Larry was Mr. Nice Guy. Even the wimpy fellow with the powder-puff biceps could look like a tiger against Larry.
"I might let somebody take me down a little so as not to embarrass him in front of his wife," said Larry Jeffrey, a brawny bricklayer with a paunch like a feather pillow and the powerful arms of a defensive lineman.
"But my brother Bob, he'd take the same guy and smash him."
Of course, those days are gone forever. For the brawling Jeffrey brothers--once unofficial champs of construction crews all across Southern California--arm-wrestling is mostly a spectator sport these days.
Larry, of Azusa, is 61 and Bob, of Glendora, is a year older. Now they leave the strain-and-grunt routine to the younger crowd, sweating instead for profits on the sidelines.
Arm-wrestling is big business for the Jeffrey brothers--so they hope. About 20 years ago, they went into the equipment side of the sport, and they think that their line of arm-wrestling tables could, with a little help from Sylvester Stallone, make them rich.
Cannon Films just finished shooting a cinematic epic about arm-wrestling, "Over the Top," starring Stallone. The film is scheduled for release in February.
"When the film breaks, it could make arm-wrestling the biggest sport in the world," said Bob, leaning against the dining-room table in his airy home at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Fanatical interest in arm-wrestling? That could put the two brothers in a novel situation.
"So far, all we've done is spend money on the sport," said Larry, patting one of the Jeffrey Bros.' patented plastic-and-vinyl, coin-operated arm-wrestling tables, which may start appearing in bars and recreation rooms across the country sometime next year.
The Betson Pacific Distributing Co., specializing in coin-operated games, has offered to test the table in several markets this year, with an option to distribute it nationally after the release of the movie.
It all started on a construction job in 1966, after the two, along with their brother Ernie, had migrated to California from Upstate New York.
"I had been challenged by this guy from Arkansas," said Bob, a shorter, slimmer version of Larry, with the same rippling girth around the arms. "We went at it pretty hard, so hard that our elbows bled from the pressure. That night I had a dream. I dreamt I was wrestling with my elbow in a padded cup."
The brothers, who had been arm-wrestling each other since they were kids in Rome, N.Y., invented an arm-wrestling game, with magnetic bracelets and, of course, the padded cup. Though toy companies were not interested, the Jeffreys got a lot more interest in their padded elbow cups from professional competitors.
Making the Big Time
By the mid-1960s, arm-wrestling was moving out of bars and locker rooms to pit brawn against brawn in meeting halls and arenas. There was even a yearly national championship tournament in Petaluma.
"In the old days, it was pretty primitive," said Bob, who also is a bricklayer. "Instead of a table, they used a butcher's block."
All the big tournaments now use Jeffrey Bros. tables, with their vinyl-covered foam pads and hard plastic platforms, the brothers said.
Arm-wrestling now has all the trappings of other professional sports, including fanatical fans, hot competition, big prizes and an assortment of flamboyantly recognizable national competitors.
Take the tournament sponsored in Las Vegas last July by Volvo-White and Cannon Films, with $350,000 in prizes, including a $100,000 tractor-trailer rig.
A Thousand Fans
"More than a thousand fans stayed until 6 in the morning to watch the finals," said Larry, who was there, running the Jeffrey Bros. booth. The truck was won by trucker John Brzenk, while Cleve Dean, a 600-pound Georgia farmer, won the title.
Nowadays, it's a sport of finesse, contend the Jeffreys, who helped their brother Ernie write a book on arm-wrestling nine years ago. Ernie died in 1982.
"In the early days, it was strictly brute strength," said Bob. "These days, if you don't have finesse to go with the strength, you're not going to win."
Most matches last barely five or six seconds, Larry said. The longest he's ever seen? "Maybe three or four minutes."
Among the techniques that modern wrestlers use are the "over the top" maneuver, in which a fading competitor swiveling to get new strength by putting his shoulder behind his arm, and the "creeping thumb" gambit, with one wrestler slipping his grip up the other's thumb to reduce his opponent's hand strength.
Lobbying the Olympics
The Jeffreys are rounding up like-minded promoters from foreign countries to petition for an arm-wrestling event at the 1992 Olympics.
Though they lost out on the job as official suppliers and consultants for "Over The Top" ("The movie business is a funny business," said Bob), the Jeffreys did get the producers to use their tables, and they may make brief appearances in the movie, depending on what ends up on the cutting room floor.