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Gripping Suspense : All Hands Loved Wrestlemania Too in Palmdale

November 17, 1994|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALMDALE — Critics panned the film, but few questioned the depiction of championship arm wrestlers as roaring, wild-eyed maniacs in "Over the Top." The contestants drank motor oil and slapped each other silly to get psyched up for matches.

Nobody could beat Sylvester Stallone, who grabbed the world championship before a screaming throng of thousands, raking in $350,000 in cash and prizes plus custody of his 12-year-old son along the way.

That was Hollywood. This is Palmdale.

The showroom of Palmdale Honda to be exact, site of the California Arm Wrestling Championships, fully sanctioned and all that.

What sort of muscle tussle went down Sunday behind those windows splashed with "0 Down Available!" and "Poor Credit: No Problem!"?

Expectation: Brainless, beery-breathed hulks and enough hype to make even the car salesmen in plaid sport coats blush.

Reality: A tight-knit group of everyday folks competing intensely yet exhibiting uncommon sportsmanship in a family environment.

Seriously.

THE SETTING

Promoter-announcer Ed Levitt played a referee in "Over the Top," and high-energy music cranking over loudspeakers gave the impression of a sound track, but similarities to the movie pretty much ended there.

This match was an open pro-am, meaning that anyone could enter and no one would leave with anything more than a large trophy for his or her efforts. A sanctioned National Arm Wrestling Assn. tournament sounds highfalutin; this is basically a family-run operation perpetuated for the love of this obscure and somewhat-misunderstood sport.

Levitt, who runs the NAWA along with several people named Siegfried, kept the action fast-paced and filled time between matches with lively banter over the microphone.

"Who's gonna be the hero, who's gonna be the zero?" he shouted more than once.

A single table stood on a platform in the middle of the showroom surrounded by about 100 chairs for spectators. The place was standing-room only, with most fans either family or friends of contestants.

"Pick a winner and root 'em on," Levitt said.

The 10-year-old daughter of heavyweight Ed Hoffman quietly did homework until her father competed, beaming with pride when he won a match. The teen-age daughter of another arm wrestler watched over a half-dozen toddlers of other competitors.

Men competed in four weight classes: under 155 pounds, 156-181, 182-205, and over 205. Only two women competed: Judy Wheeler defeated Kori Siegfried twice in the double-elimination format.

Arm wrestlers, who call themselves "pullers," gripped pegs with their left hands and stood with their shoulders square to the table before locking right hands with their opponents.

Referees Dick Ingwaldson and Alen Frederick, both world champion pullers in their own right, held the clasped hands of the contestants until Ingwaldson said, "Ready, go."

If pullers' hands slipped apart, Ingwaldson bound them with a leather strap.

Matches lasted from four seconds--a quick pin is called "flashing" an opponent--to three minutes, with the longer matches seeming to last an eternity.

The vanquished unfailingly shook hands with the victors, and throughout the day pullers pulled for fellow pullers.

THE CONTESTANTS

"Many of the world's best arm wrestlers are from this area," Levitt proclaimed into the microphone.

Absent were local luminaries Dot Jones, a 233-pound women's heavyweight from North Hollywood; Lori Cole, a middleweight from Encino, and Jimbo Edwards, a men's heavyweight from Simi Valley, former national champions all. Terry Shapiro, a men's light-heavyweight champion from Simi Valley, attended but did not compete because of an arm injury.

Others did, including Craig Green, a 35-year-old former state middleweight champion from Arleta. He is making a comeback after suffering strained tendons in his forearm a year ago, the most common arm-wrestling injury. Green's training includes water skiing, which he says requires the same muscles.

"Body builders who can bench-press 500 pounds wonder how I beat them, but they don't realize the arm is a chain and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link," said Green, who at 170 pounds is not physically imposing.

After the blonde, blue-eyed Green easily won an early round match, Levitt shouted, "Who is that surfer dude?"

Sixteen-year veteran Larry Marks of Palmdale was up next, and his 7-year-old son, Brian, accompanied him to the table, craning his neck to get a good view of Dad's match.

Marks provided the closest resemblance to Lincoln Hawk, Stallone's character in "Over the Top." In addition to the father-competing-to-son's-cheers similarity, Marks turned his cap backward before competing, a Stallone trademark that he described in the movie as "turning on a switch" of intensity.

Alas, after two early victories, Marks lost two in a row and was eliminated. Brian gave his dad a hug and put on the oversized NAWA T-shirt Larry received as a consolation prize.

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