4 May 2013


"In 1986, at the age of 19, I heard about an upcoming contest called the Canadian Over-the-Top Arm Wrestling Competition. The tournament was being initiated for Sylvester Stallone’s upcoming movie called Over the Top, about an underdog arm wrestler. In order to bring some authenticity to the film, Sly decided to hold a series of national arm wrestling competitions around the world. Each winner would receive $10,000, a chance to appear in the movie, and a trip to Las Vegas to compete in the international finals against the world’s best arm wrestlers. The Canadian Over-the-Top Tournament was held at the Convention Center in Toronto and featured a field of about 200 of the nation’s most accomplished pullers. The tournament was structured in a double-elimination style, which meant that each competitor had to lose twice in order to be eliminated. I entered into the 196-238 pound weight class at 227 pounds, making me one of the bigger competitors and an early favorite to win the tournament.

My first grapples were against good competitors, but I still ended up easily making it to the finals. In the finals, I faced off against a really top-notch national competitor named Rick Baarbe. Rick and I were long-time rivals, and had already faced off against each other several times before. Baarbe, who is from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada and about 10 years older than me,is a massive, burly man with a big pushed-out belly and huge, powerful hands. Rick and I started off with two intense back-and-forth grapples that saw me win the first and him take the second. Going into the third and final grapple was a big moment for me at the ripe age of 19. I knew that in order to beat Baarbe and win the tournament, I would have to step-up mentally and become a man. I gave it everything I had from the beginning. It was a winning strategy and I flashed Baarbe in eight seconds, tearing some muscles in my arms and shoulders in the process. It knew it was a huge win for my career as a puller and I was overjoyed. Although I couldn't’ move my arm for days after the tournament, it was definitely worth it. A few months later, when I arrived at the Las Vegas Hilton for the filming of Over the Top, I was amazed at the size of the spectacle. Instead of setting  up a fake arm wrestling tournament, the producers of the movie had decided that they were going to film scenes for the movie during the actual International Armwrestling competition. For that reason, many of the actors in Over the Top were legitimate world-class Armwrestlers from all over the world, including Carl Adams, Rick Zumwalt, and Cleve Dean. The tournament was taking place in a massive room at the Hilton convention center, but there were so many huge athletes around, it made the room look crammed. There were over 800 competitors from all over the world and they were all mammoths. The smell in the room was thick with Absorbine Jr., Rub A535, and other topical analgesics. There were cameras shooting scenes all over the place and tons of people telling the crowds when it was time to scream and when it was time to cheer. All of the grapplers were set up on tables, and whenever the film’s director, Menahem Golan, was ready for a certain shot, the movie crew would stick the actors into the middle of what was going on.

Walking around the area where the Armwrestlers weigh in, I was just trying to digest everything that was going on around me. It was mind-boggling. I noticed Sly Stallone and his entourage, and looked on cynically as the other Armwrestlers clamored to take a picture with the star like they were good friends. I was still a headstrong kid with too much ego to go up and ask Sly for a picture. At that point in my life, I felt like I would be lowering myself to go up to another man like that.

The shooting of the International Over-the-Top double elimination tournament took place over the course of nearly 24 hours. Armwrestlers slept on benches on the sides and then woke up and went to Armwrestle when they heard their names called over the loudspeakers. The best Armwrestlers, like John Brzenk, who ended up winning the tournament, competed in the open class for the chance at winning a truck. I was in the 220-242 pound heavyweight class, competing for a money prize.

In my first bout of the day, I got beat by Gene Tatti, a 40–year-old arm wrestling promoter from Ontario. I should have beaten Tatti, but since I didn’t, I was in the loser’s bracket right away. That meant that I had to be the best of the losers in order to win the whole tournament. After the loss to Tatti, I strung together a few winning grapples throughout the day until I finally ran into a guy named Rick Vardell. At first I thought they were saying “Rick Barbell,” and thought what an appropriate name for an Armwrestler . . . As soon as our grapple began, Rick Vardell manhandled me like a rag doll. His hands were like spiders and completely enveloped mine. As soon as the match started, Vardell drove me down in a top roll faster than I could blink. I couldn’t even complain or protest because it over so quickly. I was completely humiliated. Even though I had come in sixth place out of hundreds of world-class competitors, my final pull against Rick Vardell turned out to be one of the toughest losses I have ever had. I had known about the Over-the-Top Tournament for a long time and I had worked so hard leading up to it. I had never prepared myself for the possibility that I might lose, so when I did, it absolutely devastated me.

After I lost to Rick Vardell, I left the competition table and went straight to the bathroom. I didn’t say anything to anybody. All I could do was sit down on some stairs in the bathroom and cry like a baby for about 40 minutes. I could barely even lift my head up because I was so weak with emotion. All of a sudden, this huge Armwrestler from the super-heavyweight class came over and started patting me on the back like I was a little kid. In the sweetest voice, he asked, “What are you crying about? It’s okay. I saw that you got sixth place. That’s really good. You did well today!” Although, it was a nice gesture for a stranger to try and comfort me, I felt like an even bigger idiot. I didn’t need a therapist or a shoulder to cry on. I’m just very competitive at everything I do and I don’t like getting beat. I don’t even let my daughters win at board games.

Even though I was upset about my results at the Over-the-Top Tournament, I now look back at my experience there as a great time."

Gatekeeper: The Fighting Life of Gary "Big Daddy." 
By: Gary Goodridge and Mark Dorsey.
Forthcoming by Ecw Press (February 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1550229931
ISBN-13: 978-1550229936