This Day in Armwrestling History - May Dates
May 1st, 1970
The 9th World Wristwrestling Championship is held in Petaluma, California. There is a record number of entries, as it is the first World Championship to benefit from significant television exposure. (The 1969 World Championship had been broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in January. This was the first time the sport had been featured on national television.) Exactly how big is the event? 37 states are represented and there is a total of 437 entries! 17-year old Petaluman Mike Dolcini wins the 175-pound division for the second year in a row. When he won the 1969 title at just 16 years of age, he became the youngest person to ever win a world title. Jim Pollock, a 34-year old insurance executive from Palo Alto, wins his third world title in the middleweight (200-pound) division. He manages to beat the very strong Steve Stanaway from Virginia in the finals. But the crowd is most pleased when 19-year old, 243-pound Jim Dolcini wins the heavyweight division, as it the first time a Petaluman wins the unlimited world title. The Dolcini brothers are understandably elated: the teenagers had just won two of the three men’s titles at the World Wristwrestling Championship, in their home town, and their matches were going to be shown on national television!
May 2nd, 1981
The first day of competition of the International Wristwrestling Championships is held in Chicago, Illinois. The event is organized by the International Wristwrestling Club (IWC) headed by Maurice Rioux. The IWC has only been in operation for approximately one year, and is already putting on huge tournaments. This particular contest features a total prize purse of $38,000! Pullers from 25 states and 2 provinces are in attendance. The event features left and right mirrored weight classes: the IWC is the first major armsport organization to do so. Dave Patton, Johnny Walker, and Cleve Dean all win their respective classes, with both arms. And the ladies lightweight right hand class is won by Fran Brzenk (John Brzenk's aunt), yet another member of one of the most successful armwrestling families in history!
May 3rd, 1968
The 7th World’s Wristwrestling Championship is held in Petaluma, California. The event receives more media attention than ever before, thanks to the Championship being featured in a Peanuts storyline during the 10 days leading up to the tournament. Charles Schulz’ comic strip is the most popular one in the world, which results in millions of people learning about Petaluma and the Wristwrestling Championship for the first time. A couple of teenagers shine on this day. John Brayton, a senior in high school, wins the 32-man lightweight class and 17-year old Jim Dolcini takes the 200-pound title by beating 1967 champ Jim Pollock in the finals. (Dolcini had lost to Pollock in the 1967 200-pound final at only 16 years of age!) Mickie Novis wins the Women’s Division for the second year in a row. And 1963 Unlimited Division champion Duane “Tiny” Benedix comes out of retirement after a five-year hiatus to become the first person to reclaim the Unlimited Division world title.
The final Petaluma-themed Peanuts strip is also published on this day. Snoopy had been training for the Championship, but in the end he is disqualified because he has no thumbs!
May 4th, 1975
The fifth World Arm Wrestling Championships are held at the Greater Scranton YMCA in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. A total of 115 pullers are in attendance, competing for the world titles up for grabs in seven men’s right arm weight classes. The “Godfather” Al Turner wins his second Scranton world title, while Steve Stanaway wins his fourth. But perhaps the most impressive pullers are New York lightweight Joe Leonardis and Viriginia super heavyweight Roy Ridgley, who each win Scranton world titles for the fifth year in a row!
May 5th, 2005
The Professional Armwrestling League (PAL) holds ArmFight 12 in Essen, Germany. A single supermatch is on the card: a right-hand 78 kg match-up between England’s 3-time WAF medallist Craig Sanders and veteran Turkish puller Dursun Onder. Both are very experienced, consistent performers. The event promoters were correct to expect a good battle. Though Dursun had to drop some weight to pull in this weight class, he fights hard and manages to secure a 4-2 victory.
Bonus Fact: Craig Sanders has won an incredible 14 national right-hand titles in a row (2000-2013), and his streak is still going!
