World Armwrestling League opens Supermatch series in Rosemont

 
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 4/18/2018 5:21 PM
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  • The World Armwrestling League stops in Rosemont on Thursday for a Supermatch Showdown featuring 12 competitors in six matches at Joe's Live.

    The World Armwrestling League stops in Rosemont on Thursday for a Supermatch Showdown featuring 12 competitors in six matches at Joe's Live. Photo courtesy of WAL

With its base in Chicago, the World Armwrestling League brings its high-energy competitors to Rosemont on Thursday for a Supermatch Showdown Series (one of five regional events on its sports calendar). Thursday's event, which begins at 7 p.m. at Joe's Live in Rosemont, will feature 12 top "pullers" competing in six matches.

In this Q&A with the Daily Herald, founder and WAL President Steve Kaplan, 58, talks about the growing sport, its draw and its future. Tickets for the showdown are $15, and Joe's Live is located at 5441 Park Place in Rosemont.

Q: How many divisions compete in WAL events?

Each fight card has six matches (12 competitors) across three weight categories in the men's division, which includes Lightweight, Middleweight and Heavyweight classes, and one elite women's match.

At the Pro Elite level, WAL features a Supermatch format, which highlights the best in the world who battle mano-a-mano in a best-of-five format to determine a champion. The WAL Supermatch Showdown Series includes five, two-hour prime-time events, plus a four-hour prime-time championship held in Atlanta.

Q: How different is the league today from when it was formed in 2014?

In three-and-a-half years, WAL has held more than 250 events. We held seven events in our first year. Now, fast forward to 2017, we held 120 events across the world, including the U.S., UK, Canada, Mexico, Germany, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Australia, and Malaysia, among others. The prize money has exceeded $1 million.

The World Armwrestling League stops in Rosemont on Thursday for a Supermatch Showdown featuring 12 competitors in six matches at Joe's Live. Tom Nelson, left, is one of the competitors.
The World Armwrestling League stops in Rosemont on Thursday for a Supermatch Showdown featuring 12 competitors in six matches at Joe's Live. Tom Nelson, left, is one of the competitors. - Photo courtesy of WAL
Q: The WAL takes great pride in noting its athletes come from all walks of life. Tell us about a couple of the characters competing this week.

WAL 401 features Quinlan Mendez and Tom Nelson.

Quinlan, a tire builder from Ohio, is a middleweight powerhouse. Despite not having the best technical ability, Quinlan never gives up, even when in the toughest of situations. He competes with tremendous passion and tenacity and leaves nothing on the WAL table.

Tom Nelson, a UPS driver from Sacramento, has been arm wrestling for 20 years. He comes from a family of arm wrestlers, including his brother, sister and mother, who were all national champions. Even his wife has been crowned national champion. Away from arm wrestling, Tom is a huge Motocross enthusiast and holds his own two-stroke bike and ATV gatherings.

Q: Any local competitors from the Chicago region?

Cobra Rhodes, one of the most famous arm wrestlers on the planet, is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Our competitors travel from all over the U.S., Canada and as far as Sweden to compete in WAL 401.

Q: It clearly takes more than just a big biceps to compete at this level. What other skills do these athletes have, and what is their training like?

Arm wrestling is more about strategy, skill, countermoves and mental prowess than strength. It's a sport where technical ability reigns supreme. We consistently see smaller competitors dominating competitors with more strength and power through sheer technical ability. Of course, power, strength and speed are important, but not when matched against technical ability and table IQ.

Q: While this sport is a way of life for many competitors, what is the prize money like?

Arm wrestling has come a long way in a short time. Just four short years ago, competitors would pile into one car and drive five hours to compete in a bar for $50. In the WAL Supermatch Showdown Series, competitors are vying for a stake in the $250,000 prize pool.

Q. If fans can't make it to Rosemont to watch, it's also available with a streaming service, right?

The WAL Supermatch Showdown Series has moved from ESPN to the new B/R Live, which is perfectly in line with our young male fan base. Over 10 million unique viewers have watched WAL events across 61 countries. WAL has also streamed some of its events through Facebook Live with great success. Last year, two regionals reached in excess of one million viewers and the amateur championship reached 2.6 million fans. Fans can get the B/R Live app and watch WAL 401 free.

Q: The nicknames of the competitors sound a little like WWE personalities, but sportsmanship seems to be a key component among competitors. Is that fair to say?

Absolutely! WAL boasts a unique selection of athletes from all walks of life. Each have their own big personalities and rivalries within the sport, which creates natural stories and fan interest. The community is very large and consists of hundreds of training teams around the country. Guys go at each other hard on and off the table, but each match ends with an embrace as a sign of respect to one another.

Q: A match can be over quickly, but what's the average and what's the longest one has lasted?

The average arm wrestling match at the Elite level lasts approximately 20 seconds, but they range anywhere from 10 seconds to two-plus minutes of grueling competition and a test of wills.

Q: How does the future look for the sport?

The special thing about arm wrestling is that everyone can relate to it, whether it was on the playground, in a bar or over their desk, everyone has arm wrestled someone at a point in their life. And, in no other sport can you see a NYC firefighter take on a priest or an investment banker take on an iron worker. Arm wrestling is a sport that truly brings people together.

The sport and WAL are growing at an exponential rate and we are expanding into more content, more events, larger payouts and, of course, more competitors.

Q: How many more stops in the season?

There are a total of five regional events with the WAL Championship taking place on Sept. 5 in Atlanta at Turner Arena. After Rosemont and WAL 401, we have four more big events:

WAL 402: May 17 in Baltimore at Ram's Head Live, 7 p.m. CT.

WAL 403: June 14 in Cleveland at Agora, 7 p.m. CT.

WAL 404: July 19 in Norfolk, VA at Norva, 7 p.m. CT.

WAL 405: Aug. 9 in Los Angeles at Novo, 7 p.m. CT

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