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The Sport of Professional Arm Wrestling

Updated on October 11, 2018
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Readmikenow likes sports, both professional and amateur. He especially likes sports stories of courage and overcoming adversity.

Two people interlock their hands as their elbow touch a flat surface. Each stare deeply into the others eyes. They suddenly begin to use their strength to push the others hand down onto the table. Arm wrestling is no longer a sport for amateurs in bars, college dorms or parties. It is now a professional sport. There are arm wrestling tournaments that award winners substantial cash prizes. It's come a long way from its origins on the American Frontier.


Different variations of the sport we call arm wrestling were practiced during the 1800s. Sometimes it was referred to as “Indian wrestling.” In one version the opponents would stand facing one another. They would have the outer portion of their right foot touch their opponent's right foot. They would then take each others hand with the goal of knocking the other person off balance. Arm wrestling has changed quite a bit since then. Today, it is recognized as a popular international sport with trained athletes.

Growing Popularity

The first organized arm wrestling tournament took place in 1952. A young journalist named Bill Soberanes started the Northern California arm wrestling championship. It took place in Gilardi's saloon located in Petaluma, CA. Soberanes joined forces with Dave Devoto in 1962 to create the World's Wristwrestling Championship, Inc. The arm wrestling championship tournament took place in the biggest auditorium in Petaluma that year. The ABC show Wide World of Sports began broadcasting arm wrestling championships during the 1969 season. The shows were some of the highest rated for the program. In 1974 the World Professional Arm wrestling Association (WPAA) was formed. Their first championships were held in December of 1974, and the television network CBS paid $10,000 to broadcast it.


Since its beginning there have been a variety of rules for participants in arm wrestling championships. During the first four seconds, only a competitors arm can move. Shoulders have to remain still until the second command to go is given. If competitors hands slip a part twice, they must then begin with a power lock. This is when opponents wrists are touching at the start. An arm wrestling referee makes certain the rules are obeyed during each match.


During the 1970s arm wrestling tables were first used for championships. Another innovation was the collapsible arm wrestling table. This was able to be taken down and used in different parts of a building holding a tournament. Tables used today have a cup for a participant's elbow to rest. A bar sticks up next to the elbow rest. This is for a participant to hold with their other hand during the are wrestling competition.


Professional arm wrestlers train hard to compete in competitions. Some are able to bench press over 600 pounds. They also are able to do one-armed curls with weights of up to 160 pounds. Some of the training involves push-ups and other exercises to develop arm muscles. Many have training diets and are in excellent athletic condition.

Prize Money

At a recent arm wrestling competition, there were over over 650 participants in various weight categories. Top prize money was over $49,000. There are hundreds of professional arm wrestling tournaments held around the world each year.

Competition Structure

People can compete in arm wrestling tournaments as teams. There are male and female arm wrestling divisions. Competitors are paired up based on weight classes. There are right handed and left handed competitions. Some professional arm wrestlers are able to compete using both arms. The United States Arm wrestling Federation (USAF) is an umbrella organization that has unified the arm wrestling organization in the United States.


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