“Greatness is earned, never rewarded.” Praised as the winningest bodybuilder in professional history, Dexter Jackson has earned every honor associated with his nicknames as “Action Jackson” and, his personal favorite, “The Blade.” Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida where he was a star on the football field in high school and the fastest running back in the country, Jackson was a talented athlete, fourth-degree black belt, break dancer and gymnast. He often dreamt of going to college on an athletic scholarship but saw his life take a different route when his girlfriend got pregnant and he took a job as a dishwasher and cook just to pay rent, afford diapers and provide for his new family.
As an athlete, Jackson always knew the importance of physical fitness but took things to an entirely new level in the 1990s when his friends dared him to enter a show. Dieting on tuna and rice for only three weeks while toning his already athletic physique, he easily won his first competition. Hooked by the sweet taste of victory, he entered his first major bodybuilding contest at the 1994 NPC Southern States Championships where his third-place finish boosted his confidence. “I realized that I could become a pro once I won the NPC Southern States in 1994,” Jackson recalled. “Once I did that, I went on to the 1995 NPC USA’s and I won my class, light heavyweight, there.”
Realizing he could find both fortune and fame doing what he loved, Jackson created his portfolio as he secured three professional showings, signed a sponsorship deal with MuscleTech and earned professional status with a huge win at the North American Championships in 1998. He rode the wave of victory and wrapped up the decade with debuts at the Arnold Classic and the Mr. Olympia before the new millennium welcomed great strides of improvement as he earned top 10 rankings in competitions like the Grand Prix Hungary, the Ironman Pro Invitational, the Night of Champions and the Toronto Pro Invitational.
Cutler’s success continued to blossom as he won his first Grand Prix in England in 2002 and saw his Mr. Olympia and Arnold Classic standings rise to the top four between 2003 and 2005. By 2005, he secured a well-deserved win at the Arnold Classic and kept the title for 2006 before losing it in 2007 and regaining it in 2008. Following similar suit, he flirted with wins at the Mr. Olympia contests and placed third in 2007 just as critics argued that the 5’6” tall Florida native would never see the title in his career. Determined to prove everyone wrong, he came back stronger than ever in 2008 and defeated the reigning two-time Mr. Olympia champion, Jay Cutler. Obviously on a roll, he went on to win the 2008 Arnold Classic, the Russian Grand Prix, the New Zealand Grand Prix and the Australian Pro Grand Prix.
Falling out of grace at the 2009 Mr. Olympia where he finished in third, Jackson’s career drastically slowed in 2009 and 2010 before he returned to the stage full-time in 2011 for a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Mr. Olympia contest. With many believing Jackson was well on his way out of the spotlight and into early retirement, he still had a few surprises up his sleeve as he took home titles at the 2013 Arnold Classic and Tijuana Pro, the 2014 Dubai Pro, the 2015 Arnold Classic and the Arnold Classic Europe, and the 2015 Prague Pro. By then, “Action Jackson” had cemented his place in history as a five-time Arnold Classic winner and only one of three bodybuilders to have won both the Mr. Olympia and the Arnold Classic.
By 2015, Arnold was thrilled to prove that age is only a number when the 45-year-old earned his highest place at the Mr. Olympia contest since 2008 with a second-place finish. He wrapped up the year with several more wins before turning heads in 2016 with a huge victory at the Arnold Classic South Africa and the Arnold Classic Europe before placing third in the Mr. Olympia and taking home the title as the Mr. Olympia Europe, which made him the second oldest bodybuilder to ever win an open IFBB pro show at 46 years old. Who said bodybuilders have an expiration date?
As for his training regimen, Jackson takes full credit for his 225-pound physique, his 52-inch chest and 20-inch arms that are the result of hard work and dedication. Typically training alone on six and 10 week programs with a diet packed with protein and carbohydrates, Jackson was ready to take things to the next level in 2003 and hired legendary trainer Joe McNeil after competing against McNeil’s athletes for years on stage. Hoping to win the Mr. Olympia and the GNC Show of Strength Pro Championship, McNeil pushed Jackson to the limit and ultimately led him to a third-place showing at the Mr. Olympia and a victory at the GNC Show. By then, McNeil was ready to retire and Jackson was flying solo once again.
“I called him and asked him, and we agreed,” Jackson said during an interview with Bodybuildingpro.com about his relationship with McNeil. “I have known Joe for a long time, since the beginning of my career, and I have battled many of his athletes…and he always said to me, back in the day, that I will come to him one day. And I guess last year was that one time, so we took it, ran with it and he saw what he could do with me. And he was satisfied with and then he was done with bodybuilding.”
Accustomed to training and doing shows on his own, Jackson doesn’t let much stand in his way of winning especially now that he holds a record-setting 28 IFBB professional bodybuilding titles. And, on the days he feels like giving up, he says he always stops and remembers why he started in the first place.