By Tim Lima
---- — Newburyport is home to the world heavyweight arm wrestling champion. A sport performed by millions of people around the world to determine an advantage in strength or toughness is actually a real, yet largely unknown sport with its own international league.
The organization is called the Ultimate Armwrestling League (UAL), which recently held its World Heavy Weight Arm Wrestling Championships in Chicago. At that event, Rob “The Vigilante” Vigeant came away with the title. Vigeant took the time to talk about his accomplishment and the underground sport that he has dedicated much of his life to.
How long have you lived in Newburyport?
“I’ve been in Newburyport for a few years now. I am from Lowell originally and moved around quite a bit. I was living in southern New Hampshire for a while, and now I have been here in Newburyport for going on four years now.”
You just won the World Heavy Weight Arm Wrestling Championships. Can you talk about that tournament and what it took to win it?
“In this country, it’s an underground sport, like how skateboarding was 20 to 30 years ago. The athletes take it seriously, though. In Russia and Japan it’s a huge way of life for them. The athletes in this sport are as serious as any other sport, so winning the World Heavy Weight Arm Wrestling Championship is a very big accomplishment. These people are heart-attack serious about it. It’s a total body sport, for every single muscle in your body comes into play when you’re competing at the highest level.”
What is the strategy in arm wrestling for people who may not be familiar with your sport?
“There’s a lot of different strategies. There’s a lot of different approaches people use and it depends on your body type. Some people choose to use leveraging-type techniques while other people use raw power. People who are big bench pressers may use big chest and triceps muscles to push on their opponent, whereas former gymnasts who have a lot of arm and back strength use the lats in their back to pull the person’s arm from their body. The strategies that go into my sport are a lot like fighting. People with longer arms may be boxers while people with shorter arms are probably inside brawlers. Once you get involved in it and see what works best for you, you use specific exercises for your craft. The go-to for every arm wrestler is very strong arms, shoulders and wrists.”
Are there officials in arm wrestling? What are some of the rules of it?
“There are. This is something that live streams on the Internet. If you saw it you would think it’s as organized as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). There’s rules about how to get a fair grip so you match evenly, your elbows have to be in contact with the elbow pad. When you get to the highest levels, there are many more little rules, but basically when the ref says go, you go.”
What type of training do you do to prepare? How many hours per week do you spend in the gym?
“I try to go to the gym three days a week, but I have three small kids so that’s hard. My gym time falls in between their nap times. For me, I can’t get to the gym as much, so I have a small homemade gym at my house where I do exercises designed to help my body be in the shape I have to be in. We do workout routines on an actual table where you arm wrestle against other competitors for practice. It’s similar to how wrestlers practice, just on a table.”
What are some of the specifics of the Ultimate Arm Wrestling League (UAL)?
“That’s the highest level. It has been a league for four years now. They have taken all the best guys and brought them out and have guys who are under contract with them. They are working on a reality show to expose the sport. They have competitors from Canada to Ukraine to Switzerland to England to Brazil. That’s the cream of the crop in terms of competitors.”
How many matches have you won?
“Thousands. I have been in this sport competing since 2004, and the standard tournament is a bracket series that is double-elimination. I’ve won state, national and world titles, and once I got hooked on it, I won an incredible amount of matches. I had an entire trophy room so when I won trophies I started just giving them back because I had so many that they were just collecting dust.”
Where in the country have you competed? Have you traveled out of the country?
“I have only gone as far as Canada, but that’s because the guys I was interested in competing against were coming to me. At one point in time I was slated to go to Poland and Japan and Australia, but when I had the opportunity to go against the same people in Canada, that was an easier find for me than going all the way to Warsaw, Poland.”
What is your favorite sport outside of arm wrestling?
“I was a really good athlete my whole life. I played baseball my whole life. I lived in Vegas for years and played semi-professional football and was ready go to the combine and even looked into draft day options, but I had an ankle injury so it wasn’t right for me. I also toyed around with UFC. I crave the one-on-one, man-on-man competition and UFC looked right to me, but the injuries and the dedication when I was starting to have kids was too much.”