May 6th, 1989
The 1989 AAA Stand-Up National Championships are held in Cincinnati, Ohio. A total of 177 pullers from across the nation show up for this right-hand only competition. Andrew “Cobra” Rhodes wins his first AAA Stand-Up National title. Ray Taglione, Norm Devio, Johnny Walker, Ron Bath, Jim Northern, and Rhonda Lindley all add to their previously-earned Stand-Up National titles. Carolyn Liebel wins an incredible sixth straight Stand-Up title in the women’s heavyweight division. And Richard Lupkes absolutely destroys his competition in the super heavyweight class: he’s likely still on a high from beating John Brzenk and Gary Goodridge in a tournament just three weeks earlier!
May 7th, 2000
The professional right-hand division of the inaugural Harley Pull is contested in Montpelier, Ohio. A Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle is up for grabs to the person who wins the overall right-hand title. The overall is first contested in two weight divisions: 187 pounds and under, featuring the top finishers in the classes below this limit, and over 187, featuring the top finishers in the classes above this limit. Competition is fierce in the 187 overall class, and Cobra Rhodes comes out on top (ahead of Engin Terzi and Kevin Bongard). Equally menacing is the competition in the 188+ overall class, which is won by John Brzenk (ahead of Dave Randall and Jerry Cadorette). The final match, to decide who would walk away with the motorcycle, pits lightweight champ Cobra against heavyweight champ John. Though Cobra puts up a decent fight, it is John who wins the Harley!
May 8th, 2010
Northeastern Armwrestling Challenge (NEAC) VIII is held in White Plains, New York. Over the course of five years, Notheastern Armwrestling Association co-founders Pete Milano and James Retarides had established the NEAC as the most anticipated event in the northeastern US. The NEAC events are known for their challenge matches, limited weight classes, entertaining emceeing, and superior organization, and NEAC VIII is no different. The event is headlined by two right-hand Top Roll Elite World Championship challenge matches between challengers John Milne and Don Underwood and champions Bill Logsdon and Ron Bath for the middleweight and heavyweight belts. Though the matches are close, both champions successfully defend their titles. The tournament portion of the event receives a record number of entries for an NEAC event.
May 9th, 1980
Future armwrestling superstar Alexey Voevoda is born in northern Ukraine. He would later blast onto the armwrestling scene, winning the Absolute Division of the prestigious Zloty Tur Cup in 2002, 2003, and 2004, the latter being the event featured in the climax of armwrestling documentary Pulling John. In winning this event, he would receive near universal recognition as being the best right-handed armwrestler on the planet. He would finish off 2004 by winning a pair of WAF world titles, before retiring from the sport soon after to focus on Olympic bobsledding. He would briefly resurface in 2007 for a dominant performance in a supermatch with Michael Todd, and then disappear once again. Fans worldwide have been looking forward to his return to the sport, which many hope will happen in 2014.
May 10th, 2011
Armwrestling legend Cleve “Arm Breaker” Dean passes away at the age of 57. The 6’7” 466-pound pig farmer from Georgia was one of the most dominant armwrestlers the sport has ever seen. Between 1978 and 1986, he competed in nearly 100 events, receiving no more than a handful of losses. In his near 30 year career, he won in excess of 50 national, international, and world titles, in many different organizations (AAA, WPAA, WPWA, WWC, Yukon Jack, WAF, IWC, etc.). These titles were earned in stand-up and sit-down competition, both armwrestling and wristwrestling. His presence was truly awe-inspiring, and most who have gripped up with him remember the experience very well. His place among the greats in the sport will always be assured.
May 11th, 2002
The 15th annual Contraband Days Armwrestling Championships are held in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Since the event was first held in May 1988, the tournament has raised over $15,000 for The Compassionate Friends of Southwest Louisiana: a self-help support organization for families that have lost a child. One of the largest annual events in the Gulf States, the 2002 event receives 80 entries. Texan Lindley Keating is the big winner of the day, being the only person to take first place in both the left and right hand divisions.
May 12th, 2007
The 14th annual USAA National Pro-Am Armwrestling Championships are held in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. As usual, the pro division is stacked with talent. 6’5” Eric Woelfel wins yet another super heavyweight left hand title. Corey Miller repeats as a double winner, taking the 154 class with both arms. And John Brzenk wins a couple of classes, increasing his overall number of USAA National titles to more than 35!!!
