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WAL brings championship arm wrestling to Atlanta 

Devon Larratt was about 5-years-old when he began arm wrestling. One of his earliest opponents was his grandmother who just happened to be the Alberta Provincial arm wrestling champion.

“She would let me arm wrestle her for doing chores around the farm,” said Larratt, a retired Canadian Armed Forces soldier. “As a four or five year old kid, I found it super fun.”

Now that Larratt is the current two-time World Armwrestling League (WAL) Heavyweight Champion for both the left and right hand, he’s a little embarrassed to admit he never beat his grandma in a match. 

“When I was 10 or 11 she was really elderly. They set us up to have this big match and she still beat me. I never did beat her,” he said.

On Sept. 5, Larratt heads to Turner Arena for the WAL Supermatch Showdown Series Championship. It is the fourth such championship match for WAL, the fastest growing arm wrestling league in the world. It is not to be confused with several other arm wrestling leagues including the Ultimate Armwrestling League.

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Larratt and more than two dozen “pullers” will compete in the Supermatch Showdown Series which includes three supermatches, two four-man Battle Royals and championship matches for men and women. 

For many years, the arm wrestling world was completely underground with individuals connecting directly with one another across oceans and countries for competition. 

Arm wrestling is a sport that features great sportsmanship. Matches almost always end with an embrace between the two opponents.

“I was involved in it back when it was really, really underground,” said Larratt. “A lot of things have changed now. The arm wrestling world is getting much more organized.”

WAL President Steve Kaplan, a Chicago-based businessman, discovered the thrill of arm wrestling on a USO tour with the US Army.

“We were in Kandahar at the border of Pakistan and I kept seeing our troops in full Kevlar arm wrestling,” said Kaplan. When he returned home, a friend asked him to consult on a show about arm wrestling. 

“I was totally blown away. I was expecting to see the stereotypical bar guy drinking beer. These guys are more like NFL tight ends and they are so dedicated and focused on the sport,” Kaplan said. 

He found kindred spirit among the pullers. They come from every background imaginable and bring everything they are to the table for a battle that lasts just a few seconds or at the longest, a few minutes.

Three years ago, when Kaplan put together the first WAL event at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, 1,000 arm wrestlers showed up to compete. Over the years, the league has grown dramatically and earned a dedicated fan base. More than 300 arm wrestlers from around the world are on the WAL roster and they represent a range of backgrounds and occupations including a lumberjack, a reindeer herder (she’s from Sweden), a UPS worker and a robotics engineer. 

“That relatability is what gets people in the door but once they look at the sport, the strategy and inclusiveness of the community is what keeps them there,” Kaplan said. 

Arm wrestling is a sport that brings people together -- literally and figuratively. At WAL events, fans feel as if they are part of the action. “You can go a few feet away from Devon and be part of it,” said Kaplan, calling Larratt the Michael Jordan of arm wrestling. Larratt’s fans just call him a beast.

“I got into it just because it really feels a lot like a fight...but you don’t get a concussion,” Larratt said. Joining clubs, practicing and training well are the keys to reaching the highest levels and Larratt practices all the time. 

Most of the technique is in the wrist and forearm, he said. “People with good hands a good wrist can get advantages,” he said. But arm wrestling is a full body sport and any kind of strength -- not just big biceps -- is helpful. 

Larratt has tangled with the some of the greatest names in the sport including the late Ron Bass who he conquered during a match in Canada. More recently, in 2015, he bested Hafthor Bjornsson aka “The Mountain” from “Game of Thrones” in an exhibition match that has gained more than 15 million views. 

Larratt says he is not only a competitor, but an avid fan. “I watch the sport all the time. I study people. I watch how they move. I learn every single thing about every one of my opponents,” he said.

He feels fortunate to have had a long career and while he has had to adjust his style as he gets older, he still promises to give fans a great show in his bid for the cast iron hammer. 

“I feel like I’m gonna crush this guy,” he said referring to the upcoming championship match against WAL super heavyweight champion, Michael Todd. “It is going to be great.”

EVENT PREVIEW

World Armwrestling League - Supermatch Showdown Series Championship

7 p.m., Sept. 5. $25. Turner Arena, 1050 Techwood Drive, Turner Studios, Atlanta. walunderground.com.

The event can also be viewed live on Turner Sports’ new digital platform, B/R Live at https://live.bleacherreport.com  or by downloading the B/R Live app through iTunes or Google Play, Apple TV, the Roku platform and Amazon Fire TV.

About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.

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