Johnnie O. Jackson: A Storied Bodybuilding Career That Isn’t Over Just Yet

The Texas powerhouse is coming back at the Arnold Classic.

When the lineup for the 2020 Arnold Classic was announced, there was one name on the list that surprised many fans and insiders. That name was Johnnie O. Jackson. It’s not that Jackson isn’t worthy to be competing on the Arnold stage; he certainly is more than qualified to be in the lineup. It was newsworthy because Jackson had retired from the stage in 2017. It was the end of a 16 year professional career that we thought was behind him.

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Apparently he had a change of heart and felt he had more to give to the stage, sport, and his fans. So he’s back and will be posing down with the rest of the stars in Columbus. For longtime followers of bodybuilding, Jackson’s return was met with praise and anticipation. The sport has grown in awareness over the last couple of years and there may be some new fans just learning of him for the first time. Whether you’re an old fan or new, here is a look at the long career of one of the more popular bodybuilders of the 21st century.

Arrival and Early Impact

Jackson earned his IFBB Pro League status by winning the NPC Nationals in 2001. He made his pro debut at the GNC Show of Strength in 2002 and placed 10th. While he wasn’t among the top finishers, his 230 plus physique featuring a powerful look with big traps and thick upper body garnered a lot of attention from fans and sponsors.

He would make his Mr. Olympia debut in 2003 and placed 11th. After several close calls in different contests, Jackson’s first professional win would come in 2006 where he won the Montreal Pro Championships.

World’s Strongest Pro Bodybuilder

As his career progressed, it was revealed that he also competed in various powerlifting meets and at times focused only on his progress in the big three movements. Thanks to his 500 plus pound bench press and 800 pound deadlift in competition, he would eventually be known as the “World’s Strongest Pro Bodybuilder.”

Fellow IFBB Pro bodybuilder Ben While felt that Jackson wasn’t the strongest and challenged him to a contest to determine who the true strongest pro bodybuilder in the world was. At the 2009 Mr. Olympia, Jackson bench pressed 523 pounds (237 kg) and deadlifted 815 pounds (370 kg) in a push/pull contest which was enough to defeat White and make his title claim official. One year later, new IFBB Pro and raw powerlifting champion Stan Efferding would take that title for himself with a 628(284 kg)/800(363 kg) push/pull effort. It should be noted that Jackson actually competed in the Mr. Olympia contest that year and placed 11th.

Late Career Success

Jackson was one of those bodybuilders who seemed to improve as he aged. While his legs were always the subject of criticism, his upper body size and shape was considered among the best in bodybuilding. He won four shows in the 2010s including two in 2017, which was his last active season. One of those two was the Arnold Africa contest which meant he got to share the stage with Arnold Schwarzenegger when receiving the trophy. He placed 14th in that year’s Olympia.

Along with the onstage success, the bodybuilding industry saw the impact of social media and YouTube. Jackson now had more exposure than ever which meant fans got to watch him and training partner Branch Warren in some popular training videos. His work with 200 pound dumbbells, six plate squats, and well over 1,000 pounds on the leg press made a lot of his sets go viral online.

Retirement and Comeback

Jackson retired after the 2017 season but was still active in the gym, started promoting amateur contests, and served as an ambassador for his sponsors. He never lost his size and actually focused on powerlifting and getting stronger after he finished competing.

Rumors about his comeback started spreading after the 2019 Olympia and were confirmed when the 2020 Arnold Classic list was revealed. When he takes the stage, he will have already celebrated his 49th birthday. For most sports that is well past the prime but Jackson wouldn’t be the first bodybuilder to experience success at that age if he were to place well in Columbus. Two of his fellow Arnold Classic competitors, Dexter Jackson and Victor Martinez, are north of 40. Dexter Jackson is actually 50 years of age now. Albert Beckles actually competed in the 1980’s when he was well into his 50’s.

While the result for Johnnie Jackson’s return remains to be seen, it has certainly added to the hype leading up to the Arnold and the start of the 2020 campaign.

Featured Image: Instagram/johnnieojackson