May 13th, 2006
The 13th annual USAA National Pro-Am Armwrestling Championships are held in Rising Sun, Indiana. In the pro division, 21-year old Wyomingite Corey Miller wins his first two national titles. Being the only national championship to offer cash prizes, the tournament attracts some competitors who don’t typically attend the other two Nationals (AAA and USAF). John Brzenk is one of these. In fact he hasn’t missed this event in more than 10 years. To no one’s surprise, he wins the two classes he enters.
May 14th, 1971
The tenth edition of the World’s Wristwrestling Championship is held in Petaluma, California. Building on the momentum gained from national television coverage of the 1969 and 1970 tournaments, the 1971 Championship sets yet another attendance record. Two-time lightweight runner-up Bill Rhodes wins his first world title. Jim Pollock wins his fourth world title in five years. But the highest level of excitement surrounds the final match of the heavyweight division. It pits reigning World Wristwrestling champion and Petaluma golden boy Jim Dolcini against World Armwrestling champion Maurice Baker. “Moe” was a three-time winner of the International Federation of Arm Wrestlers (IFAW) World Championship, and had never been beaten in competition. He flew cross-country on a mission to prove he was the very best. In advancing through the elimination rounds of the tournament, Moe crushes all of his adversaries, with no matches lasting more than a second. Going into the final, Jim’s confidence is clearly shaken: this is the first time he has seen anyone like Moe. As soon as the referee gives the start command, Moe hits hard. But somehow, Jim manages to stop the match just before being pinned. No one is more surprised than Jim. He fights off Moe’s surge, and then slowly he begins to come back up. Everyone in the capacity crowd is on their feet. By the time the match is back to the center of the table, Moe has little left and his arm comes crashing down. The crowd goes absolutely crazy as the local boy wins again!
May 15th, 1977
The 1977 World Arm Wrestling Federation (WAWF) World Championships are held in Holyoke, Massachusetts, marking the first time the event is not hosted in Scranton. 164 competitors take part in the tournament. Harvey Frank, Rick Levine, Al Turner, Dan Mason, and Hazel Thomas all successfully defend their WAWF world titles. Cindy Baker wins her first world title, showing that she takes after her old man (her father is legendary puller Maurice Baker). Steve Stanaway wins an incredible sixth world title. And Al Turner (“The Godfather”) is voted Armwrestler of the Year by his peers for the second year in a row.
May 16th, 2009
The 16th annual USAA National Pro-Am Armwrestling Championships are held in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Californians Vazgen Soghoyan and Jake Smith, as well as Montana’s Bryan Johnson win their first USAA National titles. Luke Kindt and Brent Rakers win right arm titles at this event for the second year in a row. And John Brzenk earns four more national titles, bringing his total number of USAA national titles to more than 40!
May 17th, 1960
Dave Patton, arguably the most dominant lightweight puller of all time, is born. He would go on to win many major titles in all the top organizations of his day (primarily 1980 through 1995). Among the titles he would eventually earn are 18 AAA National Titles (9 stand-up, 9 sit-down), a couple of WPAA World Titles, 5 Yukon Jack National/World Titles, 4 WAWF(WAF) World Titles, 3 Carling O’Keefe World Titles, the Over the Top World Title, and an incredible 10 Petaluma WWC World Titles in a row! To top this off, in 2002 he would briefly come out of retirement and add a prestigious Arnold Classic title to his résumé!
May 18th, 1974
The World’s Wristwrestling Championship Inc. (WWC) hosts its inaugural National Championship at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Due to the rapid growth of the Petaluma World Wristwrestling Championship, thanks in no small part to the ABC Wide World of Sports coverage it had been receiving over the past four years, the organization decides the time is right to expand. The National Championship takes over the traditional World Championship weekend and the latter event is moved to October. A crowd of 500 gather to watch 150 contestants compete in the single elimination tournament for the new title and the chance to appear on TV. Many World Championship regulars are in attendance. Tim Donovan and Jim Woolsey (older brother of WWC World Champion John Woolsey) win their first major titles in the lightweight and middleweight divisions. Donna Myers wins the women’s division. And after sitting out the 1973 World Championship because he was recovering from an injury, Petaluma great Jim Dolcini competes in the heavyweight division and takes the title after winning a hard-fought match in the finals with New York’s George Ludwigsen. He adds a National title to his three WWC World Titles, and reclaims top spot in the armwrestling world.
