4 May 2013

Mission Improbable By Guy Lasorsa

Over The Top may be the greatest arm wrestling event ever. When I arrived at the Las Vegas Hilton July, 1986 I was cutting through the pool area and there on a lounge chair was Bert Whitfield and a few of his entourage. We said "hello" and got to talking arm wrestling and he mentioned he was pulling in the middleweight Truckers division . I wasn't sure how the truckers classes worked and how to qualify for the big truck prize that John Brzenk later won. It may have been just the heavy weight truckers class that qualified or an overall. I asked Bert who was here, and he said "who isn't here or coming," LOL.

I later met with Marvin Cohen in the lobby. Marvin is the man that organized and masterminded this great big event. When I asked Marvin how many were coming to the tournament he said a lot more than I ever thought or dreamed of. Marvin thought between 500-700 arm wrestlers would be competing and entering. These are not entries but actual competitors, something unheard of to this date in history. A friend of Marvin's said what we have here is an arm wrestler's Woodstock happening this weekend and I think he was right. I had never seen such a wild mess of diversity and fans especially when tying it all into the filming of the movie “Over The Top”

Just watch on Arm TV some of the rare footage of the actual tournament and you can  put your self in the atmosphere somewhat; it's something we have never seen or will again.

I met up with Johnny Walker a bit later and we talked for a little while. Johnny said "damn I here we got like 80-90 people in our class." I said "wow, but the good news is my chances of catching you in the first round is slim," we chuckled. It later turned out that our class the 195 lb Middleweight weight division had a total of 83 right hand entries..

As we talked Johnny was mentioning some of the guys that were in our class: John Buononato, Jack "Popeye" Wynn, Clay Rosencrans, James Battles, Todd Demasseo, Larry Fontaine, Gary Ray, Jeff Gonzales, Ray Darling ,George Givens, a young Ron Bath, all National and World Champions, Tony Senger (the best 200 Lb the previous five years in Canada) as well as German. Italian, Brazilian and Mexican National Champions just for starters.

I could have worried about the whole group I guess but I remember (besides Johnny Walker) I was most worried about John Buononato who I hadn't pulled in like 5 years. I just saw Buononato recently on ESPN 1985 series win the championship beating Johnny Walker in some grueling matches, something I had never done. He beat Johnny in the same style move that I failed too beat Johnny with in my previous attempts with Walker, which was the shoulder roll inside, tuck and hold. I knew though for this mega tournament I had trained harder than ever and was very much prepared ,but that didn't stop the butterflies swimming frantically in my stomach. Right then reality set in and I knew this weekend, something very special was about to happen. I could hear no one talking at this moment as I was mentally checking out and just thinking about the magnitude of this event. The importance of winning this or gaining the highest prestige was surely at stake. Tournament scenarios were flying through my head. Was I ready?

I certainly didn't want to let myself down and was just overwhelmed with these thoughts and feelings. I wanted to win so bad that I knew if I didn't do well enough I probably wouldn't get over it for a longtime . Yes it meant the world to me that weekend. I was in great shape and this was my most important stage. I also knew I had to be at my all-time best to pull this one off.

I than met up in the lobby with Cobra Rhodes, we shook hands and I was a bit surprised he wasn't pulling. He said he was refereeing and was here to enjoy himself and the monsoon that was coming. Next to us was head referee Bob Rogers and his daughters Tammy and Wendy. Wendy was a fierce competitor in the 80's and Bob was one the nicest people I ever met, purely genuine.

They were doing some filming that day and over the next two weeks. Marvin Cohen told me to apply for the actors guild and gave me a TWA shirt to wear. He would try to get me a couple shots in the Movie he said and I said great. He also said though you might not get in because Stallone is fussy about the extras in his movies as he always wants to be the best looking by far. I was dark Italian and in my best shape ever but didn't think twice at the time on what he said. I did shoot two scenes , one entering the Hotel where the sign pointed said Over The Top tournament this way. I walked by like some others did with my sports bag in hand. When I viewed the premier movie at the New England sports museum in Boston , I noticed the person in front of me and the couple after me were both in the movie scene and I was cut out. The next scene I filmed  was on a practice table with a power lifter turned actor who shot some parts in the movie. Green shirt and a beard cant remember his name. That part didn't make the edits either, so perhaps Marvin was right.

The tournament started at 11 am They did some filming before and actually during the early afternoon, after the tournament started. This kind of threw the arm wrestlers off a bit as we are not used to stopping and going a few times for Hollywood.

I was trying to conserve some energy because I realized it was going to be a long day, but I couldn't help getting caught up in this incredible environment. The tournament was a big movie set with lights everywhere and arm wrestling set on a big stage in the middle. There were four sides of seating and an audience going up to the exits. The crowd was huge I'd estimate a few thousand people were there. We weren't allow to film though but a few people did, which we learned in the future ( see Arm TV ). Remember, back then there were no camera phones and video cameras were the size of toaster ovens.

They started calling the classes a bit random and more like round by round, so there was plenty of rest between most pulls. They would call 10 matches in the lightweight class than 10 middleweight, 10 lightweight it seemed, so we had to just be ready. Once I knew my class was being called I completely mentally zoned out to the atmosphere I was enjoying so much earlier. I was pacing the floor and aisles between the audience and the stage floor .Those who saw me during the next 12 plus hours said I looked like a caged lion pacing. I had the meanest but focused look on my face and just visualized and wanted to feel my arm driving someone across the table and down.

