A few years ago I ran into a man who claimed to be a professional foosball player. Being thoroughly loaded at the time, I declared this the most absurd thing that I had ever heard and insisted that, professional or no, he could not beat me. He then crushed me seven games straight, unleashing all manner of spins, shots, flips, curves, etc., roundly molesting me in full view of my fellow inebriates and God. The next morning I Googled the words “professional” and “foosball”, calling up some 148,000 entries and confirming in my mind the following fact — whatever else the present age may be, a heyday of rank amateurism it’s not.
I recently had opportunity to revisit this point as a few weekends ago the 25th edition of New York City’s premier arm wrestling competition — the “Big Apple Grapple” — took place on Manhattan’s Pier 86. Now, one might think that of all the many forms of human endeavor, arm wrestling would be among the simplest. Two guys, a flat surface, some hops-fueled boasting — strongest man wins. In fact, this is not at all the case. Like everything these days, arm wrestling is a pursuit for specialists. Half-assing schlubs need not apply.
Or, as Mike Kovalyk, a spectator I met near the back of the crowd described things, “There’s a lot that goes into it. How strong your tendons are, your grip, your rear delt, how much fast-twitch muscle you have versus slow-twitch. Genetics are huge... Plus, you gotta know what to do and when to do it.”
Up on the stage where the grappling went down, there were two men who seemed to have an intimate knowledge of both. Tim Bresnan and Reggie Ward, both Super Heavyweights from Connecticut, were stuck in something of a stalemate. The competition featured five weight classes, ranging from 150-pound Lightweights to the likes of Bresnan and Ward — basically NFL linemen with excessively developed forearms. They had started the match with a minute or so of what I assumed was jockeying for position — clasping, unclasping their hands, shifting their elbows, changing their grips. Then, satisfied, I suppose, one of the officials — clad in an appropriately authoritative zebra-striped shirt — lifted his hands, and the bout began. Ward, in a pair of baggy gym pants and a backwards baseball cap, was getting the better of it, slowly forcing Bresnan’s arm downward, putting the bulk of his 250-plus pounds into the effort. Not done, though, Bresnan battled back — redfaced — stalling Ward a few inches from victory. They stayed this way for a couple of seconds. The crowd — perhaps 150 deep — began to cheer.
“We gotta good match!” the announcer yelled.
“Keep that shoulder in!”
“Finish this thing!”
The table began to rock beneath the pair’s shifting weight. Two officials jumped onto the ground, each grabbing a table leg and clinging on to secure it. Ward gave Bresnan’s arm another sharp tug, trying to force it to the table. Bresnan’s face, meanwhile, had moved from red to a vaguely ominous shade of maroon. Manly grunting emanated throughout the hall.
Then, suddenly, it stopped. The two straightened from the table and backed away. Ward walked in circles about the stage, obviously disgusted at something.
“What happened?” asked the announcer.
“Time out,” said an official.
“Time out?” the crowd shouted in disbelief.
“What’s that about?” I asked Kovalyk.
“Elbow fault,” he said. In his zeal to beat Bres-nan, it seemed that Ward had lifted his elbow off the table.