May 19th, 2006
The Professional Armwrestling League (PAL) holds Armfight 21, a series of four supermatches—two of which feature West Virginia’s Travis Bagent. Travis takes on two top contenders: Ukrainian Andrey Pushkar with the right arm and Uzbekistan’s Farid Uzmanov with the left. But even though Travis pulls double-duty against these heavy-hitters, he manages to win both matches with scores of 4 to 2.
May 20th, 1972
The 11th annual World’s Wristwrestling Championships are held in Petaluma, California. Over 300 competitors take part. Jim Pollock wins an incredible fourth middleweight title in a row, bringing his total number of world wristwrestling titles to five—more than anyone else in history. His little brother Ted earns his first world title by taking the lightweight division. Washington’s Fran Ayers takes the women’s division, and beats 1971 champion Emily Matterazzo in the process. And after losing for the first time ever in the final heavyweight match of the 1971 championships to Jim Dolcini, Maurice Baker is back to prove his loss was a fluke. This time he beats Jim in a matter of seconds in the final match of the day. “I waited a whole year for him and I finally got him!” says Mr. Baker after his win. Jim has nothing but kind words to say about his opponent: “I never felt anything like that (referring to Baker’s strength) in my life!”
Bonus Info: The 1972 Championships also sees the first arm break in the event’s history. Middleweight Don Boespflug was holding his own in a match with Roger Jones, when his arm suddenly snapped.
May 21st, 2005
The Professional Armwrestling League (PAL) holds ArmFight 13 in Gdansk, Poland. The main event is a left hand super heavyweight match between Russia’s Alexey Voevoda and Ukraine’s Alexey Semerenko. After losing a PAL left hand world title match to Travis Bagent in a decisive manner less than four months earlier, Alexey Voevoda redeems himself by defeating the very strong opponent that is Mr. Semerenko by a score of 4-2. This marks Alexey’s last competition prior to a hiatus to concentrate on Olympic bobsled training.
May 22nd, 2010
The Colorado State Armwrestling Championships are held in Aurora, Colorado. Pullers in the 132-pound class receive greater attention than usual as the event features a special 132# Pro Invitational Right and Left Megamatch. New Mexico’s Joseph Cordova, Colorado’s Brent Norris, and Indiana’s Brad Spine each pay $200 per arm to compete in the winner-take-all contest. The megamatch is won by Brad Spine, who is awarded the cash pot of $1,200.
May 23rd, 2009
Battle of the Atlantic IV is held in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. The fourth edition of The Battle of the Atlantic—a series of supermatch events that feature title belts for the best pullers in Atlantic Canada—includes six championship matches: three right-hand contests and three left-hand contests in the lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight divisions. Five of the six matches are won by defending champions: Will Sarty, Tim Wrigley, Ryan Purdey, and Mark MacPhail (who wins both his heavyweight match-ups). The one upset comes in the right middleweight division, with WAF master-level referee Rick Pinkney defeating Mark Crouse by a score of 4 to 2.
May 24th, 2008
Arm Melter 3 is held in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. This three weight class, triple elimination competition features a right hand supermatch between tournament director Joe Gould and the “Grippler” Ian Carnegie. Joe proves to have a bit too much for Ian and he wins the match by a score of 3-0. The Match of the Day award is presented to 49-year old Russian great Anatoly Skodtaev and the “Hitman” Allen Ford for their lengthy battle in the finals of the right hand 220-pound class. While Allen managed to bring Anatoly’s hand close to the pin with his mighty hit, Anatoly was able to put the brakes on and eventually bring Allen’s arm back over.
May 25th, 2002
The fifth annual Arm Wars International Tournament of Champions is held in Manchester, England. The event attracts competitors from across Europe, including representation from England, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, India, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland. Tournament Director Neil Pickup wins both the left hand and right hand 90 kg classes. Elaine Pickup and Swedish puller Johan Lindholm are double winners as well. Johan is also crowned the right arm “Champion of Champions”, while fellow Swede Andreas Rundstrom is first runner-up.
