Back toward the end of the long gravel drive leading to the heart of the property, one can easily spot the barn, doors wide open, buzzing with the sounds of a dozen or so men. They’re taking turns tweaking their techniques, sizing up possible competition and mentally readying themselves before this weekend’s much anticipated event: The U.S. Armwresting Federation’s 2008 Unified National Championship.
Besides all the regular jitters and nerves that accompany any high-stakes competition, tonight’s air is electric with giddy anticipation due to the fact that this event is the only tournament to guarantee qualifiers a spot on the American team for the world championships to be held later this year in Canada. Oh, not to mention, the said nationals are being held right here in Salt Lake City.
Bob Brown, owner of the Lazy “B,” swerves around various blacksmithing accoutrements while dispensing random pointers to friends both old and new. A three-time world champion himself, Brown is kind enough to hold these weekly practice sessions, providing a much-needed gathering place for this small but solid community.
As owner of the downtown watering hole Cheers to You, he came to Salt Lake City 15 years ago to train under one of the best arm-wrestlers who ever lived, Sandy resident and Delta airline mechanic John Brzenk. Although he himself is retired, Brown’s love for the rather obscure athletic art of the arm-wrestle now has propelled him into the host position for the aforementioned looming nationals.
Quite blunt in what he would like the angle of this coverage to be—“Anybody who arm-wrestles does it for individual pride and love of the sport. That’s the most important thing about these guys; they wrestle because they love it, end of story”—Brown contentedly bounds around the barn. He eggs opponents on, congratulates winners and constructively ribs the defeated in such a genuine way that you can’t help but believe he cares. In fact, due to the scarcity of any actual monetary payoff, those who choose the arm-wrestling path are practically forced to be driven by just such individualistic goals. Sponsorships by the likes of corporate giants Nike and Gatorade don’t come chasing after the winners of a sport that actually has to pay ESPN to broadcast competitions.
No, the most mainstream notoriety arm-wrestling has received came after the Sylvester Stallone cinematic blunder, Over the Top—which had virtually no impact on the sport’s popularity when compared to what the Rocky franchise accomplished for boxing. According to Brown, the difference between the forms of competitive showdowns couldn’t be more clear. Not only is the physical pummeling of your opponent in competitions such as ultimate fighting immoral in Brown’s eyes, but “arm-wresting is one of the oldest and only sports (besides perhaps a foot race) that truly test one man’s personal strength squarely against another’s.”
In short, Brown believes in his sport. He believes that kids as young as 6 years old can learn patience, physicality and healthy competition. He even bid to host the nationals because he believes that he could show the rest of the community how a tournament can be well run. He believes in Team USA so much that he’s donating any proceeds from this event toward the costs of getting winning wrestlers to the world stage.
Unquestionably, Brown believes in arm-wrestling. All you have to do is pay a visit to his bustling barn on any given Monday night to witness it for yourself. Everybody is welcome, especially if you’re willing to put your elbow on the table.
2008 USAF Unified National Championship
Red Lion Hotel, 161 W. 600 South