I’d like to use this space to congratulate Dexter Jackson on his recent retirement following last month’s 2020 Mr. Olympia contest, which saw the coronation of Big Ramy as the new Mr. Olympia. After 21 years, multiple Arnold Classic championships, multiple top placings in several Mr. Olympias over the years and, of course, his long deserved 2008 Mr. O win, it was time for the Blade to call it a day. But why am I using this space to discuss a competitor in a category I don’t usually discuss? Because his physique offered the one component that his biggest rivals didn’t bring: consistency.
It was the fall of 2008. The Mass Monsters were the most popular of bodybuilders going back to the early 90’s. You know who I’m talking about. These guys set the bar pretty high in terms of size and conditioning. But they also set the bar low, in my opinion, in symmetry, taking away any kind of balance.
Balance. While I’ve never tried my hand at a bodybuilding competition, I’ve always viewed Bodybuilding competitions as more of a living art display than a sport. And if you’re going up there to be judged on your physique, that physique ought to be well proportioned. It should be as lean as it is muscular. And the bubble gut? It boggles my mind that some bodybuilders won the Olympia with that crap! But that’s a story for a another time.
So I was surprised when I read the Mr. Olympia Report in Flex Magazine, where I learned that after years of consistently placing in the Top 5, Dexter Jackson beat defending Mr. O Jay Cutler to win what would be his sole Sandow trophy. This win was automatically different than other Mr. O wins of the better part of the last two decades. At just 5″ 6′ and a contest weight of 215lbs, this was the man to beat a much larger behemoth in Jay? It was surreal.
But more than that, it was a breath of fresh air for once.
Dexter’s win over the much larger Jay Cutler, someone who aside from his size had those stereotypical American looks, gave me hope that just maybe the focus in Bodybuilding as a whole would revert back to the aesthetics and symmetry reminiscent of an era gone by. In the same way the a wrestler like Bret Hart made wrestling the main focus in the WWF following the Hogan/Steroid Scandal, just maybe Dexter Jackson could usher in a new era on substance over flash in Bodybuilding. Dexter had broken the proverbial glass ceiling after all.
Of course, that wasn’t to last. Jay Cutler came back with a vengeance the next year to reclaim his Mr. Olympia title. But I still didn’t like it, I didn’t care how much leaner he was this time around. But there were two things that neither Jay Cutler or most bodybuilders had during this time. Balance.
Balance is why Dex was able to compete at a high level for years, always placing in the top 5 in high profile events all the way up to the age of 51. Dexter could’ve easily settled for the Men’s Physique Division, where symmetry and balance are king over all else. He’d probably win 1st Place every year. But Dexter was about defying the odds. Dex, to me, is comparable to Rich Gaspari in the 80’s. He wasn’t nicknamed the Dragon Slayer just for fun. At just 5″ 9′ he not only beat out much larger competitors, he also placed 2nd behind Lee Haney in three consecutive Mr. Olympias.
Dexter Jackson was a legitimate throwback to the previous era because, much like those bodybuilders, he returned to the stage at every competition with the same delivery. Every time. His proportions, his low bodyfat (no bubble guts here!), his penchant for perfection. I like to think that there’d be no Phil Heath without Dexter Jackson.
So, what can we learn from the illustrious career of The Blade? That the best path to success sometimes is the road less travelled, to kind of quote Robert Frost for a second. That all it takes sometimes is your own individuality to break the glass ceiling, thus giving others like you a chance. Dexter Jackson’s legacy will be that, in a world filled with Mass Monsters, a true total package broke the mold and reminded everybody about all of what’s supposed to be good about Bodybuilding as not just a sport, but as a spectacle. And for that Dexter, I thank you.