May 26th, 1979
The 9th annual Carling O’Keefe World Wristwrestling Championships are held in Timmins, Ontario, Canada. The tournament, Canada’s most prestigious, attracts many of the best pullers from across North America. For the second year in a row, American pullers take first place in all three right arm classes. Virginia’s Harvey Frank, the reigning AAA Seated National Champion, wins the 175-pound class. Five-time Scranton/WAWF World Champion and fellow Virginian Steve Stanaway wins the 200-pound class. And Massachusetts’ Dan Mason, two-time Scranton/WAWF World Champion, wins the super heavyweight class.
NOTE: While called the “World Wristwrestling Championships”, the Carling O’Keefe tournament used armwrestling rules (i.e. the non-competing hand grasped a peg).
May 27th, 1978
The 8th annual Carling O’Keefe World Wristwrestling Championships are held in Timmins, Ontario, Canada. Californian Clay Rosencrans is up for a challenge and enters all three weight divisions! Incredibly, he manages to win two of the three classes, lightweight and heavyweight, but comes short of taking the middleweight class. This division is won by none other than “The Brockton Arm” Al Turner who at 50 years old is more than twice the age of many of the adversaries in his class. In winning their classes, Clay and Al become only the second and third Americans to win the Carling O’Keefe Worlds. The first American to win a title at this event was Steve Stanaway, who did it in 1977.
May 28th, 1980
NFL Super Classic III is held in Las Vegas, Nevada. The NFL Super Classic, first organized by Tony Celeste’s Arm Wrestling International (AWI) in 1978, features two separate divisions: one for professional football players and one for professional armwrestlers. The football players compete in an open weight class, and on this particular day, AWI World Championship titles are up for grabs in two right-hand men’s classes in the pro armwrestling division: light-heavyweight (210 lbs and under) and heavyweight (over 210 lbs). Many strong football players take part in the competition, but in the end the NFL Super Classic title is won by the Oakland Raiders for the third year in a row. California’s Clay Rosencrans wins the light-heavyweight professional class by beating Georgia’s Johnny Walker in the finals, while Virgil Arciero defeats George Hood to win his fourth AWI heavyweight world title!
NOTE: This was the first AWI tournament to be aired on ESPN.
May 29th, 1976
The 6th annual Carling O’Keefe World Wristwrestling Championships are held at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex in Timmins, Ontario, Canada. Mr. Universe Lou Ferrigno is a special guest at the event (he does not compete). Aside from the world titles, $500 is up for grabs to the first place winners of each class. Big Ron Bertin from Winnipeg, Manitoba, wins the heavyweight class for the second time in a row, while Timmins native and fan favourite Wally Kapel wins his fourth lightweight title. It was actually his fifth world title: he won the 1971 event as well, but his win was not officially recognized because he was under age (only 17 at the time)!
May 30th, 2010
Day 2 of Arm Wars Triple ExXxcel is held in London, England. The atmosphere created by the tremendous right-hand pulling on display on Day 1—a day which saw Don Underwood beat Marcio Barboza by a score of 4-2 as well as Ron Bath and Japan’s Yoshi Kanai pull to a 3-3 draw—suddenly changes when Michael Todd breaks his left arm while pulling Brazilian Wagner Bortolato. Eerily, Michael had predicted the day before that Wagner would have to break his arm in order to win!
May 31st, 2009
The right hand pro division of Mike Bowling’s sixth Harley Pull is contested in Montpelier, Ohio. Rick Soliwoda, John Brzenk, and Travis Bagent each win their respective classes and add to the left-hand titles they won the previous day. Dave Chaffee drops weight to pull the 225 class. He manages to beat everyone else in the class, but he is no match for John Brzenk at this weight. And for the first time, the person with the best odds of winning the bike does in fact win it. John, who had won keys for taking both of his classes as well as the overalls, wins his second Harley!
Researched and Written by Eric Roussin