Ever wonder who was the best right-handed puller on the planet 30 years ago? 40 years ago? 50 years ago? Read on...
If Petaluma is recognized as the birthplace of organized armwrestling, then the sport is a little over 60 years old. While there have been many champions throughout the years, crowned at tournaments held all over the world, rankings that attempt to recognize the very best active pullers have been developed only recently.
This chronology is my attempt to identify who would have potentially occupied the #1 world ranking (open weight) over the past 50+ years, had an impartial ranking system been maintained since the first days of the organized sport.
The basic rules are simple: a puller gains the #1 spot by either beating the person who is currently #1 or by winning a class in which the top-ranked puller participated. Other factors can come into play - number of classes pulled, controversial situations, etc. - so the rules have some degree of flexibility. A puller can also lose his rank after a 12-month period of inactivity or absence from major competition. To develop this list, I used the same logic I applied when I managed the In the Hook North American rankings for over five years.
The chronology starts in 1961. Why 1961? This is the earliest year for which results from Petaluma are known. And it seems a fitting place to start given the first person to occupy the top spot is Duane "Tiny" Benedix, the puller that Bill Soberanes, founder of the sport, considered to be the strongest armwrestler (wristwrestler) of all time.
Note that starting in 1966 another organization started to hold World Championships: the International Federation of Arm Wrestlers. It held armwrestling tournaments in conjunction with major International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) bodybuilding contests, including early editions of the Mr. Olympia. As there were few, if any, competitors who competed in both of the IFAW and Petaluma World Championships, a parallel ranking is provided for those first few years when the top competitors from both contests had yet to face off.
The chronology is based on my analysis of event results from the past 50+ years. Historical tournament results are often incomplete, and so anything perceived as an error in this timeline may be due to incomplete knowledge. It is important to note, however, that an individual win may not necessarily have resulted in a rankings adjustment depending on specific circumstances. I welcome discussion pertaining to the list's accuracy, and I am willing to describe the thought process I used for any particular adjustments. I am certainly open to updating the list should a convincing argument be made.
Note that results from all types of armwrestling events were considered, including sit-down and stand-up wristwrestling as well as sit-down and stand-up armwrestling.
World Ranking Timeline
In bold is the date the #1 world ranking would have switched hands, as well as the person who gained the ranking.
February 11th 1961: Duane “Tiny” Benedix wins the California Wristwrestling Championship in Petaluma, and establishes himself as the man to beat.
February 10th 1962: Earl Hagerman beats Duane “Tiny” Benedix to win the inaugural World Wristwrestling Championship, taking the world #1 ranking in the process.
February 9th 1963: Duane “Tiny” Benedix beats Earl Hagerman to reclaim the title of World Wristwrestling Champion and the #1 ranking.
February 8th 1964: After a year of inactivity, Tiny loses his ranking and it is assigned to Joe Schuller, the winner of the heavyweight division of the 1964 World Wristwrestling Championship.
February 12th 1965: Arnie Klein takes the ranking by winning the heavyweight division of the 1965 World Wristwrestling Championship. It is unknown if Joe Schuller was at this event.
1966-1971 Rankings Based on Petaluma Results:
February 1966: Mike Rowe takes the ranking by winning the heavyweight division of the 1966 World Wristwrestling Championship. It is unknown if Arnie Klein was at this event.
May 13th 1967: Larry Finlay takes the ranking by winning the heavyweight division of the 1967 World Wristwrestling Championship. It is unknown if Mike Rowe was at this event.
May 1968: Competing in his first event in five years, Duane “Tiny” Benedix takes the ranking by winning the heavyweight division of the 1968 World Wristwrestling Championship, finishing ahead of Larry Finlay. He maintains the ranking in 1969 by winning the event again.
May 1970: After a year of inactivity, the ranking is assigned to Jim Dolcini, winner of the heavyweight division of the 1970 World Wristwrestling Championship.
1966-1971 Rankings Based on IFAW Results:
August 6th 1966: Lloyd Lampton wins the inaugural IFAW World Championship and with it the #1 ranking.
September 16th 1967: Marc Korman wins the IFAW World Championship. Lloyd Lampton is not in attendance and loses the ranking due to inactivity.
September 1968: Maurice “Moe” Baker wins the IFAW World title in his first contest ever and assumes the #1 ranking. It is unknown if Marc Korman was in attendance. He keeps the ranking by successfully defending his title in 1969 and 1970.
May 14th 1971 (Ranking Unification): Jim Dolcini beats Moe Baker in the heavyweight finals of the 1971 World Wristwrestling Championship.
May 20th 1972: Maurice “Moe” Baker beats Jim Dolcini in the heavyweight finals of the 1972 World Wristwrestling Championship taking back the ranking.
May 19th 1973: Bill Harrison wins the heavyweight division of the 1973 World Wristwrestling Championship, finishing ahead of Moe Baker.
