Armed and Dangerous

The newest addition to AMC’s reign of chart topping TV series chronicles the lives of American competitive arm wrestlers (most of whom are tattooed) through gritted teeth and curled biceps. Game of Arms follows members from five arm wrestling clubs in Erie, PA, Kansas City, New York City, Sacramento, CA and Baton Rouge, LA.  On the surface it may seem like strength and skill are the only things that matter, aside from the occasional spray tan and regular tattoo sessions, but family, careers, and personal struggles also take a toll on each competitor. In each episode a regional match takes place between a member from each team. In a warehouse filled with testosterone fueled veins the two battling into a fist-clenching tug of war that eventually ends in a howling victory for the strongest man. The New York crew NYC Arms Control stopped by the Inked office to talk about the chess match, show off their tattoos, and snap our wrists.

How does one get into the circuit?

Rob Bigwood: Growing up nobody beats you.

Dan Fortuna: I think we all started with arm wrestling in the cafeteria at school. Usually you start in school and then you hear about a tournament and you go and enter. Then if you do good you keep going, you learn technique from one of the pros and you’ll get your ass kicked for a while until you perfect it.

How hard is it to get good?

Fortuna: There’s an old saying in arm wrestling: I have lost plenty of times but I never lost to a guy who has been undefeated.

Dan Fortuna

Dan Fortuna

How much of a mental game is arm wrestling?

Mike Selearis: Visualize the shit out of it. I do the third eye thing: I stare at the guy and he is going to spend all of his energy staring back at me. I am focusing on his brow so I’m not even looking into his eyes, but he is trying to look into mine so he’s struggling to win a battle that I’m not even in.

Have you ever just blown a guy a kiss?

Selearis: I did it twice, once at the 2004 Nationals that aired on ESPN and I did it to Fitzsimmons. I don’t just go around kissing dudes.

The massive arm of Mike Selearis

The massive arm of Mike Selearis

Physically what part of the arm controls the fight?

Mike Ayello: The body.

Fortuna: It is tendon strength. You try to develop your tendon strength to develop a lock of your entire body. In bodybuilding you isolate the muscle; in arm wrestling you want the muscles to work together so that they form a lock. Your hand and wrist are probably the most important but then down your arm down to your shoulder your back, your lats.

Selearis: Visualize this: if you are arm wrestling and you can drop your ass and your arm goes with it, then your technique is right. If you drop your ass and your arm stays up, you are going to lose.

Fortuna: It sounds easy but you really have to build up those muscles or it doesn’t work and you open yourself up.

Selearis: In bars, using technique is considered cheating. In college what I would do so it would even it out is to say if you beat me I’ll give you $200, if I beat you, you owe me a pitcher of beer. And everyone would take that bet.

Kevin Nelson: I’d put an amateur girl against a weightlifter who doesn’t know how to arm wrestle and she’ll kick his ass.

Two dragons arm wrestle on Kevin Nelson's back.

Two dragons arm wrestle on Kevin Nelson’s back.

How often do you get into barroom matches now?

Fortuna: Never, because people will hurt themselves. We can hold a position and people will snap their own arms off trying to break through.

Ayello: And there’s drinking so you will get drunk guys in your face after screaming: “You cheated motherfucker!”

Fortuna: Getting beat in arm wrestling is one step below getting your ass kicked in a fight. It is a pride thing.

How often does someone’s arm break?

Selearis: I’ve seen 19 in 20 years.

Are steroids taboo in arm wrestling?

Ayello: Just the opposite. Hahaha.

What are the crowds at your matches like?

Ayello: The crowd is right on top of you. It isn’t like other sports where there is a barrier.

Selearis: You are arm wrestling everybody in the crowd. You are arm wrestling their mother, you are arm wrestling their buddies.

Ayello: Their moms scare me more than most of my opponents. And you can’t say anything to them.

Mike Ayello shows off his FDNY badge number.

Mike Ayello shows off his FDNY badge number.

Do you wrestle with your dominant hand?

Fortuna: It is more enjoyable to use both arms in the tournament. We are all right hand dominant but sometimes the left is smarter to use.

What are your day jobs?

Selearis: High school teacher

Fortuna: Purina veterinary sales

Ayello: New York City firefighter

Bigwood: Interactive art director

Nelson: Graphic designer

What are your tattoos?

Nelson: I have a shoulder piece and arm wrestling dragons on my back.

Ayello: I go to Snake Eyes in Williamsburg. 10 years ago I started getting tattooed and I just added on. I have my badge number and my kids, all black and grey.

Fortuna: I got the heart from a guy who OD’d two years later, which worried me. They are of my kids. I had my ex-wife’s name in there but I lasered it off.

Bigwood: I get all my stuff by Seth Wood. I got a raven, I have a gypsy up here and then Seth is going to finish up these two wolves.

Selearis: How much is that going to cost when it’s done?

Ayello: $60, right?

Rob Bigwood showing off his ink in a tank top by Thieves.

Rob Bigwood showing off his ink in a tank top by Thieves.

Is there intrigue in the show past the sport?

Ayello: We travel around the country arm wrestling a bunch of characters. It is about each personality. Except for me—everybody is crazy and I am the most normal guy in the world.

Fortuna: Who told you that?

Ayello: These guys think I’m weird.

Speaking of back-stories, I hear there is a cockatoo story…

Fortuna: Oh, he has been the least vocal but here comes the gift of Kevin.

Nelson: OK, fine. I had a cockatiel, not a cockatoo. And I used to put him on my finger and on my shoulder. He was like my little buddy. One day when my girlfriend left the room I thought it would be funny if I could perch the cockatiel on my cock. I didn’t think it would hurt because it doesn’t hurt on your finger. But as soon as the bird grabbed on, it was like AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH. It felt like hooks going into me. It was the worst pain. And I had to swat him off me into the wall.

Selearis: Show the scar.

Nelson: No.

Bigwood: Didn’t something else happen to the cockatiel?

Nelson: A couple of weeks later I was going to get the paper and he was on my shoulder. He normally stays on but he hopped off so I went to get him and as soon as I said, “Come here you.” A cat swooped in. I tried to chase the cat over the fence but it was too late.

Check out these characters tonight on AMC’s Game of Arms 10/9c.

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