Joe Puleo looks like he could be a character out of HBO's hit series The Sopranos. He's tall, with chiseled arms and a build that backs up the fact that he played college hockey - the kind of guy who would stand behind Paulie Walnuts or even Tony Soprano himself with arms folded and a menacing look.
But Puleo is, in fact, a successful businessman who is also one of the top arm wrestlers in the northeast and he hopes to prove the latter in two months time in Las Vegas at one of the biggest competitions in the world.
The World Armwrestling League (WAL) is having its national competition on July 4, the first time that Puleo will be headed to the prestigious event. In his mid-30s, Puleo is considered one of the top arm wrestlers in the New York area and has been involved in the sport since he was a young boy. In fact, as a freshman in high school, he won his school's arm wrestling competition, beating out the upperclassmen.
And now, despite being one of the lower seeds in the national tournament, he heads to Vegas with optimism that he will make a name for himself.
In recent years, the interest in arm wrestling has exploded. This year's tournament will be on national television, showing just how much it has grown.
“It has gone mainstream! In fact the tournament I qualified for in Las Vegas will be on ESPN,” Puleo said. “It's cool to be out in public and have someone come up to you and say, 'Hey - you're that guy that beats everyone in arm wrestling, right?"
In fact, Puleo is helping to grow the sport. As the owner of the Gold's Gym in Whippany, New Jersey, he hosts an arm wrestling club that meets every Monday night. They will grapple and train against each other but it is also part clinic as the older, more experienced and savvy competitors will help instruct the newer members.
“You'd be surprised how many people actually compete. A client and close friend from one of my gyms is 65-years-old and just started competing,” said Puleo. “He is probably the last person you would think of when it comes to arm wrestling; him being a former computer scientist and patent holder.”