A Louisiana oil worker, Craig Tullier of the Baton Rouge Roughnecks talks about his bone-breaking profession and curling more than his body weight with just one hand.
Q: Do wrestlers take on some of the characteristics of their cities?
A: The training can be different depending on the area. The New York guys tend to fight grips a lot more. With the California guys, I find they’re looking to get an advantage however they can. Down here [in Baton Rouge], even though I approach the sport with technique, a lot of guys want to beat people with power. Sometimes it works, but in my book, you need to know how to take power from your opponent. Turbo and Chop are two of the more stubborn ones. [Laughs]. They go to the table with one mindset.
A: With those guys, it goes two ways. Someone might say, “Look at these guys, they’re out of shape, they’re not real athletes.” But the other side sees them partying and drinking and thinks, “If they’re doing that and winning, imagine if they got serious and trained.” The public does like to see big, ripped up guys like me and [New York firefighter] Mike Ayello, but others want the flip side, the goofballs.
Q: You took a six-year break from the sport. What happened?
A: I was married for 17 years. One day my wife came to me and said, “I need you to make a choice. It’s either arm wrestling or family.” It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I gave up arm wrestling, but I was miserable. I was so upset about it that when everyone would train at my house during the week, no lie, I eventually had to tell them to practice somewhere else. I couldn’t stand to be around it.
Then we wound up getting divorced, so I was sitting here a year ago and couldn’t think of any reason not to get back into it. I trained for two months and won the national title back.
Q: How did the sport change while you were away?
A: When I started, people had a level of respect. As the sport grew and younger guys got into it, the disrespect for everyone got bad. People were acting like it was WWE wrestling, talking trash. And then you had guys trying to cheat, cheating grips, trying to cheat the refereeing. I would never do that.
Q: Anyone in particular you’re referring to?
A: I’m not saying [New York’s] Mike Selearis is a cheater, but he does push the limit to the max with grips, with the ref. He has to have it his way or no way. Others guys are like that. It doesn’t make them bad people, but it gets frustrating.
Q: What’s the most impressive thing you’ve been able to do because of arm wrestling?
A: A lot of the training can be some crazy stuff. I do really heavy hammer curls, 200 lb one-handed, and I’m only 182 lb. I also have softballs that hang seven feet off the ground, 20 in a row hanging by chains. I grab them, do a one-armed pull up with the softball, and grab the next one. You’re holding your whole body with your grip on the ball, like a jungle gym. That is extremely hard.
Q: Between the competition and the training, what’s the worst injury you’ve encountered?
A: I’ve had biceps tears. The worst thing I’ve ever experienced was breaking arms during the middle of a match. It’s happened three times in my career. That’s a feeling and sound that you don’t ever forget.