ORANGE PARK - A trip down County Road 220 for a beer and a burger would have been delayed Saturday afternoon at the Southern Social Whisky Bar as nearly 250 Popeye-looking athletes converged on the …
ORANGE PARK - A trip down County Road 220 for a beer and a burger would have been delayed Saturday afternoon at the Southern Social Whisky Bar as nearly 250 Popeye-looking athletes converged on the local eatery to test out a little mano-a-mano machisimo.
“Chuck Westberry has been hosting this tournament; the Mayhem in Middleburg Florida Armwrestling League Invitational, for nearly six years and this one is the biggest ever in Florida,” said Florida Armwrestling League presidenct Brandon Morris. “Mayhem in Middleburg is the peak of a 12 event series around Florida that finishes with a $10,000 final prize to the best arm wrestler in Florida. There is a ton of national talent here.”
Morris cited a NASCAR-like points system that arm wrestlers compete within to gather points toward the League’s final event. Morris said the tournament is round robin style action with each arm wrestler facing off once against however many competitors signed in for the tournament in six weight classes; 154 pounds, 176 pounds, 198 pounds, 220 pounds, 242 pounds and 242-plus pounds, with a 30 second recovery period between matches.
“If you show up and 15 guys are in the weight class, you wrestle 14 guys and the best record after it’s over is the winner,” said Morris. “It’s pretty easy and rapid fire up there; just one on one all day; 12 events and a championship event in December.”
Four more events remain on the schedule with stops in Spring Hill, Daytona Beach and Deland before the championship event with a location yet to be determined.
Westberry, the coach and leader of Team Jacksonville Armwrestling based out of Westberry’s home in Middleburg, and tournament partner Michael Newman, who is a former Fleming Island High wrestler (2013) as well as a top ranked armwrestler nationally, welcomed the numerous ranks of life that compete in the sport.
“I’ve been arm wrestling for 30 years,” said Westberry, who boasted about his two also-ranked daughters. “The people who arm wrestle for us include a retired Federal judge, AC guys, salesmen, you name it, everyone knows about arm wrestling,” said Westberry. “What’s funny is this gives the older guy who may have been a college athlete or high schooler a reason to compete.”
Westberry says the draw to the sport is growing each year.
“This tournament has been primarily a local event that gives the guys from around here to get together and throw down for an afternoon,” said Westberry. “One name, Dalton Price, a former Middleburg High football player, is one of the names that pops in as a legendary figure from the area in arm wrestling.”
Newman, ranked second in Florida prior to the Mayhem event with two trips to the World Armwrestling Championships where he was second and fifth, pointed out one of the top competitors at Mayhem in Middleburg as Russian champion Artem Taranenko, 28, the best in the building at 198 pounds.
“He’s the cat today,” said Newman, who would finish second in his weight class on the day. “He eats and sleeps this sport and is the guy we all look up to as the best in the sport.”
For the women, Newman named Swedish multiple national champion Sarah Backman, 31, and eight times world champion, now in Brooksville, as the top female competitor.
“She’s in the mens category because there is no female here capable of challenging her,” said Newman. “She’s the real deal.”