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Who is the Greatest Bodybuilder Ever?

Greatest Bodybuilder

Deciding who is the greatest bodybuilder of all time is a difficult task, let’s be honest the question does not have an objective answer. It has a subjective one.

The purest might say that Serge Nubret had the greatest physique of all time, a more modern fan may point to the physical size of Big Ramy, or the dominance of Ronnie Coleman in terms of competitions won.

In an attempt to fully answer this question we are going to have to take a look at a number of different factors.

We will look at objective reasons to call someone the greatest such as success at Mr Olympia, financial success, and fame. We will also look at the most aesthetically pleasing bodybuilders, the biggest (in terms of muscle size) bodybuilders, and we will look at the strongest.

We will award 10 points to the winner of each round, 8 points to second place, 6 to third, 4 to fourth, and 2 to fifth place.

At the end of it we will pick the person who did best across the different categories, this is as close to being objective as we can be. Yet it will still be controversial for some, and it is still a subjective choice, no matter how much we try and avoid it.

So please bear with us on this, and feel free to offer your own opinion in the comments.

The Top 5 Most Successful Bodybuilders (Mr Olympia)

Mr Olympia is the most well respected competition in bodybuilding, as such it is the one we will use as a benchmark of success.

If we included the Arnold Classic as well, we may get a different result but once you start adding lesser competitions, where do you stop?

Lee Haney The Most Successful Bodybuilder

At the top of the list we have Lee Haney (1984, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91) and Ronnie Coleman (1998, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05) both tied on eight wins.

In third position we have Arnold Schwarzenegger with seven wins (1970, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 80). Then we have Dorian Yates who won six titles from 1992 to 1997, and Phillip Heath also on six titles (2011-2016) who could even extend his titles in 2017 and beyond.

So who would we say is the most successful out of Ronnie Coleman and Lee Haney? It seems churlish to pick between the two, so we’ll call it a tie. At the end of this round we have:

  1. Lee Haney: 10 points
  2. Ronnie Coleman: 10 points
  3. Arnold Schwarzenegger: 6 points
  4. Dorian Yates: 4 points
  5. Phil Heath: 4 points

Top 5 Richest Bodybuilders

For this next section we will be using the statistics from who have an article titled “Ten Richest Bodybuilders In The World Right Now” [1].

Now you might see one flaw in that this list judges bodybuilders on their current wealth rather than their wealth throughout their careers. This would lead to a slight bias against older bodybuilders who a) would have earned less due to inflation and b) may have lost it all (or died). But it’s the best we have and still a decent measure.

We’ll do this in reverse order as it is a lot more interesting this way! Incidentally, have Triple H (the wrestler) in at number 4, but although we can see where they are coming from – he’s not a professional bodybuilder. He’s a wrestler! So we’re ignoring him.

The fifth richest bodybuilder of all time is Gary Strydom an American bodybuilder who was born in South Africa. Gary’s greatest accomplishments were a 5th place in Mr Olympia 1988, and a 3rd in the Arnold Classic of 89. He stopped competing in 2006 after a 7th place finish in the Colorado Pro Championships. While a very good bodybuilder, his main accomplishment seems to have been earning $8 million from it!

Ronnie Coleman comes in 4th place with $10 million to his name. His wealth has come from competition titles, coaching, and his nutrition company “Ronnie Coleman Nutrition”. He also has fitness DVDs that he has sold.

Third place goes to Jay Cutler, who just missed out on our top 5 most successful bodybuilders list with four titles to his name (06, 07, 09, 10). He also won the Arnold Classics in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Jay has made a lot of money for himself through bodybuilding and his supplement company. He also deals in properties around the Vegas area. He is worth $30 million.

Rich Gaspari is second, and is one of the best bodybuilders never to win a Mr Olympia – coming 2nd or 3rd on six occasions in the 1980s (losing out to Lee Haney each time). But Gaspari struck gold when he started his supplement company “Gaspari Nutrition” which is now one of the most well known and respected companies in the supplement world. He is worth $90 million.

Arnold Schwarzenegger The Richest Bodybuilder

The richest bodybuilder of all time is worth more than the other four bodybuilders on this list put together. In fact he is worth more than the top ten richest bodybuilders of all time (excluding himself obviously) put together. It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and he’s worth $300 million. This is a result of his bodybuilding career, and his acting career, and many other investments, and businesses.

