2010 World Arm Wrestling Champion Bobby Buttafuoco warms up for the 34th Annual NYC Big Apple Grapple International. It’s 9 o’clock on a weeknight in the musty basement of a small Queens Village house.
Two dozen guys and one girl gather around a couple of padded tables to practice their arm-wrestling skills in preparation for Saturday’s 34th Annual NYC Big Apple Grapple International Arm Wrestling Championships at the Village Pourhouse in the East Village.
But 2010 world arm wrestling champion Bobby Buttafuoco, who will face off against Frank (Iron Hands) Malis for the $2,000 grand prize, isn’t practicing, despite being the oldest person in the room at the tender age of 57.
“I shut down three weeks before a tournament to build up strength,” says the Rockville Centre real estate broker. “I found that my body really needs time to rest before a big match. I already have perfected my technique, now I just need to relax and focus.”
Once known simply as the older brother of Joey Buttafuoco, who became a minor celebrity in 1992 when his underage paramour shot his wife in the head, Bobby Buttafuoco has made a name for himself as a master arm wrestler.
He went undefeated for 12 years and won the Big Apple Grapple 14 years in a row. But his crowning achievement was pinning the strongest arms from over 40 countries at the World Championships last December to be named the best arm wrestler in the 50-59 year-old age group.
Indeed, for a man fast approaching 60, Buttafuoco still has the upper-body strength of a virile young man — or an ox, if an ox had an upper body. He attributes this to his daily workout routine.
“I work out my upper body seven days a week,” says the father of two, who still likes to reference his undefeated senior season in shot put at Massapequa (L.I.) High School. “People always think about the biceps, but in arm wrestling you also have to have strength in the forearm, shoulder, wrist and hand.”
He clears off a table of younger arm wrestlers and uses fellow champion Jason Vale, 43, who hosts these monthly gathering, to demonstrate his technique.
“The most important part is the grip, and everyone develops a grip that works for them,” Buttafuoco says. “I prefer to wrap my fingers around the lower knuckle of the thumb and curl my wrist slightly, but you’ve got to be careful, because if your hands slip apart, you could end up breaking your nose.”
In terms of arm-wrestling injuries, breaking a nose is fairly minor.
According to Buttafuoco: “You often see people blow out the lower tendon in their bicep or they get a
spiral fracture in their humerus. And these aren’t skinny guys, either. A couple weeks ago, we had this big guy try arm wrestling for the first time and his arm just shattered.”
Buttafuoco isn’t as interested in what goes on under the table.
“You have to be balanced in your stance and everyone has a different way of doing that,” he says. “Some guys brace their foot on the leg of the table, others put their right foot forward. In the end, it doesn’t really matter as long as you are not off balance.”
Arm wrestling actually started as a game in which the contestants sat down at a table, but as the sport developed, so did the table. Today’s models allow competitors to stand at either side and grip built-in table posts with their off hands.
The eclectic crew of arm wrestlers, gathered in the basement laden with talcum powder, ranges in both size and skill. There’s a Brazilian heavyweight champion with biceps the size of light poles, “pulling” with his off hand, and a smaller guy who refuses to wrestle without his shades.
The one consistent part of this training session is that when Buttafuoco speaks, everyone listens. He is not only the elder statesmen of the group, but the best in the room.
“The beautiful part about this game is that you don’t necessarily peak young,” he says. “You can be a very good arm wrestler in your 50s, it just takes strength, focus and skill. Right now, I’ve got all three.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW
The 34th Annual Big Apple Grapple International Arm Wrestling Championships will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Village Pourhouse (64 Third Ave.). The entry fee is $20 for amateurs and $30 for pros. Admission is $5 for spectators, who must be 21 and over. For more info, visit nycarms.com or call (718) 544-4592.
BY Jacob E. Osterhout
DAILY NEWS FEATURE REPORTER
Monday, April 25th 2011, 4:00 AM
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