In a nightclub just down the road from John Wayne Airport in Newport Beach, hundreds of burly men and women gathered Saturday to compete in the Ultimate Arm Wrestling League's day-long competition.
The tournament was open to anyone, but with large cash prizes — including ($10,000 for the openweight category — many pros had arrived.
Some competitors traveled from as far away as Brazil, Sweden and Poland. They wore official league jerseys, the color reflecting the weight class to which they belonged, with nickames like "Rockstar" and "Cowboy" printed on the backs.
As the brackets progressed, "pullers," as they are collectively known, seemed to continually approach one of four tables set up inside the bar, each about waist-level. Their elbows rested on a small, red pad. One hand gripped a silver peg on the table. The other clutched the opponent's outstretched palm.
Each time, a referee arranged the grip to be sure no one had an advantage. "Don't move," he would command, getting players into position.
And then: "Go."
Fists pumped the air, fans yelled and photographers circled. Loud music seemed to blend away as competitors' expressions shot from nervous calm to aggressive intensity.
Some bellowed or growled as their arms strained.
"It has to go from that handshake to everything you have, from your toes to your fingers," participant Brandon Hall explained.
A match might last a second or (in an unusual case) several minutes. And — though one may not realize it — the competition can involve any number of moves.
There is the tricep press, the shoulder press, the hook (wrist curls in) and the top roll (wrist curls up).
Then there is the King's move, where one's body swings under the table.
"It's about the application of strength," 330-pound Hall said, rather than pure strength itself. (A man half his size beat him when he was first starting out.)
Contestant Don McClary explained that tendon strength is crucial.
"Big muscles mean nothing," he declared.
It's not, after all, that same lunchtime game from kindergarten. By 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon, two people had broken their arms.