Pride and power on display at NDSF Arm Wrestling competition
Hands interlocked, elbows on the table and faces showing utter anguish.
The strongest arms in the state went head-to-head Saturday afternoon in the North Dakota State Arm Wrestling competition at the State Fair.
From professionals to beginners, men to women, left arm and right arm, and all the weight classes in between, the Dakota Talent Stage featured a sport no longer reserved for inside local bars.
“Anybody and everybody should go into this sport,” Clifton Erickson, the 2017 North Dakota Arm Wrestler of the Year said. “It’s probably the closest thing you can get into, besides getting into a fight with somebody, to establish dominance and prove yourself.”
Erickson, from Bismarck, ventured into arm wrestling professionally after high school. Much to the bewilderment of his significant other.
” I did arm wrestling and contact sports pretty much throughout my high school career,” he said. “Once I graduated, I didn’t know what to do and actually watched the movie ‘Over the Top.’ My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, said to me, ‘That’s the dumbest thing I have ever seen.’ And I said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ Now, I’ve been doing it for six years professionally.”
‘Over the Top,’ a 1987 movie starring Sylvester Stallone on a quest to win back his son through the world arm wrestling championships, was also mentioned as a possible motivation for getting into the sport by 22 state title holder Mark Davies from Valley City.
On Saturday, Davies picked up first-place trophies in the 0- to 175-pound left-handed class, 155- to 176-pound right-handed class and 177- to 198-pound right-handed class; going unbeaten across the three groups. Earlier this year in Nevada, the 17-year professional also earned a United State Armwrestling Federation (USAF) national championship for his left hand at 85 kilograms.
“I got a fire in me like nobody else, It’s just a passion of mine. It has been since I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” Davies said. “I’ve always like arm wrestling. I tried to beat my dad, who was just a mountain of a man, and never did beat him. So, now at this point in my career, it’s very humbling and honoring to keep it going.”
His keys to success: speed, technique and power. In that order.
“You want to hit them hard off the go,” Davies said. “You can have the biggest biceps in the world, but if you don’t have a solid hand, then you are going to get beat every time. I’ve been working on a farm for 23 years, so that’s where a lot of (the power) comes from. I train six days a week. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it to get to this point.”
The arm wrestlers competed in double-elimination brackets on Saturday. Meaning endurance was just as critical as quick brute force. A lesson that newcomers to the table quickly come to realize.
“For the beginner’s, it’s extremely taxing,” Erickson said. “A lot of people get tendonitis pain. That usually lasts in arm wrestling for one to two years. You can’t even pick up a glass of water. It shakes and hurts so bad. Once you get through the pains, and it will go away, it’s a blast from there.”
Proof of that is Stoney Thronsedt from Devils Lake, who placed second in a masters class group for men over the age of 40 years old and also took first and third place in two other amateur classes.
“I have been doing this ever since I was 17 years old,” Thronsedt said. “Ever since I got grand babies, I don’t drink and this is what I do for fun.”
While trophies, titles and invitations to large competitions were on the line Saturday, the camaraderie and sportsmanship shown by the competitors before, during and after the event was powerful in and of itself.
A grasping of the hands meant two things on Saturday. It started a relentless clash of fortitude and ended with a mutual sign of respect.
Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.