It’s been said countless times that records are meant to be broken. And in sporting competition, that’s certainly an accurate statement. Records fall all the time, though it occasionally takes decades for it to happen. In our sport of bodybuilding, the record of 8 Mr. Olympia wins jointly held by Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman is one that is likely to never be exceeded. Some speculate that Phil Heath could be the man to do that, but only time will tell. The other major record is that of 4 Arnold Classic wins set by Flex Wheeler in 2000 and matched by Dexter Jackson in 2013. Obviously, The Blade is the one man with the best chance of winning five titles in Columbus before retiring, but to do that he needed to return to the Arnold Classic – and the clock was ticking. Having turned 45 years old last month, Dexter is admittedly nearing the end of a stellar career that began when he first stepped on a pro stage over 15 years ago. Just yesterday, Dexter formally announced that he would indeed be on stage this coming March. I spoke with him about what motivated him to do the show, what a win would mean, how he’s been able to stay on top this long, and what the future holds for him.
RH: Let’s get right to it. Strategically, you had a pretty good idea of who was and was not doing the contest by this week. Phil, Kai, Shawn, and Dennis have been getting by you for the last couple years at the Mr. Olympia, and none of them are going to be in this next Arnold show. The top guys who are, namely Branch, Evan, Cedric, Roelly, and Pakuski, are all men you have been beating consistently. Was this the major factor in your decision to do the show?
DJ: Yes, because I think the show is wide open. I’m not saying I will win, but I know there’s a very good chance I can. And I also feel it might be my last chance. I’m not going to be doing this a whole lot longer.
RH: Assuming you are in your usual condition, do you see any of the men we just mentioned giving you any serious trouble?
DJ: No. That’s no disrespect to any of them. I just know what I am capable of and how things have shaken out in the past.
RH: What about the new guy, Justin Compton? Some feel he is a dark horse and could possibly win this. Do you see him as being that good yet?
DJ: Not yet, no. He still needs more muscle maturity and a little more refinement. Justin is a young guy with so much potential. Not many have that mix of size, structure, and shape like he does. But it’s like with every new guy that comes along. You heard it with Cedric and you heard it with Ramy. They come out as rookies and do some damage, and all of a sudden they’re being talked up as the next Mr. Olympia. But then when you put them on stage at the Arnold or the Olympia in a stronger lineup, you see what they still need to be dominant at that level. Justin is going to be great, I do believe that. It’s just going to take a little time. It’s like when Phil started competing as a pro. He wasn’t ready to battle for the Arnold or the Olympia yet. Once he added enough quality muscle and maturity, Phil became the man to beat. Justin has that type of potential too, so give him another year or two.
RH: If you win a fifth Arnold Classic title, that would also set a record that would stand for many years, if it ever gets broken at all. Did that aspect motivate your decision to compete as well?
DJ: Yes, that was definitely a factor. My favorite bodybuilder of all time is Flex Wheeler, and he has the current record. For me to be able to beat that record would be the icing on the cake for my career.
RH: At some level, because this is how you make your living, this also has to partly be about the money, am I right?
DJ: I’m not going to lie and say I wouldn’t like 130 thousand dollars. But honestly, the record is a lot more important to me at this point.
RH: Did you talk to your coach George Farah about doing the Arnold? What was that conversation like?
DJ: I told him last night. We didn’t even talk about it at the Nationals a couple weeks ago. As far as he knew, I was going to take another solid off-season and compete next at the Mr. Olympia and a couple shows after that next fall.
RH: I know you and Flex Wheeler have been good friends for many years. Did you discuss this with him recently at all before you made your decision? He’s talked about how he would be happy if you were the one to break his record, since you are friends.
DJ: Recently, no. But we have talked about it a few times in the past. I know he would say what he did before: “I’m in your corner. I live through you now.” I have nothing but respect for Flex. He’s been on my side since the start.
RH: Another record that this win would affect is the record of all-time career pro wins. Ronnie is in the lead with 26, Vince Taylor has 21, and you and Kevin Levrone both have 20. This would tie you with Vince, and assuming you hit a couple other shows next season and win at least one of them, you would be second only to Ronnie. How would you feel about that?
DJ: I can’t say it wouldn’t be a big deal for me, it would . I feel blessed to have been able to accomplish everything I have in my career so far, and everything else is just a further blessing. It’s great to have the chance to solidify my career and my legacy. At this point, I do it all for my fans. I would have retired a few years ago if it weren’t for all the support they give me with emails, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. At my age, I inspire a lot of guys out there in their 40’s and 50’s who see what I am still able to do. That means a lot to me. It feels good to know you’re making a difference, and I appreciate them letting me know that.
RH: As we love to keep pointing out, you’re now 45 years old. Few bodybuilders our age, and I say that because we are two months apart and not to make you feel old, make any new gains. Yet last year in the off-season preceding the Mr. Olympia, you managed to hit a new all-time high bodyweight of 260 pounds. I’m curious as to whether or not you wound up being any heavier at the Olympia than your usual stage weight?
DJ: I actually got up to 265, and I was eating clean the whole time. So I knew I wasn’t just adding fat and water weight. My normal contest weight for at least the last seven or eight years was 230. When I got down to 240, I looked just as good as I usually do at 230. I was 238 at the Olympia, up 8 pounds. Like you said, for someone my age who’s been training and competing as long as I have, I was very happy about that.
RH: If you win the Arnold and go on to place in the top five at the Mr. Olympia, would that be it for you? Would you announce your retirement?
DJ: Possibly. I don’t want to say yes or no for sure, because I can’t tell you what I will decide when that time comes. We’ll see.
RH: Physically, you seem to be holding up fine. If you really wanted to keep going, how much longer do you think you could maintain your physique to the level where you are still a top guy? Have you seen any signs that you might be near the end of that?
DJ: Not really. I have no loose skin, I haven’t seen any loss in size or fullness either in general or in areas like the legs where guys in their 40’s often do. My body still looks fresh, not old or tired. My best estimate is that I could do this for another 5 years if I wanted to before my body started looking worse. That’s not going to happen, though. I will compete in 2015 and possibly a bit longer, but not 5 more years when I’m 50. No way.
RH: You were famous for years for being able to stay very lean without doing any cardio, and needing only short periods of time to diet down to contest condition. Do you think that’s been one key to your longevity? In other words, if you had to do two hours of cardio a day and diet on low carbs for 16 weeks every time you had competed, do you think you would still be competing today?
DJ: You hit the nail on the head. All those things take a toll on your body. Just gaining a lot of weight and losing it over and over again is rough on your system. I never got more than 20-25 pounds over my competition weight in all those years, where some guys would be 40 or 50 pounds heavier in the off-season. Losing that much weight every year, or twice a year every year in some cases, stresses your whole body out and drains you. Luckily I didn’t put myself through all that, which is why I’m still here and competing. I’ve also made changes to my training that allowed me to keep at it this long. Some guys insist on doing heavy, compound free weight movements even as they get older, because they’re afraid anything else wouldn’t be ‘hardcore.’ You can’t do that. Your joints can’t take it after a certain point where they’ve had all that wear and tear already from so many years of it. I wasn’t afraid to start using more machines. And look, I was still able to put new size on training with more machines than free weights. If I hadn’t done that, I would have been badly injured a few times by now, I’m sure of it. I sure wouldn’t be 45 years old and one of the favorites to win the Arnold Classic. I’m bigger than ever. Not many bodybuilders my age can say that.
RH: Even though you’re still actively competing, you’ve been preparing for life after the stage for some time now. Between the contests you promote and your Blade Nutrition supplement line, do you have enough to keep you busy when that day comes and you hang up your posing trunks?
DJ: Yeah, I’m sure. I also have been in the coaching business for a couple years now, too. Team Blade has the hottest women competing in the industry today. You can check them out on Instagram at teamblade. Between that, the three shows I promote, and my supplement line, I will stay plenty busy. But I will always be grateful that I was able to have the career in pro bodybuilding that I did. It’s been an amazing journey.