Arm wrestling of one kind or another has been around since Ancient Egypt. This, despite the fact Wikipedia will tell you it was created in the 1950s. But the idea of a friendly yet physical way to prove one’s mettle or settle disputes is obviously an old one. Wrestling went back thousands of years. Things like foot races are older. Matching arm strength to arm strength makes sense in that context. And to this day, people still do it, sometimes in the most unexpected ways or for unexpected reasons.
10. The Southwest Airlines Slogan Dispute
You can’t swing a cat in the media these days without running across the story of some corporate dispute heading to the courts. It’s been the same way for decades. Litigation is the name of the game when it comes to solving problems, but it’s not always the case.
Southwest Airlines was formed in 1971 and was always a bit of a quirky business. They tossed out weird slogans, and they were less serious than their competitors. The idea worked. Today, Southwest is worth more than $25 billion.
The company’s fun and breezy slogans change every few years the same as any business – you have to keep things fresh. In the 90s, they wanted to use the slogan “Just Plane Smart.” They used it for just over a year and then discovered that another company, Stevens Aviation, had been using it as well.
The lawyers for Stevens wanted to sue, but there was one problem. Stevens CEO Kurt Herwald really looked up to Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher. He didn’t want to sue a man he respected for an honest mistake. So he challenged Kelleher to an arm wrestling match.
Herwald was nearly 30 years younger and physically trained for the event. Kelleher drank whisky and smoked. He arrived at the event in a bathroom flanked by cheerleaders. In a best of three rounds bout, the first two were staged as jokes. Kelleher claimed he hurt his arm saving a child that morning, so a pro took his place. In the next round, Herwald had a ringer as well. In the final round, they played for real and Herwald won.
In the end, they opted to share the slogan, and both companies raked in massive good PR.
9. Charlie Day’s Wife
If you’re a fan of the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and you should be, then you’re likely also a fan of the hilarious Charlie Day. His character on the show is something of an idiot man-child feral genius and in real life he’s just as funny. In 2017, he appeared on the popular web series Hot Ones, answering questions about his life and career while eating hot wings with host Sean Evans. Midway through their chat. Evans brings up a story from Day’s past about how he met his wife.
According to Day, he and a friend spotted Day’s future wife, actress Mary Elizabeth Ellis (who confirms the story in the above clip), at a bar. They both wanted to approach Ellis to hit on her, so they needed to settle the dispute. They arm wrestled, and Day ended up winning. For what it’s worth, Day says that even if he lost, he still would have approached her, so his life wouldn’t have turned out differently.
8. The Ear Cutters
Have you ever been to a restaurant that deconstructs food on the menu? They’ll take something like a traditional steak and potatoes and maybe give you potato-encrusted beef croquettes, or peach pie turns into a tuile cracker with a peach chutney. Turns out that at least two guys in Russia managed to do this with arm wrestling.
Normally, arm wrestling is the thing that settles the dispute, but that wasn’t the case in 2014. Instead of having an issue and fixing it with the match, the men decided to bet on the match and the result would be that the loser would cut off their own ear. You know, that very common bar bet.
The two of them arm wrestled, and one man won. The loser demanded a rematch, so everyone still had their ears after a second round in which that guy won. So they’re all tied up. And then, since they had both lost a round, they both decided to cut their ears off. The idea of settling it via, oh, let’s say… arm wrestling apparently didn’t occur to either of them.
7. Donny Osmond Gets on the Radio
Though he’s not a chart topper anywhere these days, Donny Osmond was still a musical force to be reckoned with in his day and managed to sell 80 million records. That’s pretty impressive. But despite those numbers, Osmond did have to hustle to get himself out there.
Back in 1988, Osmond was promoting an album called Soldier of Love. The name alone probably made DJs want to steer clear of it, but Osmond was trying to reinvigorate his career and needed airplay. When he found out one DJ in particular from Miami had told his listeners that he hated the album and Osmond. Donny had to throw down.
In a best of three matches, the two men arm wrestled. Donny won the first and lost the second. He came back for the win, and Wheeler played the song. It’s worth noting that at least one source says it was Wheeler himself who called Donny to arrange the match with both men fully aware it was a PR stunt. Wheeler said he didn’t hate the song. He said it just had the same melody as another song that had recently been released. And that he would have played it regardless since it was about to break the top ten. In any event, he and Osmond stayed friends afterward.
6. The Arm Breaking Machine
If you can think of something, literally anything, a human can do, then someone has invented a video game version of it. From the mundane to the insane, there’s a game for that somewhere. So arm wrestling should come as no surprise whatsoever. But the Arm Spirit game from Japan was at least unique in the way it went about executing the idea. This was no simple platform game. This machine had a fake arm and everything. The problem was, it was a bit too good at its job.
