A Grand National stock-car race that was two weeks old, Acapulco cliff diving and arm wrestling championships from Petaluma, Calif. Maybe the Penn Relays. That pretty much was ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” as I remember it.
As far as the arm wrestling goes, I do not recall Jim McKay complaining that Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On” was not appropriate background music.
“Can we get some AC/DC, some ‘Thunderstruck,’ something by a hair band from the ’80s?” bellowed Travis “The Beast” Bagent into the microphone shortly after the testosterone-fest known as the U.S. Bar Arm Wrestling Championships began Sunday afternoon at Senor Frog’s at Treasure Island.
And just like that, we all were “Thunderstruck,” probably because the deejay was an accommodating fellow, and probably because his biceps don’t look like giant anvils, which Travis Bagent’s do. I would not want to mess with this man.
I would not want to mess with any of the men I met at Senor Frog’s, and if truth be known, the same could be said for the women.
This wasn’t your father’s arm wrestling championships from Petaluma or even Jim McKay’s.
The city of Petaluma in Sonoma County, Calif., hosted arm wrestling championships — though in those days the sport was called wrist wrestling — from 1952 until 2003. The arm wrestling championships in Petaluma were so celebrated that Snoopy trained for them in a recurring “Peanuts” comic strip.
Snoopy was disqualified for not having a thumb.
Most of the arm wrestlers on Sunday did not have a neck. None was disqualified.
“Petaluma had its place,” said Cobra Rhodes, who at 48 is old enough to have arm wrestled in the locale that put both the pastime and Petaluma on the map, and also put arm wrestling into living rooms on black-and-white televisions with rabbit ears and lousy reception. “But this is the future, for sure.”
The future is arm wrestling with attitude, and arm wrestling with a TV deal — Sunday’s tournament was a dress rehearsal for an ESPN show at the Stone Pony in New Jersey next month — and arm wrestling with AC/DC turned up to “11.”
This new tour is the idea of Marvin Cohen, who was the technical advisor for a movie called “Over the Top” starring Sylvester Stallone. When I asked if Stallone was a good guy, Cohen said he slept with Sly and his wife. I put that down as a “yes.”
Marvin Cohen is 58, wears his tightly curled blond hair in a mullet, and if I had to guess, does not own a shirt with sleeves. Each time I bumped into him, which was often, he greeted me with a giant smile, a soulful handshake and a crushing bro-hug that knocked the wind out of my diaphragm.
When I asked Cohen if I could get a word with The Beast, who was giving the arm wrestlers final instructions that seem to last an hour, he smiled, gave me a soul shake and bro-hugged the wind right out of me again.
He said I should just “effin’ go up there” on stage, because “you gotta keep in effin’ people’s faces.”
I should point out that using the word “effin’” and its root word will not get you tossed out of the new Petaluma, either.
When I asked Cohen how many times he had broken his arm, he said “once.” When I asked how many times he had broken his opponents’ arms, he said “many.” I took his word for it.
Then he tried to bro-hug me again. By then I was onto him. I deftly parried his approach by crying “uncle.”
Ken Shamrock, the former mixed martial arts stalwart who emceed and might have been the only one in the room not wearing a tank top or skin-tight Affliction T-shirt — Shamrock was sporting a gray suit, lavender shirt and tie — told the arm wrestlers they “should not change who you are, but be who you are.” At least when the TV cameras begin to roll.
In September, Travis Bagent will challenge a man without a neck named Michael Todd for the heavyweight title at Senor Frog’s, with the winner taking home $50,000 and the loser taking home a sore arm.
The Monster, as Todd is called, was the only arm wrestler to whom I spoke who didn’t bro-hug me or repeatedly pound me on the shoulders.
Todd said he was a redneck from Arkansas, as if that should explain a lot of things. He also said The Beast was a groomsmen at his wedding, but that they don’t much care for one another these days.
The Beast countered by saying The Monster made his groomsmen wear pink cummerbunds. When I asked if that was true or if that was just the new arm wrestling attitude talking, he said he would send me the effin’ photos.
A few minutes later, Travis Bagent was giving the arm wrestlers their final instructions, after he had given them the first set of final instructions.
“If your arm snaps off, get your ass to the hospital immediately,” The Beast bellowed anew. “Do not disrupt the tournament.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski