CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- As the sun began glowing over the hills of Camp Pendleton, participants arrived at the beach early Friday morning for weigh-in and sign-up. Meanwhile, Marines crowded around a small TV that was playing video clips from matches in the past, catching a preview of what they might see today.
Two sergeants from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit went head-to-head with Marines from all over Camp Pendleton at Del Mar Beach on Friday, to battle for the top prize in the Commanding General’s Cup Arm Wrestling Tournament.
Among the Marines signing up for the tournament were the 15th MEU’s Sgt. Shannon R. Haynes of Higginsville, Mo. and Sgt. Thomas Ryan McMickle of Oak Harbor Wash. Neither of these Marines had ever participated in any type of organized arm wrestling before, and they didn’t really know what to expect.
Haynes, who walked away with 3rd place in his division, decided to sign up after seeing the tournament advertised in the local gym one morning while working out. “It just looked like fun and I wanted to see how far I could go,” said Haynes. “I honestly wasn’t expecting much out of it and I didn’t think I would make it very far.”
McMickle, who left the beach with the 1st place trophy for his division, showed up that morning after receiving a call just before the deadline for weigh-in, from a Marine he recently deployed with asking him to come sign up. “I saw it advertised but wasn’t going to do it because of work,” said McMickle. “But when I got the call I decided to go ahead and give it a try.”
As a school of dolphins played in the early-morning waves next to the stage, actor Bruce Way, who is better known for his character John Grizzly in “Over The Top,” gave the safety brief and the competition was under way.
Each competitor was not only battling for a plaque or trophy, but for the opportunity to compete at Nationals. The top Marine from each division will face the nation’s best at Nationals on November 5th, in Phoenix, Ariz.
Haynes, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 15th MEU’s administration shop, flew through his first two matches with commanding speed and appeared to be on the road to the finals.
Haynes’ third match brought him to his first tough match of the day, against Gunnery Sgt. Martin Carnell of Weapons Field Training Battalion. After a few seconds of what seemed to be a stalemate, Haynes took over and steadily drove Carnell’s hand to the mat. Carnell walked away from the table with a loss but was not done yet, since it was a double-elimination tournament.
Haynes’ victory was shortly celebrated though as he walked away from the table clutching his arm. “It was the first time I’ve ever really arm wrestled and I never knew how much it strains the different parts of your arm,” said Haynes.
McMickle’s first match started a little rough when he thought he quickly defeated his opponent but was given a foul for his elbow coming off the mat. McMickle focused as he locked hands with his opponent again, defeating him just as quickly the second time, except with no fouls.
McMickle then battled his way through Marine after Marine with confidence until he found himself face-to-face with Haynes, a Marine he recently deployed with to Iraq. “I knew he was big, and honestly, I thought I was going to get my [butt] whooped,” said McMickle.
The two Marines established their grip, knowing that the winner would advance to the finals, and get a shot at nationals. At the word “go,” McMickle quickly took over and defeated Haynes to his own surprise, guaranteeing him either 1st or 2nd place in his division.
In the mean time, Carnell had battled his way back from the loss and was now faced against Haynes once again to see who would battle McMickle for the rights to Nationals.
Although Haynes defeated Carnell earlier, he was still in some pain from that match and didn’t have all the strength he had started with. Each of the Marines rosined up their hands, locked their grip, and waited for the signal. Carnell defeated Haynes, which sent him up against the only undefeated contender left in his weight class--McMickle.
McMickle needed to be defeated twice in a row to take the top prize from him since it was a double-elimination tournament, but he never gave Carnell the chance with a swift victory in the championship match. McMickle, the Assistant Radio Chief for the 15th MEU, now held the 1st place trophy and the rights to arm wrestle at Nationals.
Carnell’s loss put him back up against Haynes to fight for 2nd place. The strain on Haynes’ arm earlier in the day proved to be a little too much as Carnell defeated him in their second match up of the day.
Both Haynes and McMickle were pleased with their results for being arm-wrestling rookies. “I was really surprised,” said McMickle. “I never really trained for anything like this. All I do is physically train with my Marines every morning.”
“Its not a sport I will pursue, but I would definitely participate in another tournament if one comes around my direction,” said Haynes.
At the end of the day, both of the 15th MEU Marines who participated in the CG’s Cup left the beach with some hard-earned rewards. “It was a lot of fun coming out here and competing,” said Haynes. “I just tried to stay mentally focused. I didn’t really have the knowledge or experience some of the other guys had but it was fun just to get out there and have my picture taken.”