My behavior and intensity was never quite like this before Over the Top and certainly was never like this after it. I truly felt possessed and driven to win. I didn't think I could be stopped. I self-meditated talked a bit of everything and when I heard my name called I was ready. My first 4 matches were all quick wins and seemed like a blur. I then pulled George Givens (several time Petaluma wrist wrestling champion) and a friendly competitor of mine from nearby Bristol, Connecticut. I was on a mission and won the match handily. I then pulled the National Champion from Germany and won after he felt like he got the jump on me for a second. I didn't know much about what everyone else was doing, but heard Walker was undefeated and Demasseo and Buononato had one loss. Through all this several hours went by and I continued to pace relentlessly as I had the entire day.

My next match was against Canadian Champion Tony Senger. Now keep in mind the table pads were 6 inch across cup-like donuts with the 1.5 inch padding going around in a circle cup on the outside and a pad for elbow inside. Also those who know me I had one of the biggest forearms pound for pound at 17 inches. Referee said "Ready... Go" 1 second flash but "Foul," the ref yelled, saying my elbow came up. Again "Ready Go" 1 second flash "Foul"... same thing . So we went again, yeah I don't know why there were 3 fouls allowed but I wasn't complaining.

"Ready Go" flash hit pin "Foul." My 3rd foul and I lost. I couldn't believe it because I wasn't lifting my elbow or my forearm out of the circle. When my forearm hits the cup my elbow could rise some as I'm near the pin. Anyway I was told by a few people it shouldn't be a foul if my elbow is still in the perimeter of the cup and my forearm never lifted. Either way I felt deflated and all that energy that was driving me earlier felt like it left me. I felt suddenly fatigued and depressed. I was thinking "man now I have only one chance left and a long way to go." After a few minutes and some encouraging words from George Givens and Larry Fontaine I was back on my routine of pacing with confidence and building steam again.

It was probably early evening now and I won my next few matches in the B bracket. It felt like a blur, looking  back. They were there and I won. My next match was against Jack "Popeye" Wynn a very good puller from California. I knew Jack had to be pulling well to be still in. I won that in a hook fashion and started to feel unstoppable again. I then had to face Gary Ray, a great puller from Texas who had been real impressive over the previous few years . Gary looked a little tired when I looked him in the eyes from what I remembered. "Ready ..Go" He hit me in a hook about 3 inches over the middle into a slight press hold, but he was in my power alley and I pulled him right back over to the pad for the win. My next match I either beat the Brazil or Italy's National champion.

My next opponent was once again, the several-time Canadian national Champion Tony Senger. I felt confident because I overpowered him 3 times earlier in the day. but was called for triple fouls and lost. I thought to myself "I cant let this happen again." George Givens said "you overpowered him so fast before just slow it down and you will win."

I noticed we had the same referee as our earlier match and surely he must realize now when my forearm hits the side of the cup pad and forearm never lifts it's not a foul.

With my adrenaline sky high flowing I locked up with Senger again . "Ready GO" Flash pin again FOUL . I'm thinking "how can this be thats not a foul." Another problem I'm thinking was I didn't slow my hit down and try to just pull him over with more composure. I actually wasn't sure I could slow down I was so pumped up mentally.

We lock up again "Ready GO" flash pin and 2nd foul. Now my heart was pounding and I was confused. Except for a brief moment against Gary Ray I hadn't been on the losing side of the table all day and I'm about to be eliminated by what I felt were suspect fouls again. I could hear in the crowd, "Guy just slow it down."

We locked up again "Ready... GO" hit and pin. The move, the speed and the pin felt no different than the previous 5 pull over pins to the pad that previously resulted in my fouling. I looked up to the referee and he said win Lasorsa. Wow was I relieved. This last match the referee must have felt sorry for me because he happened to call the previous 5 pulls fouls and to me they felt like mirror pulls of the each other.

Still alive !! I was then told that I had made the final 3. Wow what a relief! The adrenaline starting to flow again as I could now smell the finish line. I paced for a couple more hours and around 1 am, which is now 14 hours into the tournament I faced Jeff Gonzalez from Cape Cod, MA. Jeff is a good friend of mine but he was in my way to get to the final. "Ready ...go." I felt Jeff's power and he felt mine, and he was trying to escape and I drove him straight down the middle and a little to my side and the referee called win. We hugged and I was on to the final against Johnny Walker.

Johnny Walker was an icon and idol for me, the best of the best. It was my one chance to win against the best in the world at the best tournament ever and I was excited. I paced around and paced some more. Keep in mind I was pacing 14 hours already. I was asked by a few guys about how I was going to pull Walker. I told them I wanted to shoulder roll in quick as Buonoto did the previous year, but that's also how I lost to him in our last couple matches. I told myself I'm in better shape now but I'm still not sure. After 2 more hours of pacing, at 3 am, I finally ran out gas and our match still hasn't been called. I was now sitting and exhausted and waiting.

Finally the call, they told us we were up almost 3 hours later at 10 minutes to 6am. That's 15 hours after the start of the tournament! I had plenty of time to think of my strategy though a lot faded in the last few hours as deliriousness set in. As I approached the stage I still didn't know but I walked up there to the table and thought: "I'm going to top roll with him."

Johnny and I shook hands than locked up. I felt Johnny's big vise-like hand and tight back pressure and when the referee was about to say "ready" I thought to myself I cant pull back on him. "Ready... GO!" He started to  bring me over I quickly tried to change directions to use side pressure and get my shoulder around. I caught him a little more than half way over but it was below my power and Johnny was just too strong and he won.

When it all sank in second place here at Over The Top was better than any first place title I ever won, including Worlds. It was just unforgettable and will never be duplicated.

I found out later that Johnny was Napping at 3 am and had David Randall wake him up for our final match. How funny is that? The Iceman came out and did his thing, but I was proud to be standing there in the final.

Author: Guy Lasorsa