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Arm wrestlers put best feet forward in brawny competition

Rich Longo from Shirley, left, and Matt Degasperi

Rich Longo from Shirley, left, and Matt Degasperi from Patchogue, right, compete in the New York Arm Wrestling Association 39th Annual Arm Wrestling Championships and Crowning of the 'King and Queen of Arms at Cheap Shots Sports Bar in Queens on Sunday, July 31, 2016. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

A daylong arm wrestling contest Sunday measured the brute strength and raw energy of 100 men and women from across the tristate area competing for the NYC Big Apple Grapple International in Queens.

The contestants displayed working-class brawn and the drive to prove their strength at Cheap Shots Sports Bar in Flushing, knowing there is no second place.

“The only ego here is that it’s payback when you lose. This is the working man’s sport,” said Bobby Buttafuoco, who is “60-something” and had his first arm wrestle in the sixth grade in a school cafeteria in Massapequa. “Not even the football players could beat me.”

“Yes, Bobby Buttafuoco is Joey’s brother,” said the contest’s founder, Gene Camp of Queens, referring to the case involving of the shooting of Joey Buttafuoco’s wife Mary Jo in Massapequa by Amy Fisher, who was just 16 and dubbed the Long Island Lolita, in the early 1990s. Camp introduced Bobby Buttafuoco as one of the referees, and both a former state and national champ. Buttafuoco attributes his strength to the years he has worked in collision auto body shops, where he had to carry steel car frames.

Stepping up to the wrestling table, Buttafuoco and referee Jack Aris of Farmingdale had to line up wrestlers’ arms and wrists and pose their shoulders straight. If there was resistance, they called out “Get the straps” so the refs could bind the hands and wrists of the competitors.

The sport is not for the fainthearted. Stocky with big muscles in the forearms and calves — all tattooed — Matt Degasperi, 26, of Patchogue, broke a beady sweat as his legs and feet gripped the wrestling table in an effort to take down his New Jersey opponent.

“Keep it tight. Keep straight,” cautioned the refs. “Keep those elbows down.”

Degasperi lost but had a chance for a rematch. “It’s intense,” he said.

Referee Aris, also a former state and national champ who has competed in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, said he took up arm wrestling at age 13 because it came naturally.

“No one could touch me. I used to beat the grown-ups,” said Aris, who works in construction. “I was strong. I helped around the house. When I chopped down a tree, I grabbed that ax and after, lifted that tree trunk.”

Paula Tabert, 24, of Washington, New Jersey, said arm wrestling gives her relief from her boring office job. “This is a lot more exciting.”

Tabert, who is soft-spoken and petite, said she does “a lot of power lifting.” To train, she said she lifts her 275-pound male friend “on my back — piggyback — up to 15 times.”

Winners go on to compete in the state competition in November.

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