Every bodybuilder in the Men’s Open division dreams of stepping foot on the Mr. Olympia stage. Since 1965, this contest has turned competitors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman, and Phil Heath into icons of the sport. Even a mere appearance at a Mr. O is enough to turn a bodybuilder into a household name.
Classic Physique vs. Men’s Open
Since its debut in 2016, the Classic Physique division has gotten more and more attention among fans. And a lot of that has to do with three-time Classic Physique Olympia champion, Chris Bumstead, who has cemented himself as one of the most famous bodybuilders in the sport today with a social media following that dwarfs all other active competitors.
In a Dec. 6, 2022, poll in BarBend‘s bodybuilding-focused newsletter, The Ripped Report, fans were asked what competition they were looking forward to more during the 2022 Olympia: The Classic Physique or Mr. Olympia contest. The results were pretty clear-cut.
Of the 60 readers who responded, 56.67% voted for the Classic Physique Olympia, with the Mr. Olympia trailing at around 43% as of December 14. A few fans also left comments with the reasoning behind their choice.
“It’s just more relatable,” one user wrote. “While I [appreciate] the current Mr. Olympia competitors [for] the amount of work and sacrifice that must go into building that kind of physique[,] I find Classic Physique more appealing.”
Another user wrote that the Classic Physique contest has more “‘normal’ [types] of physiques, which are more in line with the majority of fans who work out.”
The Allure of Classic Physique
Though the word normal is subjective in the comment above, the perception that Classic Physique athletes have a more attainable body could come down to the fact that the division has strict weight limits attached to the athletes’ heights.
These rules are in place to limit the extreme muscularity found in the Men’s Open division that competes for the Mr. Olympia title. Instead, Classic athletes are judged more on symmetry and aesthetics than just size.
For context, two-time reigning Mr. Olympia Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay will likely walk onto the 2022 Mr. Olympia stage weighing around 300 pounds. Despite being taller than Ramy, Bumstead has a weight limit of 230 pounds as a 6’1″ competitor, according to the IFBB.
Even seven-time Olympia winner Arnold Schwarzenegger is a fan of the Classic division, which takes its cues from bodybuilding’s so-called “golden era” of the ’60s and ’70s.
“This is the direction we have to go,” Schwarzenegger said while providing commentary for the Classic Physique contest at the 2021 Arnold Classic. “We have to really build this part of the bodybuilding world so it is equal to the Open competition.”
Classic Physique by the Numbers
The December poll continued a pattern with Ripped Report readers that showed the momentum of the Classic division. In a previous survey from November 15, 2022, 116 fans voted on which of the 10 divisions, other than Men’s Open, they were looking forward to most at the 2022 Olympia. Classic Physique won out again with 22.41% of the vote, followed by 212 and Men’s Physique in second and third, respectively.
There are other metrics to consider when measuring the popularity of Classic Physique. As of December 2022, Bumstead has 11.9 million followers on Instagram, along with 2.58 million subscribers on YouTube and 3.7 million on TikTok. Big Ramy — the face of Men’s Open for about as long as Bumstead’s Classic reign — has less than half of that with 4.6 million followers on Instagram. And Ramy is easily the most popular current Men’s Open athlete on social media.
However, the social media action around Classic Physique competitors drops off precipitously once you take Bumstead out of the equation. Breon Ansley, a two-time Classic Physique Olympia winner, has around one million followers on Instagram and around 94,000 subscribers on YouTube. Terrence Ruffin, a two-time Classic Physique winner at the Arnold Classic, has approximately 863,000 Instagram followers and 69,700 YouTube subs.
Those are all respectable numbers, but it’s clear that Bumstead is at the top of the heap by a wide margin over both divisions. His social media following even outweighs past Mr. Olympia winners like Jay Cutler, Phil Heath, and Ronnie Coleman.
One area where the Classic Physique Olympia still lags behind the Mr. Olympia is the prize money. When the Classic division debuted in 2016, bodybuilder Danny Hester was awarded $12,500 for his win at the end of the night. Fast-forward to 2021, Bumstead earned $50,000 for his third Classic Olympia win, quadrupling that original prize. But remember, Big Ramy took home $400,000 for his second Sandow trophy that same evening.
So while the Mr. Olympia purse has been stuck at $400,000 since 2015, it’s clear the division reigns supreme in terms of dollars.
What Does It All Mean?
It’s clear that the Classic Physique gains steam every year, thanks in part to Bumstead’s unparalleled popularity. But will the division continue this momentum once Bumstead eventually walks away? And can rising Men’s Open stars like Nick Walker, Derek Lunsford, and Hunter Labrada gain a similar following in the next few years?
It’s all up in the air right now. In the meantime, you can watch Ramy go for his third Mr. Olympia crown and Bumstead compete for his fourth Classic Physique Olympia during the 2022 Olympia Weekend from December 16-18. BarBend, of course, will have full coverage of all the divisions throughout the weekend.
Featued Image: @Cbum on Instagram // Photo By: @calvinyouttitham on Instagram