8 May 2013

International Federation of Arm Wrestlers (IFAW)

In 1966, Dick Tyler was a part-time bodybuilding reporter (credited with coining the bodybuilding contest term "posedown") and student enrolled in chiropractic college in California. He was also involved in the organization of bodybuilding events for Joe Weider of the International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB). This is the organization that has run the Mr.Olympia bodybuilding contest since 1965 -- the top professional bodybuilding contest in the world. Joe was constantly trying to increase the draw and exposure of his shows and regularly featured non-bodybuilding segments. Dick, always having had an interest in strength disciplines, thought armwrestling would tie in nicely with the bodybuilding events, and Joe agreed.

Dr. Dick Tyler, examining his very first patient

Although Dick had never actually seen an armwrestling tournament, he was able to contact Mac Batchelor and Bert Elliott, who were instrumental in helping to organize the initial event by providing advice on rules and logistics. Bodybuilder and television and film star Bill Smith also helped. (Bill is supposedly a two-time Petaluma World Wrist Wrestling Champion in the 200 lb class in the 1960s, although the official results from Petaluma do not indicate this.) Bert Elliott was a Californian body builder, weightlifter, and strongman who was most competitive in the '50s and '60s. He was most known for his prowess at the bent-press, a classic strongman feat. Mac had retired as the wrist wrestling champion of the world a decade earlier.

Mac Batchelor and Bert Elliot

The first official International Federation of Arm Wrestlers (IFAW) event was held at the 1966 IFBB Mr. Western America contest. The armwrestling consisted of a single elimination, right-handed, seated tournament with an open weight class. A kitchen-type table was used along with two loose chairs. The table didn't have pads, but instead had two square areas delineated with tape that showed competitors where to place their elbows. Non-competing hands were clenched, in the wrist-wrestling style. Bert Elliott officiated the event. Only a handful of competitors took part, with 6'8" Lloyd Lampton emerging as the winner. His technique involved slamming his shoulder into his wrist and forcing his competitors down in one swift and effective move. The IFAW tournament was intended to be an annual event, and therefore Dick thought a special champion belt would be a great award that could be held by the current champion for the year and would subsequently be handed to the new champion whenever one was crowned. A beautiful belt was commissioned: it had a large plate engraved with two arms locked in combat, and on each side of the plate were two smaller blank plates, joined by chains, to be engraved with future winner's names. At the conclusion of the initial event, the belt was handed to Lloyd by Mac -- sort of a passing of the guard: the recognized world champion handing over the reins to the new champion.

1966 Mr. Western America Poster

Bill Smith and Dave Draper in a promotional picture for the event

Lloyd Lampton accepting the championship belt from Mac Batchelor.
Bill Smith is at the far left, Joe Weider is in the centre, and Bert Elliot is at the far right.

The original championship belt

 A second IFAW event was held at the 1967 Mr. Western America contest. Once again, Lloyd emerged the winner. However, the championship belt had somehow disappeared since the 1966 tournament and he was awarded a trophy instead. The whereabouts of the belt remain unknown to this day.

Winners of the 1967 Mr. Western America. Lloyd Lampton is at the far left.

The next IFAW Armwrestling Championships took place on a bigger stage -- at the 1967 Mr. Olympia contest held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. Approximately 20 competitors showed up for the event, but because only 10 minutes of stage time was allotted to the armwrestling, the eliminations had to be done off stage in the afternoon. The final four competitors made it to the stage rounds, with two matches and then the winners of these matches faced off in the final. Marc Korman became the new IFAW champion.

Moe Baker in the finals of the 1968 IFAW World Championships.
Johnny Haemmerle is the referee.
Starting in 1968 the IFAW event was being billed as the World Armwrestling Championships. It continued to be held in conjunction with the Mr. Olympia contest in New York City until 1970. The 1968 event was of note because it featured Maurice "Moe" Baker's debut in competitive armwrestling. Moe went on to be one of the dominant competitors in armwrestling over the next several years. Steve Stanaway, Roy Ridgley, and Ken Meade all made their armwrestling debuts at this event and they too went on to enjoy great success in the sport.  Starting in 1968, Moe Baker won the IFAW World Championships three years in a row. The 1970 event saw two new developments -- the first was the introduction of an under 200 pound class, and the second  was the use of an armwrestling table with hand pegs. This was possibly the first time that such a table was used in organized competition. (Other pegged tables started to pop around this time, so it is difficult to say with certainty that this was the first one.) Johnny Haemmerle, an amateur bodybuilder who officiated the New York City IFAW events from 1968 on, designed and constructed the table in 1969 to reduce what was perceived to be bigger possibility of cheating when the non competing hands were clenched in wrist wrestling.

Johnny Haemmerle proudly displaying his new armwrestling table

In 1971, the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding contest was held in Paris, France. This resulted in plans to move the IFAW World Armwrestling Championships to be held in conjunction with the IFBB Mr. America bodybuilding contest. The event was announced, but for unknown reasons the IFAW event didn't occur, and this was the end of the International Federation of Arm Wrestlers.

IFAW Champions:
1966 (Santa Monica, CA) – Lloyd Lampton
1967 (Santa Monica, CA) – Lloyd Lampton
1967 (New York, NY) – Marc Korman
1968 (New York, NY) – Maurice “Moe” Baker
1969 (New York, NY) – Maurice “Moe” Baker
1970 (New York, NY) – Steve Stanaway (Under 200 lbs); Maurice “Moe” Baker (Over 200 lbs)

Special thanks to Dick Tyler, Steve Stanaway, and Chris Haemmerle without whose help this page would not have been possible.

Researched and Written by Eric Roussin

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