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The strongest of strongarms

In 1988 the strongest of the strongarms came to Masterton to see who was the strongest of them all. Mark Pacey of the Wairarapa Archive recalls the 1988 national arm-wrestling competition.

In the year after Lincoln Hawk’s win over reigning champ Bob Hurley in the 1987 film Over the Top, starring Sly Stallone, arm wrestling became a popular competition in the country.

In fact, in the top action movies rented at video stores, Hawk’s saga was the third most popular, behind Lethal Weapon but edging out Crocodile Dundee.

Regional heats were held across New Zealand in pubs – an appropriate place as DB Draught was the official sponsor. Games were only staged in bars where DB was on tap.

“Don’t miss the opportunity to chance your arm in New Zealand’s greatest ever arm-wrestling challenge,” the nations’ papers declared.

Aside from ample DB, the other big enticement for competitors besides fame was the prize money.

A prize pool of $100,000 was on offer and for the overall champ, a chance to compete with the big guns in a competition in the United States.

While attention was focused on the overall main competition, there were four classes of contest in total, including one for women.

It wasn’t the traditional style of arm wrestling that was showcased, either.

The days of clasping each other’s hands and going for it over a small table were a thing of the past.

For this competition, the technology was brought out, with an arm-wrestling machine with two metal arms that competitors grasped on to.

A light on the top would signal when the match was won and to make sure everything was done above board, a referee oversaw the whole thing.

All over the country, patrons poured a cold one and cheered on the arm warriors, encouraging rocky starts and screaming at cliffhanger moments which could go either way.

Masterton competitor Phil Payne was driven to try harder this time around, as he was runner-up in the middleweight section the previous year.

In May, he won the runner-up title in Taita again, winning a tee shirt, a travelling bag and $150 in prize money.

Saturday, June 13, was the date of the final and the location was the Homestead Tavern in Masterton.

Here, contenders for the ultimate prize had their showdown over tables of arm-wrestling machines and beer.

A packed-out crowd watched in earnest as each pair duked it out.

The enthusiasm and cheering may have been considered a little over the top for outsiders, but for those there, this was their creed; the tension and excitement was high as each warrior tried to prove they were mighty as Apollo.

Woodville’s Craig Stewart won his heat against Malcolm Bayne of Manawatū, Warren Bradbury of Otaki defeated Kerry Hirst of Whanganui and Wendy Niblet from Southland won her bout with Pam Koroheke.

There was much straining and several sore muscles, but there could be only one victor and that eventually went to Shane Yelash, who was crowned overall winner and, with it, the cash prize and the promise to represent New Zealand in the international circuit.

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