Top arm wrestler quashes myths

It’s true. A few of them look like Popeye. They have arms meant for T-shirt sizes not available to the general population. They all could be named Roy, and you wouldn’t blink. If there are necks attached to some, it would take the boys from CSI Miami to find them.

This isn’t Homer Simpson’s version of professional arm wrestling. This isn’t you daring a buddy to sit down at a table and prove you’re stronger than his little sister.

These guys have biceps that appear to be built from curling small automobiles.

“Some people might be surprised,” John Brzenk said, “but I’ve never really been a big advocate of weightlifting.”

Which would seem like Derek Jeter not being a big advocate of batting practice.

Brzenk is a month from his 45th birthday and has been ranked the world’s No. 1 arm wrestler since Tiger Woods was 11 and the Bangles topped the charts. He has been the best at sitting opposite men up to 400 pounds heavier and pinning their pride and arms onto padded surfaces since the movie “Over the Top” debuted in 1986 and arm wrestling became known in places beyond the States and Canada.

Because how can’t you be captivated by a sports movie in which some guy named Harry Bosco offers this gem: “My whole body is an engine. This (his fist) is a fireplug … and I’m gonna light him up!”

In the back of a shiny and new TapouT Research & Development Training Center on Friday night were four of the world’s finest at what you might remember being that activity you did as a kid when things got boring around the cafeteria table.

You might be surprised to know there is a Professional Armwrestling League and even more shocked to learn it now is based in Las Vegas, but we’re also home to a United Football League that didn’t feel a need to publicize its inaugural draft, which means anyone breathing at the PAL offices must own more common sense than those in the UFL.

Brzenk was matched against Denis Cyplenkov of Russia in the super heavyweight division. Cyplenkov is ranked second in the world, doesn’t speak English and has hands the size of Moscow. His biceps measure out at 24 inches, or two of those foot-long subs you had last week for lunch.

The two fought six times, and Brzenk won five.

This is where things are different than you might imagine, and maybe where any steroid use might be less than some of the physiques suggest.

Bigger isn’t always better in arm wrestling. More than brute strength, greatness often is decided by whose muscles can all fire simultaneously the fastest. Which often takes a bit of waiting, because you could enjoy a pizza and six-pack before these guys get into a proper grip.

Brzenk weighs 230 pounds. Cyplenkov is 308.

Five-and-one for the lighter champ.

The sport tests for performance-enhancing drugs only at a few major events, and even then only a handful of competitors are asked to submit a sample.

I have a feeling a segment of these guys would fit quite nicely in major league baseball.

I’m not saying. I’m just saying.

But it’s also true the stress on muscle groups used in arm wrestling is so intense, so brutal, performance enhancers of any kind could quickly lead to ripped tendons and other more serious injuries, much faster than they do in other sports.

“It’s a guessing game, but I’d say 90 percent of the time you can tell if a guy is juiced,” said Brzenk, an airline mechanic from Salt Lake City who said he has fought a clean career and has been tested once the past 20 years. “I think officially, it’s looked on as being unacceptable, and unofficially people don’t care. They want to see the biggest and strongest guys. They want to see monsters.

“But strength doesn’t always translate to the table. I could bench press 400 pounds and arm wrestle just as well as if I hadn’t been to the gym in a month and be benching 200. Your hand, your wrist, your arm … it all needs to fire at once. The perfect match for me lasts one second.

“I have always trained just by doing it. By arm wrestling. You get good by finding someone with potential and having him arm wrestle tens of thousands of hours.”

Imagine it. The guy has been the world’s finest at his sport for more than two decades. If that’s not impressive enough for you, consider the three times he beat Cleave Dean.

Cleave topped the scales at, oh, a shade over 700 pounds.

“It wasn’t easy,” Brzenk said. “He had some enormous hands.”

Sasquatch usually does.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@ or 702-383-4618.

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