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The World’s Strongest Man Vs The Arnold Classic

Photo From Arnold Sports Festival

By Jono Macfarlane


I’ve seen a few posts recently about the Arnold Classic Strongman (ASC) vs World’s Strongest Man (WSM).

Who is the real strongest man in the world?

I take the completely logical, common position that they are both the pinnacle of the sport of strongman. No really, that’s my position: They’re both awesome.

For some, that’s not good enough. I’ve seen a number of comments along the lines of:

”The Arnold champ is the strongest man in the world. The WSM champ is the best strongman.”

“To be the real WSM you need to win both”

“The Arnold’s is better because it’s heavier and WSM is too light”

You get the point. Alot of these arguments are just recycled every year, with little regard for actual facts or nuance. And it seems to me that WSM tends to come off worse off in the court of popular opinion because it is deemed lighter.

A few points:

* The popular formula seems to be:

Arnold = Brute Strength

WSM = A bit less Brute Strength, cardio, athleticism.

I think that’s simplistic. The events change year by year. They’re just different contests with different events. Yes, the Arnold tends to be heavier, but it also has fewer events.

WSM tends to have 12 events, ASC in 2016 had 5. If you took the 5 hardest WSM events and put them at the Arnold, I don’t imagine there would be much complaining.

*The last few years both contests have been won by the same two guys, Zydrunas Savickas, and Brian Shaw. That fact at least should cause some of the hyperbole to die down. The debate often seem to be framed as if WSM is a glorified Crossfit contest. It’s not.


*One should think twice before saying things like: ”The Arnold champ is the strongest man in the world. The WSM champ is the best strongman.” I hear this often. What is perhaps unsurprising is that almost no one really believes that in practice. In 2013, Lalas won the Arnolds, and Shaw won WSM. Social media was in full swing at the time, and nowhere did people say: “Ackchyually, Brian, Lalas is the real strongest man in the world.” Point made. (Lalas is a beast, no disrespect intended, and winning $70,000 vs $50,000 for WSM means he’s probably not complaining.)


*Few people deserve more to be on a hypothetical list of ‘Strongest Men in the World’ than Eddie Hall. Eddie has a 6th and the 9th place at the Arnolds, and if I understand correctly, hasn’t qualified for the 2017 show. Do we want to say Eddie is the 3rd best strongman in the world (WSM 2016) but is ranked lower in the list of actual strongest men because he hasn’t done well at the Arnold’s?


*Hafthor Bjornsson has competed five times at the Arnolds. He has a 10th, 8th, 5th, 7th  and 5th. Based on him winning or getting on the podium at practically every major contest on the planet, are we going to explain his Arnold performances away as lacking brute strength and just being mobile? As with Eddie, are we really going to argue that he doesn’t belong in that 2nd-4th bracket of the strongest men on earth?


*Different strongmen have different priorities. With the Arnold’s moving towards more of a qualifying process than an invite system, those priorities are going to become more obvious. We’ve already seen that Eddie Hall isn’t going to the Arnold’s, and with the 500kg deadlift out of the way, his goal appears clear: “Win WSM”. Savickas on the other hand won the Arnold in 2016 and decided to skip WSM. Speculation, but I doubt Hafthor has put the same amount of effort into preparing for the ASC as he does for WSM. If we say to be the real ‘Strongest Man in the World’ you need to win both shows, you don’t allow for the diversity of goals.

*I’ve done more than 80 contests since starting in 2005. One thing I’ve seen is that generally the more events there are in a show, the more confidence you can have that the best strongmen placed higher.  It’s often possible to jump from say 5th place to 2nd in the last event of a 4 event show. It tends to be harder to do that in a 8 or 10 event show. This seems like a pedantic point, but it stands.

That WSM has 12 events (admittedly 6 and 6 for heats and finals) and the ASC currently has 5, shouldn’t be ignored in the discussion. I’d like to see the ASC bump it up to 6. I also think that if the Arnold went to 10-12 very heavy events over 2 days, it would turn into a Darwinian nightmare and ruin the show with injuries. That seemed to be the Fortissimus philosophy and a household-name strongman described it to me as a “#$@$^@# horrible show”.


*Lastly: Saying that the winner of WSM is not the ‘World’s Strongest Man’, removes objectivity from the discussion. It becomes like debating whether Batman or Superman is better. The Arnold Classic Strongman is big enough, and prestigious enough that becoming ‘The Arnold Champion’ with the biggest financial prize in the sport, should be enough of an honour. Otherwise we need to consider whether we just go back to calling the best powerlifter or olympic weightlifter the ‘World’s Strongest Man’. I don’t think that after 40 years of pain (1977-2017), we need to reinvent the wheel. The World’s Strongest Man is the World’s Strongest Man.

The following is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of Starting Strongman. 


Jono Macfarlane has been competing in strongman competitions since 2005. He is a former New Zealand’s Strongest Man, and places 11th at the IHGF Highland Games World Championships in 2015. You can follow him on Facebook


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