Men and women with arms both big and small competed against one another Sunday at the 35th Annual Empire State Golden Arm Tournament of Champions, overseen by the New York Arm Wrestling Association.
Cheap Shots bar in Kew Gardens Hills was the venue of this year’s competition, where awards were given to both amateur and professional arm wrestlers in their respective weight classes, as well as left and right arm categories.
“The Empire State Golden Arm Tournament of Champions is New York City’s oldest and most prestigious, sought-after title,” said Gene Camp, president and founder of the New York Arm Wrestling Association.
The event also raised funds for the American Red Cross’s Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
What may seem like a trivial game that friends and bros do on a whim after a night of drinking to test their manhood was not taken lightly by the tournament’s more than 50 competitors. NYAWA even has its own rules for the competition.
Safety is taken so seriously, a picture is shown before the start of how someone can easily break a bone if practicing unsafe arm wrestling.
Some stretch out or have their arms massaged, and others have their own unique strategies they use to compete. David Milburn, 42, from Jamaica, wears sunglasses and keeps an icy poker face when coming face-to-face with his opponent before they lock up. He said he uses it as a method to “get in the zone” and to keep the opponent guessing due to the lack of eye contact.
“I call it my ‘tiger mode,’” he said.
Milburn won 1st place in the amateur Left 199+ Super Heavyweight category.
To prepare, he does mostly resistance training, but also some weight lifting and pull-ups, as well training with renowned arm wrestling champion Jason Vale.
Even longtime pros still gets nervous before competing. Joyce Boone, 45, from Brooklyn, has earned the nickname the “Queen of Arms” for being undefeated with her right hand. Despite winning the Female Right Overall MVP award, she still jitters before she clasps hands.
“I do get nervous because you don’t know who you’re competing against,” she said.
Her long time upper limb rival has been Ana Kenah, 28, from New Jersey. Kenah won the Female Left Overall MVP award.
Kenah said there is a competitive rivalry between her and Boone that is no fun and games when they grapple.
“We’re never nice to each other on the tables,” she said.
But the competitor who stood out the most was Jason Merlo, 21, of Staten Island. A true underdog who never competed before in any arm wrestling competition, he managed to rank 1st in the amateur class in the Right 198-and-under. He credits the technique of back pressure, which is pulling your opponents arm closer to you.
“It feels cool,” he said. “I really wasn’t expecting to win.” This won’t be Merlo’s last time going hand-to-hand in competition. He plans to also compete in another big tournament in Manhattan, the Big Apple Grapple, next year.
While the competition is heavy, with its fair share of winners and losers, Milburn said that arm wrestling brings people together like nothing else.
“It’s all love,” he said. “Race and religion doesn’t matter here. It’s the closest to heaven.”