22 Jan 2014

Johnny Walker The "Iceman"


" Think you train hard for arm wrestling? Then try Johnny Walker’s technique of strapping 20-pound sandbags around his wrists and wearing them all day at work.

And when you’ve finished work, go home and do your “real” arm wrestling training including preacher curls and table-top curls with heavy dumbbells, stretch-band pulls and one-arm pushups. Finally, to prepare for opponents who have quick top-rolls, toss a 50-pound dumbbell into the air and catch it on the way down…over and over again. (But don’t drop it on your toes.)

I first saw Johnny compete when Wide World of Sports televised the 1984 Petaluma World Wristwrestling Championship in 1983. It was easy to see why they called him the “Iceman.” He’d step up to the table, put down his elbow and stare coldly into space. It was as if his opponent didn’t exist. When the referee said “Go,” Johnny’s arm was a blur of motion. Most matches didn’t last two seconds.

Bert Whitfield, Cleve Dean, Johnny Walker and L B Baker
WWC Petaluma 1978

It was his explosive power that won him so many world and national titles between 1977-1994. He says he “lost count” of the titles he holds. Visitors to his College Park, GA, home are blown away when they see the hundreds of trophies in his basement. Some even try to pull his exercise stretch-bands…and give up in embarrassment. "

Johnny started late

" Most successful arm wrestlers start in their teens or early 20s. But not Johnny, who was 31 when he entered his first World Professional Arm Wrestling Association (WPAA) tournament at Six Flags Over Georgia in 1976.

“I did nothing to prepare,” he said, “and hadn’t even arm wrestled before. But I was a mechanic and picked up heavy car parts all day. I knew I was strong because I could lift the front-end of a VW Beetle.” He won the 185-pound class.

 Johnny Walker in 80's

Johnny was also blessed with enormous hands and arms. His neighborhood friends used to call him “cockstrong” when he was a boy, he said, meaning he had a wiry strength like a rooster.

“My long fingers allowed me to give opponents a full hand grip,” he said, “which usually gave me control.” He took hand control in his second tournament and won the 185-pound class at the WPAA World Championship event at Houston’s Astro World the following year. From then on, he competed in a long succession of WPA and World Arm Wrestling Federation (WAF) contests all over the nation. And he seldom--if ever--lost. "

But then came John Brzenk

“I was a lucky guy to be able to travel to all those contests,” said Johnny, whose winning ways won him a full travel sponsorship by the Miller Brewing Company.  “They paid for everything…airfare, hotels and food…for ten years.  They even flew me to Japan and Europe for various tournaments.  Funny thing is, I didn’t drink beer.”

Johnny Walker vs John Brzenk - YUKON  JACK

Johnny remembers many long, grueling matches with John Brzenk, who at the time was a young man.  “He was gunning for me from the start,” said Johnny.  “I had the advantage of hand strength at first, but as I got older I got weaker, unfortunately.”  After a few years of trying, Brzenk finally beat Johnny at a Sands International Wrist Wrestling tournament around 1984.

Johnny said he enjoyed pulling John, but his toughest opponents were John Woolsey and Bob Howell, two men who went on to win many arm wrestling championships and became legends in their own right. He fondly remembers the many practice sessions he had with Cleve Dean and Bert Whitfield. 

Perhaps his fondest memory, however, was the time he pulled at a contest at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas.

“A little boy saw me coming and yelled my name,” said Johnny.  “He got permission from his father to sit with me during the entire tournament.  After I won my class, I presented the boy with my first place trophy. The following year, I saw his father in Vegas and he told me that his boy slept with the trophy in his bed.  I later learned that the boy is now a young man and arm wrestles.”

Retired at age 65 from a 30-year career as a manager at the Kellogg Company’s waffle processing division in Atlanta, Johnny says he really misses “all the great people he met all over the world.”  During his prime, he had 15.5-inch forearms and 17-inch biceps.

His training advice for up-and-coming arm wrestlers:  “Think about the chimpanzees and how they can climb from limb to limb with ease.  You’ve got to develop that kind of power to be good at this sport.”

His last contest saw him beat a young Cobra Rhodes at the Yukon Jack World Championships when he was 49 years old in 1994.

Author: Jimmy Van Orden

Originally written by Jimmy Van Orden and updated by Eric Roussin