MANHATTAN — Wall Street businessman Adam Katz ditched his suit and strapped his arm to the arm of a perfect stranger in a bid to win the New York Arm Wrestling Federation's 34th annual championship Thursday.
"It’s one of the most visceral sports out there, besides boxing or wrestling," said Katz, 35, who was among the more than 70 male and female competitors who linked arms and grunted their way through the competition at the Port Authority.
"But those can give you bruises on your face. That wouldn’t go too well at work."
The competition, which draws wrestlers from all over the world, is the final event of the 2011 arm wrestling season. Competitors are divided into 17 classes based on weight, gender and dominant hand. The champion of each division wins $100 and the over-all male and female champions receive a $200 bonus prize.
"The White Castle Empire State Golden Arm Tournament of Champions is one of New York City’s oldest and most prestigious sought-after titles," said Gene Camp, the founder and president of the New York Arm Wrestling Association.
While most arm wrestling tournaments take place in the back ends of bars, the Golden Arm Championship is held at locations like the USS Intrepid and the Empire State Building’s observatory.
"We try to make it more interesting to attract thousands of spectators and promote the sport and the sponsors," said Jared Vale, 41, one of the championship’s organizers.
The federation was hit hard by the recession and has struggled to get enough funding from sponsors to put on the tournament, which cost about $7000, organizers said.
Hundreds of amused travelers at Port Authority stopped to watch the tournament and some even decided to join.
"I’m in,” said Jonathan Woelfel, a 30-year-old real estate investor on his way to New Jersey after watching the tournament for a few minutes. “I didn’t even know they had arm wrestling events,” he said.
Zames Sismanoz started training eight months ago for his first Golden Arm Championship.
"The first five minutes are the hardest, because you feel a very intense pain on your triceps,” he said. It took Sismanoz, 34, five months of training to learn to deal with that pain. "A lot of people can’t take it and quit," he said.
While anyone can join the amateur tournament, the best arm wrestlers are carpenters, mechanics and bowlers according to Vale. “These guys are really focusing on the millimeters between their fingers and thumbs to get in the right position to eliminate their opponent.”
The Golden Arm Championship is also known for attracting a relatively high number of female competitors, like Joyce Boone, a Brooklyn home healthcare aid, who was the first woman to be crowned the New York State Arm Wrestler of the year.
"I feel like more women should do this because there are a lot of strong women in New York," said Joyce, who has been competing for eight years. "I’ve felt a lot stronger since I started wrestling.”
Nicole Scaury, a personal trainer from Queens, started competing when a friend entered her in the Big Apple Grabble last year. “I was good at it, so I decided to continue,” Scaury said, adding that she feels no different from the male competitors.
“I brag about how I’ve beaten some men,” she said “I just feel like a tomboy.”