Veteran and novice arm-wrestlers from across the state came together this Saturday to test their strength in the Connecticut State Armwrestling Championship.
Sponsored by the World Armwrestling League, the event was held at the Trinity Bar and Restaurant — an Irish pub on Orange Street — for the second consecutive year. According to bartender Bob Jinks, the pub agreed to host the tournament free of charge, and the event lasted from 1 p.m. to nearly 6 p.m.
Mike Selearis, 20-time arm-wrestling national champion and two-time world champion as well as a chemistry teacher at New Haven’s Wilbur Cross High School, organized the event alongside his wife Deb Selearis, who is also an arm-wrestler.
Veteran arm-wrestler Ron Klemba, who holds 51 national championship titles and two world titles, said the sport is not very popular in New Haven, nor is it “particularly a big thing in any of the cities.”
Nonetheless, the sport does have a faithful and growing following. Klemba said the sport started in the 1980s in Petaluma, California, and now, pockets of athletes and arm-wrestling enthusiasts gather regularly in places like Sacramento, California, and Kansas City, Missouri.
Internationally, Klemba said arm-wrestling is more established as a professional sport. In Russia, for example, the sport is government-sponsored.
“Back then, the best wrestlers were American, but the American government never sponsored it,” Klemba said. “Now the best guys in the world are Ukrainian, Slovak and Russian.”
But arm-wrestling has yet to make it onto the short list of Olympic sports. Competitor Ron Ermini said he heard rumors of the sport’s inclusion in the games back in the 1980s and 90s, but that as of late he has not heard any new rumors. Even so, he added that growing enthusiasm for the sport is visible “because you see young guys coming up all the time.”
On television, ESPN covers WAL matches and AMC airs the reality show “Game of Arms,” which follows several athletes as they muscle their way to the WAL national arm-wrestling championship — a show in which Selearis has starred. Despite the portrayed trash talk and intimidation on the show, Klemba said that all the athletes are friends at the end of the day and the rivalries depicted on the show are “more of a created reality.”
Televised coverage has stoked newcomers’ enthusiasm. While some, like Mark Piatek, who placed first in the lightweight division Saturday, heard about the sport through Facebook, others — like amateur Paul Casey — initially took interest by watching arm-wrestling matches on ESPN. Both men have been active in the sport for about a year.
“It really has nothing to do with the arm. It’s a lot of back,” Casey said.
In addition to biceps, training consists of developing muscles in the wrists, back and forearms with exercises like preacher curls, pullups and deadlifts, Casey said. More than that, taking care to develop the finer muscles, tendons and ligaments is crucial since injuries are common, especially among newer wrestlers, he said.
This year, the WAL national championship will be held in Las Vegas.