May 18th 1974: After a year of inactivity, Bill Harrison loses his ranking. Jim Dolcini claims it again by winning the heavyweight division of the inaugural WWC National Championship. He keeps his ranking by going undefeated in the 1974 and 1975 World Wristwrestling Championships.
October 9th 1976: After a year of inactivity, Jim Dolcini loses his ranking. Virgil Arciero claims it by winning the heavyweight division of the 1976 World Wristwrestling Championship. Virgil proves he deserves the ranking by beating Jim at the 1976 WPAA World Championships in November. Virgil remains undefeated for the next two years, winning the first two AWI pro events in the process.
November 15th 1978: Cleve Dean beats Virgil Arciero 2-0 in a big money supermatch in Las Vegas, establishing himself as the new king of the mountain. Cleve doesn’t lose a contest over the next two years.
November 8th 1980: In a rematch of their classic encounter, Virgil Arciero and Cleve Dean face off again in a 2 out of 3 format, this time with wristwrestling rules. Virgil wins 2-1 and takes back the ranking.
October 10th 1981: Jeremiah Christian beats Virgil in the heavyweight final of the 1981 World Wristwrestling Championship.
October 10th 1982: After a year of inactivity, Jeremiah Christian loses his ranking. The ranking is assumed by Virgil Arciero, who hasn’t lost a match since their encounter, a period during which he won the 1982 AWI Pro Super Heavyweight World Championship in which Cleve Dean took part.
January 29th 1983: Cleve Dean reclaims the top spot by beating Virgil and winning the 1983 AWI Pro Super Heavyweight World Championship. He retains the top spot for the next three and a half years.
July 26th 1986: Scott Norton defeats Cleve Dean in the super heavyweight finals of the Over the Top World Championship.
July 26th 1987: After a year of inactivity, Scott Norton loses his ranking. Because Cleve Dean also took a break from the sport after the Over the Top tournament, the ranking is assumed by John Brzenk who had won the Truckers division of the event and who had not lost a tournament since.
January 16th 1988: Richard Lupkes beats John Brzenk and wins the super heavyweight division of the 1988 Sands International event to take the #1 spot.
October 8th 1988: John Brzenk reclaims the ranking by beating Richard Lupkes at the 1988 World Wristwrestling Championship.
April 15th 1989: Richard Lupkes beats John Brzenk and wins the 1989 Can-Am Invitational tournament in Barrie, Ontario, Canada.
April 27th 1990: John Brzenk beats Richard Lupkes to win the heavyweight division of the 1990 Yukon Jack National Championship.
January 5th 1991: Gary Goodridge beats John Brzenk to win the super heavyweight division of the Super Bras de Fer tournament in Paris, France.
July 28th 1991: John Brzenk beats Gary Goodridge to win the heavyweight division of the 1991 Yukon Jack National Championship. He retains the top spot for the next three years.
August 26th 1994: Cleve Dean finishes ahead of John and wins the heavyweight division of the 1994 Yukon Jack World Championship.
September 11th 1994: Zaur Tskadadze beats Cleve Dean in the finals of the 110+ kg class of the WAF World Championships.
August 25th 1995: Gary Goodridge finishes ahead of both Cleve and Zaur to win the heavyweight division of the 1995 Yukon Jack World Championship. He wins the same title again in 1996.
September 14th 1997: After a year absence from major competition, Gary Goodridge loses his ranking. The ranking is assumed by John Brzenk, who is fresh off winning three classes at the 1997 USAA National Pro-Am Championship. He maintains the top spot for the next seven years.
September 18th 2004: Ron Bath beats John Brzenk twice to win the Strong Arm Calling tournament to take the top spot.
November 6th 2004: Alexey Voevoda wins the Absolute division of the Nemiroff World Cup (Zloty Tur) beating John Brzenk in the finals and finishing ahead of Ron Bath.
October 29th 2005: After a year of inactivity, Alexey Voevoda loses his ranking. It is assumed by Andrey Pushkar, winner of the 95+ kg class of the 2005 Nemiroff World Cup.
December 3rd 2005: Farid Usmanov wins the 110 kg class at the WAF World Armwrestling Championships, ahead of Andrey Pushkar.
April 22nd 2006: John Brzenk beats Farid Usmanov to win Ultimate Armwrestling III in Las Vegas. He retains the #1 spot for almost two and a half years.
September 13th 2008: Devon Larratt beats John Brzenk 6-0 at Arm Wars “Deep Water”. He retains the top spot for almost five years.
June 1st 2013: After a year of inactivity to recover from two elbow surgeries, Devon Larratt loses his ranking. It is assumed by Denis Cyplenkov, reigning champion of the Absolute class of the A1 Russian Open World Armwrestling Grand Prix.
Researched and Written by Eric Roussin
Copyright Eric Roussin, AHC, Armwrestlers ONLY - No part of this text may be reproduced without written consent from the author.
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