rhoden pulled off one of the more improbable upsets in the contest’s history to defeat the seven-time champ and become just the 14th man to claim bodybuilding’s most prestigious award.
For the win, Rhoden took home the coveted Eugen Sandow Trophy and a cool $ 400,000 in prize money.
Rhoden’s winnings was part of a record $ 1.4 million in cash prizes, the biggest purse in the Mr. Olympia contest’s 53-year history.
Heath’s second-place finish netted him $ 150,000, while Roelly Winklaar from Curacao, who won the inaugural People’s Champion award, finished third to earn $ 100,00. Ghanaian William Bonac’s fourth place showing resulted in a check for $ 55,000 and Brandon Curry rounded out the top five and went home with $ 45,000.
Two days before Rhoden and Heath squared off onstage, flexing side-by-side, they were both engaged in a heated exchange at the event’s press conference on Thursday.
When asked to confirm his non-flattering comments about Heath’s front double bicep and lat spread poses being “crap,” Rhoden confirmed that he meant them.
“Yes, I did say all those,” to host Dennis James on the dias. “I was just speaking facts.”
Unbothered, Heath responded in kind.
“I have nothing to say to him,” he said. “Talk is cheap.”
Rhoden then went on to walk his talk during the prejudging on Friday night, where his conditioning and striated abdominal muscles clearly stood out on stage next to Heath, who seemed to have issues with his midsection.
Although Heath dried out in the 24 hours up to the final round and wowed the judges with his signature, world-class back double bicep pose, it was obvious that he hadn’t overcome the midsection deficiency with the judges and that Rhoden was standing on the doorstep of history.
In the end, Rhoden, with his impressive front double bicep, front lat spread and abdominal and thigh poses, was dry in all the right places and made his clear-cut case to knockout the champ.
With the loss, Heath failed to tie the record of bodybuilding greats Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman, but is still in great company, having tied the great Arnold Schwarzenegger’s total of seven titles.
The big question now is whether or not Heath, who turns 39 this year, will come back next year to try and reclaim the title.
And even though there was no love lost between Heath and Rhoden, the latter showed deference to the outgoing champion on his historic night.
“Phil is no slouch,” Rhoden told host Bob Cicherillo. “I’ve been chasing him since 2012, so I know in the back of my mind that he’s Mr. Saturday night. He could come in here and look his all time best. But again, I looked at Chris Lewis and he said, ‘You know what Shawn? You’ll be better than you were yesterday.’ And if that man believe in me, I’m good.”
At 43 years old, Rhoden tied Chris Dickerson’s record as the oldest competitor to win the Sandow for the first time, but he left no doubts about defending his title next year.
“I’ll be back,” said the new champion known as a man of few words.