It sounds like something out of a 1980s back-alley bar: two men face-to-face, locking arms, impressing women by using brute strength to determine the strongest out of a group of tattooed tough guys with cigarettes in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other.
But as usual, the reality has little to do with the stereotype. These days, arm wrestling is a professional sport, a rigorous competition of skill, logic and strength. And it's not played out in back alleys, or even in bars.
Today at the Inner Harbor's Power Plant Live! the GNC Pro Performance Regional Arm Wrestling Tournament will take place. On the line: spots in the tournament finals, slated for New York in late September.
GNC, which runs vitamin and nutrition stores, started the Pro Performance series about a year and a half ago, says company spokeswoman Stephanie Mangini. "We wanted an event that fit both weekend warriors and performance athletes. Arm wrestlers just seemed to be the perfect fit."
GNC worked with United States Armsports, the only American organization recognized by the World Armwrestling Federation, and Alan Taylor Communications to organize a competition featuring single-elimination matches, culminating in next month's national finals. Winners today will receive $250, with $100 going to the second-place finisher, $50 for third. Winners in the finals will receive $1,000, $500 for second and $250 for third.
Dave Patton, a 42-year-old computer software writer from Virginia and 35-time World Arm Wrestling champion, will be among the contestants. "Arm wrestling is a lot different than you'd think," says Patton. "A lot of people have this image of drunk guys and cigarette smoke, but that's not the way it is. I think about this every day of my life - plan all the supplements I take, training, meals. It's a serious sport."
So serious that Patton goes to the gym five days a week and undergoes a vigorous training program that includes plenty of curls and chin-ups. He not only has to work out correctly but also has to eat and take the right supplements at the right times.
"I wouldn't be training this hard if I wasn't an arm wrestler," Patton admits. "But there are guys all over the world with your picture on their wall who want to beat you."
Patton may well be the most recognized name in arm wrestling. For years, he wrote an on-line question and answer column in which he would give advice on diet and routine. Patton stopped writing the column about a year and a half ago after deciding it took up too much of his time.
Still, almost every arm wrestling Webster retains a link to the site.
What type of advice did he dispense? "Don't worry about" psyching out your opponent, Patton wrote to "Daniel." "Concentrate on psyching yourself up and don't pay attention to your opponent's attitude or attempts at psyching you out."
Patton also comments on the rumor that he naps between matches (although they last only seconds, players are given breaks in-between). He does. "I get so much adrenaline pumping," he wrote, "that I feel worn out between matches."
Arm wrestling as an organized sport got its big break in 1969 when Dave Devoto, co-founder of the World's Wristwrestling Championship Inc., signed a 16-year contract with ABC's Wide World of Sports to have the arm-wrestling championship aired annually through 1984.
Now, there are hundreds of tournaments held around the country every year. The attraction is simple, Patton insists. "It's a one-on-one sport. If you get beat, it's because you didn't train hard enough, not because someone judged you incorrectly."
The GNC Pro Performance Regional Arm Wrestling Tournament is today from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Cash prizes will be awarded to the winner in five weight divisions: men's to 143, men's 144-176, men's 177-198, men's 199+, and women's open weight class. The price to compete is $20, plus a GNC product proof-of-purchase. Free for spectators. Call 800-229-4758.