Standing side-by-side on the platform during the first call-out, Branch Warren and Dennis Wolf were going at it as hard as they can without even glancing over at each other. The defending champion was perspiring as if he had just completed an hour long cardio session, and last year's first runner-up had a crimson stain dripping down his entire front upper body akin to running blood in a war zone.
There were three names being bantered about heading into this 2012 Arnold Classic, with the two aforementioned being joined by Evan Centopani. With the men's prejudging barely finished, that forecast seems to be an accurate one as they all arrived in Columbus on point and ready to have their hand shaken by the contest's namesake in approximately seven hours from now.
Wolf's v-taper was obvious and the big German definitely has enough to win his first Arnold Classic. One weakness of his is his calves, and that is more apparent because of his tall stature. Warren has bounced back strong from his injured quad and while not looking as dry as he last March, the Texan is certainly capable of retaining his title. For the youngster Centopani, a top three placing in this contest would be a major step in becoming a future dominant champion in the sport. He took fourth in 2011 and has made enough improvements to place higher.
The rest of the first call-out of five were Dexter Jackson and Ben Pakulski, with the latter being the first surprise of the afternoon. While Pak Man is certainly capable of standing adjacent to some of the big names here, his back is lacking and there were a name or two appearing better overall still waiting on the side.
Two of those men are Lionel Beyeke - who won the FLEX Pro just two short weeks ago - and Fouad Abiad, who placed third there (Pakulski was second). Also in that call-out were Shawn Rhoden, Brandon Curry and Michael Kefalianos, which was the second surprise at the Veterans Memorial.
Eduardo Correa appears to have lost a bit since coming into the FLEX Pro the best conditioned athlete that night in California, and Gustavo Baddell is certainly not the same bodybuilder he was the last time we witnessed him on stage.
How we see the evening going:
1 - Dennis Wolf
2 - Branch Warren
3 - Evan Centopani
4 - Dexter Jackson
5 - Lionel Beyeke
6 - Ben Pakulski
7 - Fouad Abiad
8 - Shawn Rhoden
9 - Brandon Curry
10 - Ben White
We feel that Beyeke came in better than Pakulski and they will flip spots, if you will, come the evening show. Abiad, Rhoden and Curry can finish in any combination between seven and nine. The last of the top 10 is really just a stab at this point; the bottom of this line-up is not very strong. Kefalianos made the second call-out, but we see White being just a little better than the Australian. Matthias Botthof has a nice upper body and round, broad shoulders, but lacks in the lower body.