Three people broke their arms playing the game, causing the distributor to recall all 150 units across the country. You’d think that meant they were admitting some kind of fault, but they were not. A company spokesman said it wasn’t very strong and that “even women” should be able to win a match. They figured players must have just twisted their arms somehow and caused the damage themselves.
Considering that, under normal conditions, it takes a good deal of effort to break a bone; it seems clear there was a serious issue with the game’s design. It looks like it was never put back on the market after the recall.
5. The Iron Sheik Challenged Toronto’s Mayor
Few wrestlers have had a career as long as Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, better known as the Iron Sheik. The man was born in 1942 and well into his late 70s routinely tears it up on Twitter, doling out foul mouthed quips on whatever the news of the day is in classic Sheik fashion.
Back in 2013, the big news in Ontario, Canada was Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s crack habit. The Sheik showed up in Toronto to challenge the mayor to an arm wrestling match. The reason? He wanted to see if the mayor was a real man.
The Sheik went on to threaten putting the Camel Clutch on Ford while City Hall security asked him to keep his voice down, as though anyone can suppress the Iron Sheik. Sadly, security ended up asking him to leave with no arm wrestling match taking place.
4. NZ Companies Settle Their Radio Dispute
Taking a page out of Southwest Airlines’ book, two New Zealand companies had an issue that needed a resolution, but neither company really wanted to litigate. Consider that any lawsuit is going to cost everyone time and money and it’s really not appealing for a smaller company to even bother. Not if you can both agree on a better solution out of court.
Teamtalk Ltd and MCS Digital were at odds over a mobile radio network that both wanted access to. Rather than waste any more time, the heads of each company settled into a best of three arm wrestling match. Teamtalk ended up on the losing end but, as the CEO pointed out, losing was not as bad as paying for the lawyers.
3. Jared Kushner Arm Wrestler WeWork’s Boss Over Real Estate
Remember Jared Kushner? He had something or other to do with the White House for a few years. As part of whatever his official position was, he was tasked with bringing peace to the Middle East, and who better than a man who took over his father’s real estate business after his father went to jail for fraud?
Making peace happen was no small task, so Kushner enlisted the help of an equally qualified partner, WeWork founder Adam Neumann, a man accused of sexual harassment, drug use and more at his own business from which he was forced to resign.
Turns out Kushner and Neumann have a lot in common and would bro out together on a regular basis. And, like all businessmen who drink too much tequila when making decisions, they even settled a real estate dispute between them with an arm wrestling match. Kushner lost that match and, as it happens, he somehow wasn’t able to achieve peace in the Middle East, either.
2. Oliver Reed and the Sailors
Oliver Reed had a long history in movies playing such iconic roles as Bill Sikes in Oliver! back in 1968 and it’s rumored he was even in the running to replace Sean Connery as James Bond back in the day. Modern audiences will probably know him best from his final role as gladiator trainer Proximo in the movie Gladiator.
It was during the filming of Gladiator that Reed passed away and, true to many of the characters he played, the man went out with a heck of a bang. In life, Reed was an alcoholic, a fact that was well known and even celebrated. He liked to drink and didn’t hide it.
During a break in the filming of Gladiator, Reed decided to unwind the only way he knew how – by taking things way too far. He got into a drinking contest with some sailors and took down 8 pints of beer, 12 shots of rum, some cognac, and a half bottle of whisky. He was 61 at the time.
As part of his feats of drunken strength, he also elected to arm wrestle five of the sailors. He beat them all, but then suffered a massive heart attack. He died on the way to the hospital.
1. The End of the Cold War
Former GOP congressman from California Dana Rohrabacher’s career was one that was frequently marred by bad press. Heck, even after he retired he got bad press for being part of the January 6 riots. During his time in office, he made headlines for campaign finance violations, but few headlines were more damaging than when he was called “Putin’s favorite congressman.” That has to be a stinging barb for any US politician, right? Well, maybe not for Rohrabacher.
Turns out that the congressman and Russian President Vladimir Putin really do seem to get along well. In fact, they hang out together, get drunk and play games. And at one meeting they decided to settle the Cold War with an arm wrestling match.
Rohrabacher himself shared the tale of meeting Putin in the 1990s. Putin was not running the country back then and when the congressman met him in Washington, they got along swimmingly. After the official work was over, they went to an Irish pub and got into an argument over who won the Cold War. As elected officials and future tyrants are wont to do, they threw back a few pints and arm wrestled to decide the true winner. Putin won.