BR-area arm wrestlers take on America’s best in new show

Arm wrestling has never gotten the respect of other sports in the United States.

Many people know arm wrestling through movies that portrayed competitors as in “the bar room, drinking motor oil, eating cigars, rough guys,” said Craig Tullier, a world champion from Denham Springs.

A few south Louisiana arm wrestlers think they can change their sport’s reputation with a new unscripted television series premiering tonight on the AMC network.

“It’s really a very big sport,” said Tullier, 41. “We’re not animals. We’re actually good people that take this seriously.”

Each episode of the series, called “Game of Arms,” features real regional matchups between groups from New York, Kansas, Pennsylvania and California, along with the Baton Rouge team.

“There’s a lot of rivals and it’s action packed,” Tullier said. “And none of it’s made up. It’s all legit. It’s from the heart.

Tullier, a veteran “puller” of 23 years, leads a team of five called the Baton Rouge Rough Necks, which were selected from across Louisiana and from the 40-member Baton Rouge-area Southern Slammers team, he said.

A top heavyweight arm wrestler, 29-year-old Matt “Chop” Bertrand, helps lead the team. Raised in Evangeline, his football coaches gave him the name “Chop” after his father, the original “Chop,” who died when Bertrand was a child.

He arm wrestled for fun with friends and never lost left-handed. He won his first professional tournament in 2003 at 18 and beat longtime pros, including members of Team USA, he said.

“He’s got a phenomenal left arm,” Tullier said. “To look at him you would never know it.”

A shrimper and oil field engineer by trade, Bertrand is a two-time undefeated left-handed national champion under the Unified National Championship.

“I’ve beaten world champions left and right,” he said. “I’ve been so close to getting one, it’s pitiful.”

Tullier first arm wrestled as a sixth-grade student growing up in Central. He beat a few high school-age boys and some football players.

At 17, he entered a local tournament and won. The next month he won a second tournament, and the tournament director offered to train him for national and international competitions.

“So I trained for six months and got third in the world,” Tullier said, “and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

He traveled the world to compete in Switzerland, Russia and Germany while working in construction at home. Eventually he won 23 national titles from various wrestling associations.

Tullier quit arm wrestling in the prime of his career, he said, as he went through a difficult divorce. He didn’t arm wrestle for six years.

“It killed me to stay away from it because I eat, drink and sleep arm wrestling,” he said. “It’s that serious a part of my life.”

During his time off, Tullier continued to work out.

“I decided one day after my divorce, ‘Why am I not doing what I love?’” he said. “The fear inside me was, ‘What if I’m not able to compete at the level I was at?’”

In his first year back, Tullier won the 187-pound Arm Wars World Championship.

While he’s old enough to compete in the 40-and-up masters class, Tullier doesn’t plan to join the senior division anytime soon.

“I’m pulling in the open classes with all the 20-year-olds and dominating,” he said. “I just feel like I’m gifted.”

Previews from AMC show the Rough Necks team talking strategy with Tullier and training in unorthodox ways, like pulling a four wheeler across a field.

“America’s going to get to see how we live, how we train and what we actually put into this to be as good as we are,” Tullier said.

The show features intense competition, Bertrand said.

“It’s not just gonna be some B.S. reality show, like some people think about some family doing this or that or making money or trailer park trash. This is reality at its best, people struggling for a living, people doing what it takes to do what they love and one-on-one competition.”