Sunday, June 18, 2017 | 2 a.m.
WORLD ARMWRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
• Where: House of Blues at Mandalay Bay
• Cost: Tickets are $11-$25 at livenation.com
8 a.m. June 29 - Noon Pro prelims
7 p.m. June 29 - 11 p.m. Pro finals airing live on ESPN
11 a.m.-5 p.m. June 30 — Amateur championships
Jeff Alexander’s fingers, calloused and hardened from years carrying tires and tools around a body shop, lock around your hand like a vice grip.
His knuckles turn white as he squeezes, and your fingers turn red as they swell.
This is what it’s like to lock hands with a top amateur arm-wrestler, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound 33-year-old who’s spent the past few years consumed by the sport. He figured he’d give arm-wrestling a shot when he saw it on ESPN, so he entered a tournament in California.
“I got destroyed,” Alexander said. “I came back to Las Vegas and found out there was an arm-wrestling team that trained together, so I was determined to get better.”
That didn’t take long, as now Alexander is expected to contend for the gold medal in the amateur portion of the World Armwrestling League championship on June 30 at House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay.
He spends his days as a technician for BMW and his evenings in his garage he has transformed into an arm-wrestling boot camp.
Three arm-wrestling tables line one side of the room, with a modified cable weightlifting machine on the other.
The workout equipment has been fitted to strengthen arm-wrestling techniques, and dozens of special grip attachments for the weights hang on the wall behind it. Most of the workouts are designed to strengthen his grip and wrists, not his arms.
“If you don’t have wrist control, you have to rely on brute strength,” Alexander said. “If your wrists are strong, your arm will follow your wrist. Your opponent can have a strong arm but if I twist his wrist back he loses all leverage.”
If there’s one thing Alexander preaches about being successful in arm-wrestling, it’s that technique beats strength.
“My arms aren’t as strong as some of the competitors but I have a lot of wrist, hand and finger strength,” he said. “I stop my opponent from curling in by pulling backwards. I have long arms so it’s better for me to have a better rotation, and I use it to my advantage.”
Grips on most dumbbells and free weights are thin and rough to help the lifter easily grip them, but Alexander’s custom grips are wide and will spin on their axis to force maintained wrist control.
Alexander says he lifts every day, and trains specifically for arm-wrestling with his team on Wednesday nights. He finishes off his routine every night before he puts his two children to bed with three sets of 50 wrist curls with a 25-pound weight.
“I love to arm-wrestle,” Alexander said. “I think it’s a lot of fun but it’s really painful. You’re putting torque where you’ve never had torque before. You always have pain on your elbows and your upper-arm muscles.”
Alexander remembers coming home from training early in his arm-wrestling career with aches in his arms so severe he could barely stand it.
“It doesn’t even feel like your muscles hurt; it feels like your bones are going to explode,” he said. “I would come home to give my kids a bath and I’d put my whole arms in the tub of hot water and just sit there.”
He said that type of pain ceased once his body became accustomed to the movements.
Alexander is one of only two Las Vegas locals competing at House of Blues. He’ll compete in the 225-pound weight class where he has already won numerous tournaments, including the qualifier in Hollywood to earn a spot in the finals.
With only two years of experience, he’s still relatively inexperienced in the sport, but he believes he’s ready for its biggest stage.