Guest Writer: Rob Carli
Remember Sylvester Stallone’s 1987 arm wrestling smash hit Over the Top that put the sport on the global radar?
Well, Pulling John, a 2009 documentary about John Brzenk’s 25-year world domination in this brawny sport, is the real story. The action-packed documentary is stripped of Hollywood theatrics, 18-wheelers, and special effects. It’s the raw, bare bones story about Brzenk’s ascension to the top of the arm wrestling world, and now the future juggernauts of the sport are knocking on the 45-year-old’s door.
Brzenk has to make a decision. He can take on his younger challengers and solidify his dominance at a ripe age or risk his first loss in three decades.
Directors Vassiliki Khonsari and Sevan Matossian vividly paint Brzenck and his adversary’s contrasting, but competitive backgrounds that leads all three of them to the movie-ending convergence.
Travis Bagent, the 275-pound, 33-year-old of West Virginia overflows with confidence, referring to himself as “too pretty” and “unstoppable” in Muhammad Ali fashion. He grew up in the self-proclaimed arm wrestling capital of the world of small-town (undisclosed) Appalachia, arm wrestling his father and grown men in a tavern as a teenager until hitting a growth spurt and swelling to his current size to demonstrate physical prowess.
Meanwhile, over 10,000 miles away, 6 foot 4, 29-year-old Alexey Voyevoda, has already secured several Russian arm wrestling titles, and exudes a more quiet confidence. The arm wrestling prodigy dons a New York Yankees hat, pony tail, and demonstrates his pound-for-pound strength with unorthodox workout routines and a sideways pull-up.
Both adversaries have taken on, and beaten, all of the biggest contenders in the sport. But one man remains in the path to arm wrestling supremacy.
Brzenk, though, is a feared man. He takes down Japan’s No. 1 wrestler in one scene of the movie, and he dominates a slew of other challengers during the documentary’s filming, leading up to the main event. The directors capture commentary from Brzenk’s foes in the past 25 years that testifies to their respect for the sport’s Godfather. His rivals are giddy when they talk about the having the chance to wrestle him, and reference him as if he’s their family’s minister.
The suspense leading up to Brzenk’s showdown at a Canadian tournament is engrossing, rivaling any sports documentary in the past 10 years. This is a must-see for anyone looking to dive into a sport outside the national spotlight.