DOWNEY — It has long been popular at truck stops and in bars where white wine isn't served. A cocky guy with an itch in his biceps for a test of manhood will ask, "Arm rassle?" and another guy, just as cocky, will answer, "Hook 'em up." And they'll go at it.
But arm-wrestling is emerging as a respectable sport, and while the guys going at it still are cocky, they now see themselves as athletes, not brawlers.
It's even being done in malls. The National Amateur Arm-Wrestling Championships drew about 100 participants at the Stonewood Shopping Center Saturday.
Chairs for spectators had been set out in the noon sun next to the Fashion Conspiracy, and a stage erected. Liniment was being rubbed into intimidating-looking arms.
Bob Eazor, a bearded man whose chest had the thickness of several big-city phone books bound together, walked in, anxious to arm-wrestle and spread the news that the greatest thing to ever happen to the sport was now happening: A movie ("Over the Top") about it was being made by Sylvester Stallone, starring, of course, Sylvester Stallone.
"He plays an arm-wrestling truck driver," said Eazor.
He quickly pointed out, though, that the sport didn't attract just truck drivers, although one--John Shea, 33, a bantamweight champion--was standing next to him.
Eazor said he would be in the picture too, playing the referee in the arm-wrestling scenes. To prove it he opened the script and pointed to his lines.
"With Stallone involved the sport will be super-big overnight," Eazor predicted.
And he had more exciting news: "Miniature arm-wrestling tables and arm-wrestling dolls are being made and are available in some toy stores."
Eazor, 38, of Perris, Calif., a former amateur champion who said he was making a comeback in the sport after a two-year absence, would compete in the heavyweight division.
"I plan on winning it," he said.
And he would do it, he emphasized, because of training and vitamins, not steroids or drugs. "I don't use them," he said. "Too many (in arm-wrestling) are using steroids and hurting themselves."
"Tear his arm off" was a popular suggestion from the audience as the matches began.
The opponents stood and faced each other across a table on the stage and placed their elbows in cushioned cups, a luxury not found in any truck stop or bar.
Eazor, in a black tank top, stepped onto the stage for his first match. He resembled a short bear. Hair grew everywhere on him except the top of his head.
He opened his eyes so wide that each bulging iris became a dark dab almost lost in a spooky white sea. This look once earned him the nickname of "The Psycho."
Eazor and his opponent clasped hands. "Ready . . . go," said the referee, and in seconds Eazor had the other man's arm pinned.
"I get in this trance," Eazor explained a moment later while his opponent walked away wringing his arm. "My personality is mild-mannered. I must be excited to do my best."
This is a sport that seems to be cultivating characters.
Clarence (Super Fly) Edwards, who looked like he would fit in well in a circus ring was another one. He wore a blue nylon suit with white fringe that clung tightly to emphasize the veiny muscles he constantly flexed. His shoes were blue, high-topped and sequined.
"The same lady that makes Eddie Murphy's clothes made this," Edwards said. His hair, except for the part held by a silver band, flowed wildly. He was the only arm-wrestler who smelled of cologne.
And yet this 43-year-old, 170-pound warehouse-order filler from Baldwin Park would go through the day unbeaten.
Edwards would contort his face and sneer, snarl and growl at his opponents, startling half the crowd and amusing the other half.
"It's important to get psyched up, whatever it takes," the announcer informed the startled half.
A Hug After Victory
After Edwards would win a match, he would snarl again, hamming it up but not really rubbing it in, for the snarl quickly turned to a smile and he hugged the man he had beaten.
"Everybody who knows me likes me," said Edwards, who also has a role in Stallone's movie. "Up there I'm an animal, but a split second after the match is over I love my opponent."
Tommy Overholtzer, a character too, came late. Only 5 feet 5 but still a heavyweight, this round-faced man with a pink complexion and white stubble on his chin lugged his Army boots which were nailed to wooden blocks. Ideally, your hips should be at table-level when you arm-wrestle, and the elevated boots did the trick for Overholtzer.
Overholtzer had already lost one match but was still alive in the double-elimination tournament. He said he had a sore elbow. Bone chips. And on top of that, arthritis too, caused, he said, by years of arm-wrestling and playing other sports. He couldn't straighten out his right arm.
"This is not necessarily the smartest thing to do," he said. "But when there's nothing else to do you're good at, you do it."