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger: 10 points
  2. Rich Gaspari: 8 points
  3. Jay Cutler: 6 points
  4. Ronnie Coleman: 4 points
  5. Gary Strydom: 2 points

So at the end of round 2 we’ve added Gary Strydom, Jay Cutler, and Rich Gaspari to our list, and now have a new leader! The new list looks like this:

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger: 16 points
  2. Ronnie Coleman: 14 points
  3. Lee Haney: 10 points
  4. Rich Gaspari: 8 points
  5. Dorian Yates: 6 points
  6. Jay Cutler: 6 points
  7. Phil Heath: 4 points
  8. Gary Strydom: 2 points

5 Most Famous Bodybuilders

This section is a little more difficult to quantify, there are so many different ways to assess this.

At the start of the 20th Century Charles Atlas was more famous than almost any bodybuilder in history has ever been. People still know his name now – but that’s all they know.

So can you say that he is one of the most famous bodybuilders today?

Same goes with many of the older bodybuilders, Franco Columbu is one of the most successful bodybuilders in history, but how many bros in the gym could name him? And if they could, would they be able to tell you anything about him? Probably not.

After a lot of internal debate, we’ve decided to follow’s decision [2], and base fame on Facebook page popularity.

It’s a poor choice in many ways, but it’s the only one that has hard facts to back it up!

To keep things interesting we’ll ignore Marc Fitt (#3) and Sergi Constance as they aren’t really bodybuilders in the traditional sense. Not taking anything away from them, but we can’t be adding in natural bodybuilders into this discussion without doubling the word count!

At number five it is American Bodybuilder Branch Warren, he has two Arnold Classic titles to his name (2011, 12) and a Facebook page containing 2.9 million followers. Next it is current Mr Olympia Phil Heath who’s page has 3.4 million “likes”. At three it is Heath’s biggest rival Kai Greene (2 time Arnold Classic winner). His page has 4.7 million followers. Jay Cutler is the second most famous bodybuilder in terms of Facebook likes with over 6.4 million likes.

Arnold Schwarzenegger The Most Famous Bodybuilder

At number one again is Arnold with 16.5 million Facebook fans (it’s not even close).

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger: 10 points
  2. Jay Cutler: 8 points
  3. Kai Greene: 6 points
  4. Phil Heath: 4 points
  5. Branch Warren: 2 points

After round 3 Arnold has extended his lead further, thanks to his huge fan base. As we mentioned at the beginning this is just to give you an idea of their fame. There are other measurements that could have been used to gauge fame, but when you look at the top 5 here, it’s hard to argue with it.

Let’s take a look at the overall leader board now:

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger: 28 points
  2. Ronnie Coleman: 14 points
  3. Jay Cutler: 14 points
  4. Lee Haney: 10 points
  5. Phil Heath: 8 points
  6. Rich Gaspari: 8 points
  7. Dorian Yates: 6 points
  8. Kai Greene: 6 points
  9. Gary Strydom: 2 points
  10. Branch Warren: 2 points

5 Most Aesthetically Pleasing Bodybuilders

For this list we are going to follow the opinions of the guys at Muscle Prodigy who created a list of the top 10 best bodybuilder physiques of all time [3]. Again, this is all subjective so it’s just here to give you an idea.

At number five we have Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’d think that he’d have been placed higher but as Muscle Prodigy point out – compared to today’s professionals he’d look very small indeed.

Four is Lee Haney who managed to combine a large size with a very aesthetically pleasing physique which helped him win more titles than anyone in history. Three goes to Dexter Jackson, two to Shawn Ray.

Flex Wheeler The Most Aesthetically Pleasing Bodybuilder

The winner of their list is Flex Wheeler.

  1. Flex Wheeler: 10 points
  2. Shawn Ray: 8 points
  3. Dexter Jackson: 6 points
  4. Lee Haney: 4 points
  5. Arnold Schwarzenegger: 2 points

It’s interesting to see that Phil Heath, Ronnie Coleman, and Jay Cutler didn’t make the top six (Ronnie was #7 and Phil made #10). This helped Lee Haney catch up with them, they’ll have a chance to catch up in the next couple rounds though.

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger: 30 points
  2. Ronnie Coleman: 14 points
  3. Jay Cutler: 14 points
  4. Lee Haney: 14 points
  5. Flex Wheeler: 10 points
  6. Phil Heath: 8 points
  7. Shawn Ray: 8 points
  8. Rich Gaspari: 8 points
  9. Dorian Yates: 6 points
  10. Kai Greene: 6 points
  11. Dexter Jackson: 6 points
  12. Gary Strydom: 2 points
  13. Branch Warren: 2 points

5 Biggest Bodybuilders

This was another really difficult one to decide on, because there are a lot of bodybuilders who are massive but have had no success in competitions.

The biggest bodybuilder on record is Daniele Seccarecci of Italy who weighed 135kg (1kg more than Big Ramy), but nobody has heard of him and it would be a bit crazy to add him here.

I also ignored any list that contained Synthol abusers – because well it should be obvious why not.

In the end I followed the list compiled by LA Muscle [4] as it used well known bodybuilders and didn’t place Arnold in it (he was an amazing bodybuilder but hardly one of the biggest of all time). So here it is:

At number five it is Dennis James from Germany who weighed in at 117kg and looks like an absolute beast. Another German, Markus Rühl comes in at number four – owner of the biggest shoulders in Bodybuilding history. Phil Heath comes in at number three, behind Ronnie Coleman at number two.

Paul Dillet The Biggest Bodybuilder

The biggest bodybuilder on the list? Paul Dillet of Montreal. He “only” weighed in at 129kg but look at a picture of him and you’ll agree he’s the biggest bodybuilder you’ve ever seen!

  1. Paul Dillet: 10 points
  2. Ronnie Coleman: 8 points
  3. Phil Heath: 6 points
  4. Markus Rühl: 4 points
  5. Dennis James: 2 points

Finally we have some interesting changes to the overall table, with Ronnie Coleman getting in touching distance of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Phil Heath beginning to rise through the rankes. Let’s take a look:

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger: 30 points
  2. Ronnie Coleman: 22 points
  3. Jay Cutler: 14 points
  4. Lee Haney: 14 points
  5. Phil Heath: 14 points
  6. Flex Wheeler: 10 points
  7. Paul Dillet: 10 points
  8. Shawn Ray: 8 points
  9. Rich Gaspari: 8 points
  10. Dorian Yates: 6 points
  11. Kai Greene: 6 points
  12. Dexter Jackson: 6 points
  13. Markus Rühl: 4 points
  14. Gary Strydom: 2 points
  15. Branch Warren: 2 points
  16. Dennis James: 2 points

5 Strongest Bodybuilders

The final list will look at the five strongest bodybuilders of all time, this is unquestionably the most difficult one to measure.

Sure we could just look at raw lifts, but what about strength to size ratio? Franco Columbu would be number one on that list!

In the end we decided to use’s list of the top 10 heaviest and strongest bodybuilders [5].

At number five we have Gunter Schlierkamp (another German!), at four it’s Arnie, three is Markus Rühl of Germany and at two is Dennis James.

Ronnie Coleman The Strongest Bodybuilder

At number one is Ronnie Coleman. Which seems like a pretty fair winner! He has benched 224kg, and deadlifted over 350kg.

Ronnie Coleman: 10 points
Dennis James: 8 points
Markus Rühl: 6 points
Arnold Schwarzenegger: 4 points
Gunter Schlierkamp: 2 points

So, who is the Greatest Bodybuilder ever?

I think that at the beginning of this article we all thought that Arnold would absolutely waltz this list, and in terms of fame and wealth he has. But that’s not all that makes a great bodybuilder, and it is interesting just how close Ronnie Coleman has managed to push him.

Obviously there are a lot of holes you could pick in these lists, but the final list of greatest bodybuilders seems quite fair.

Possibly it ended up being a bit harsh on some of the classic bodybuilders (Frank Zane, Franco, Serge Nubre, Sergio Olivia, Lou Ferrigno).

If the lists had been “Top 10” rather than “Top 5” then these legends would probably have featured. But considering most bodybuilding fans are in their teens and early twenties the list is probably a reflection of that. Anyway here are the final standings.

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger: 34 points
  2. Ronnie Coleman: 32 points
  3. Jay Cutler: 14 points
  4. Lee Haney: 14 points
  5. Phil Heath: 14 points
  6. Flex Wheeler: 10 points
  7. Paul Dillet: 10 points
  8. Markus Rühl: 10 points
  9. Shawn Ray: 8 points
  10. Rich Gaspari: 8 points
  11. Dennis James: 8 points
  12. Dorian Yates: 6 points
  13. Kai Greene: 6 points
  14. Dexter Jackson: 6 points
  15. Gary Strydom: 2 points
  16. Branch Warren: 2 points
  17. Dennis James: 2 points
  18. Gunter Schlierkamp: 2 points

Arnold Schwarzenegger The Greatest Bodybuilder

So there you have it, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the greatest bodybuilder of all time.

The third most successful Mr Olympian, the wealthiest, the most popular, one of the most aesthetically pleasing, and one of the strongest too. A worthy winner, but Ronnie pushed him all the way.






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