Legendary arm-wrestler Michael Todd feels that arm-wrestling has all the potential to become as big as UFC. Arm-Wrestling is considered a niche sport and many have doubts about whether they can make a career out of it. The sport is trying to make a space for itself in the professional sporting world but there is still a long way to go. Todd, who has won 23 World titles in Arm-Wrestling, feels that in the US and in other European countries other sports get more exposure as they have already made their mark in history. However, to make Arm-Wrestling common, the organisations have to build some characters to connect with the fans.
India has already made a big move to make people realize that if they are good in Arm-Wrestling then have a chance to make a career out of it with the Pro Panja League, a premier arm-wrestling competition, in Gwalior, Madya Pradesh. Todd was present in India to inaugurate the 2022 edition of the tournament.
In an exclusive interaction with News18, Todd talked about his journey in arm-wrestling and why he picked an individual sport over any team sport. He also opened up on why the arm-wrestling sport is not getting the recognition it deserves as he also gave some suggestions to make it as big as UFC.
What made you choose Arm-Wrestling as your profession when other games like American Football, NBA and Baseball had a bigger fan base in America?
Growing up as a kid, I did not excel in team sports. I succeeded or failed on my own merit. I tried really hard. I did not like team sports because sometimes my teammates did not try as hard as I did. So, what I wanted was if I win or lose, it was because of me. So, I actually started off as a martial artist when I was a kid. When I was young, probably 14 years old, I used to compete in that and I loved it. I actually thought that this is where I was going to go. But being from Arkansas, I was always used to arm-wrestle with everyone. I beat my dad when I was 15, I beat everyone in school. So, I found out about an arm-wrestling event when I was 17 and I fell in love with it. And probably because I chose arm-wrestling, it was not a sport I could very well monetize, I will probably never come around to playing golf. Because if I spent this much time golfing, I’d be rich (laughs). Instead, I have just travelled the world and met amazing people. So, I feel I came out on the winning side of things.
At what age did you realize it is Arm-Wrestling in which you want to make your career?
Honestly, at 17, when I went to my first competition, I knew I loved it. I did not what will happen, I just knew I always wanted to be the best. I wanted to be National Champion, I wanted to be World Champion. I used to be a smaller guy - now I am 6’3 and 90 kgs, and I used to lift weights to stay small. I got to 95kg once and I was really fit and I thought, I am not going to lose muscle to go to lighter weight class. So, at that point, I thought, you know, I am all in on this thing. Arm-wrestling for me was never really a decision - I am going to pursue this - it’s just something I fell in love with when I was a kid and it’s been more than 2/3rd of my life. I just love it.
Arm-Wrestling is common in India amongst everyone but it is not considered a professional sport. What do you think it’s needed to make Arm-Wrestling a professional thing in India?
The same thing India is experiencing in arm-wrestling that everyone is, arm-wrestling but they still don’t recognise it as a professional sport - we are still dealing with that all across the world. Some of the Eastern European countries, have their governments supporting them in arm-wrestling but other sports have gotten more recognition. In the United States, there are so many other sports, so it’s hard to get that much exposure. What I think that what it’s going to take to make Arm-Wrestling mainstream is for someone to develop characters. Someone to follow the arm-wrestlers and expose their personalities. It’s going to be entertainment. Sports of arm-wrestling could get boring. If you don’t understand it, if it’s not presented correctly, people will switch the channel. But if you make it entertaining, with characters and behind the scenes, I feel arm-wrestling can be as big as UFC one day.
As I just said, Arm-Wrestling is quite famous in India, several kids usually engage in Arm-Wrestling to show their strength. What’s your advice to them and how can they play or execute this sport more safely? What do you think it’s more important for an arm-wrestler? Is it only about the arm strength or does one has to work on other body parts also to succeed in arm-wrestling?
I am going to differ from some other personalities in this sport who think you should focus on arm-wrestling. I think you should be a complete athlete and you should focus on your entire body. I don’t want to be imbalanced. I just turned 49 years old. I can still do a lot of things, people, my age cannot do. I think that’s because I have always treated myself as an athlete. So, I believe everyone who takes this sport or any sport, should try to be as complete of a sportsperson as possible. That means treat yourself as an athlete - good nutrition, good rest, good recovery, good and smart training. Having a long career is important. I am in my 32nd year and I still don’t think I have peaked yet. I think a lot of this is because of how I treated my body.
One piece of Advice to Pro Panja League to make them even bigger?
I have not got to see the event yet, so I cannot really make that assessment - although from what I have seen so far - I think they have hit it on the head. I think all they need to do is get more exposure. The key to success here and I will keep it saying it over and over and over and over again, is to let people know that we are a sport. Letting people find out that anyone can do it - come out. It’s the competitiveness and camaraderie in this sport. It’s a family environment. A World Champion can meet a person new to the sport and start teaching them how to do it. You won’t find this in any other sport. It’s just an amazing sport and it’s a tight group of people. If we can expose people to what we do, the sport can only grow.