Maspeth arm wrestler trains to grapple for Big Apple title

By Matthew Monks


As an aspiring FBI agent, Shaun Freeman wants to be the strong arm of the law someday. Until then, the 23-year-old will have to settle for being one of the strongest arms on the New York City arm wrestling circuit.

The Maspeth resident will defend his heavyweight title Nov. 18 at the White Castle Empire State Golden Arm Tournament of Champions in Manhattan, which will draw as many as 100 of the best grapplers from the five boroughs and beyond. The 245-pound Freeman, whose ambidextrousness makes him a force to be reckoned with, is favored to win.

"I can almost guarantee (taking) top three - worst-case scenario," the stocky 5-foot-9 recent Mercy College graduate said.

That's because in the past year he has swept about nine regional championships and taken second in one of the city's most renowned professional bouts - the Big Apple Grapple.

Freeman has been a regular for about four years in the city's amateur arm wrestling circuit, which centers around a series of regional bouts over the summer and is organized by the New York Arm Wrestling Association.

It is an underground sport in which beefy tough guys lock arms for glory, not cash, with winners taking home a trophy or plaque, at best.

"I just love the sport," Freeman said. "It's weird. I don't know. I basically like to see how much power my opponent has."

While the sport seems simple - two men locking arms and trying to pin the other's first - Freeman said it takes a complex blend of strategy, strength and mental toughness to win.

The rules dictate that each competitor stand while keeping one foot on the ground. Their non-wrestling hand is free to grip a table peg, said Gene Camp, president of the association.

Matches usually take a couple of minutes, while the competitors struggle to get a good grip and leverage on their opponent.

"There is a lot of technique involved," Camp said.

Freeman's winning strategy entails keeping his arm locked in a 90-degree position while pulling his opponent toward him. Once he gets the leverage, he throws his weight down on his rival's extended arm, forcing the pin.

"You're pulling and while you're pulling you want to drop your body weight on him," Freeman said. "It's called opening the guy up."


It's a strategy that took him three years to master, sparring 60 times a week while working his arms with regular sessions of pull-ups, push-ups and dips.

Freeman, who fancied himself a playground champ in his grammar school days, stumbled into more structured competition four years ago on a random visit to Rockaway Beach. He happened upon an open competition and a friend convinced him to enter. He placed fourth and was hooked.

Over three years he earned a reputation as a solid competitor, usually placing in the top three. But about a year ago something changed - his training all came together.

Freeman remembers the moment - it was while he was working at a brokerage firm and a 6-foot-4, 280-pound co-worker badgered him into a match. The man had 40 pounds and 7 inches on him.

"It was the best out of three, and I destroyed him," Freeman recalled. "That's when it hit me: I'm actually good at this sport."

He took the Empire State Competition a few weeks later, a title he will defend later this month.

Since graduating with a criminal justice degree, he has grappled with his future as well, holding jobs as a bouncer and construction worker while to trying to break into law enforcement.

One thing he's certain about, though, is his arm wrestling ambitions. He plans to enter a cash-prize competition this winter with a winning purse of $5,000.

"I'm gonna try and do this as long as my arms can handle it," he said.

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

©Times Ledger 2004