Walking up to Jordan Sill and challenging him to an arm-wrestling match would be similar to walking up to Donovan Mitchell and challenging him to a dunk contest.
You would lose.
You would lose badly.
You would have your wrist hammered to the table inside of a nanosecond, or, with great personal strength and a good dose of luck, maybe two.
On account of that, nowadays, almost nobody gathers up enough testosterone or foolishness, burliness or manliness to make the request. Nobody outside of the tight-knit family of professional arm wrestlers located around the country, arm wrestlers who compete in something called the WAL, which stands for World Armwrestling League. Most people have no clue that such a league exists.
And Sill, whose nickname is "The Thrill," who was born and raised and still lives in Layton, hovers near the pinnacle of the league — he’s currently ranked in the top three in the country with his dominant hand, his right, and has been ranked No. 1 with his left, in his weight class (210 pounds).
For all the wild-eyed and well-muscled machismo associated with arm wrestling, ranging from two guys in a bar trying to win a bet by out-pulling one another to the top pros from around the globe, Sill’s 15-year climb through the sport has had more to do with friendship than ferocity.
“It’s about pride and friendship,” he says. “Without the friendship, I wouldn’t be doing it. …”
“… It can get nasty — but most of that is at the table. Afterward, everybody’s hugging and smiling, back to being friends. In all my years of doing this, I’ve only seen one fight break out.”
In 2003, at the invitation of one of his buddies, Sill showed up at a local arm-wrestling event and discovered two things that pretty much changed his life — he actually liked the guys there, he was really good at it.
Sill had not been any kind of serious athlete growing up and attending Layton High School. He played a little basketball on the side, but sports never caught his interest. He was too busy going to school and working jobs. His family owned a restaurant — Sill’s Cafe — where he continues to be employed today. He had another job — working concrete — that built strength in both of his hands, in his wrists and in his arms.
“I did a lot of manual labor,” he says. And that labor prepared him for excellence in a sport he didn’t even know existed at the professional level.
One thing Sill discovered straightaway — and many times since — is that arm wrestling requires more than raw power, although that foundation certainly helps: “It’s more technique. Everyone at the level we’re competing at now is strong.”
Key to Sill’s success is his speed. When the official starts the match, with each competitor square to the table, hands locked, wrists even, his jump at the word go has won him hundreds of matches.
“Whoever is faster takes control,” he says. “Once you’ve got control, you can slow down. and even the other competitor knows there’s nothing he can do.”
Sill started where all arm-wrestling enthusiasts begin — by entering local tournaments. “That’s where most guys who do this stay,” he says. “They’re mostly amateurs.” But his prowess grew steadily out of those low-key contests.
He arm wrestled weekly, around Utah, learning as he went. He also worked out with free weights and resistance bands at his home. He won enough to get invited to regional and national tournaments, traveling from coast to coast, and, on occasion, to foreign lands, such as Germany. He’s currently preparing to make a trip to Poland for a tournament.
First, he will do battle this week at a WAL event in Norfolk, Va., a tournament that will draw far-flung elite competitors. He is not the only wrestler who competes both right- and left-handed. Many, though, specialize solely on their naturally dominant side. But Sill leans on those years when he “poured a lot of concrete” and then perfected his timing on the right and on the left.
At 33 years old, he’s reached a point in the sport where he simply chucks his trophies in a box at his house — “I forget about them,” he says — and enjoys the competitions for what they are: a chance to do something at which he is really good, and to visit with the pals he’s made via the pursuit.
“I’m a competitive person,” he says. “But most of my best friends are from arm wrestling. That’s why I do it.”
Sill is using the Virginia WAL event and an additional upcoming one to help him prepare for the world championships, which will be held in October.
“I’ve been working hard to get ready,” he says.
That regimen includes almost daily strength work at home, and regular training with Kody Merritt, a 400-pound arm wrestler who lives in Logan, one of a handful of local guys who travel to various tournaments outside of Utah.
“He’s one big, strong dude,” Sill says.
The arm wrestling is more an avocation than a vocation for him. He gets paid pretty well for the effort — about $2,000 for winning a big tournament — but, as he says it, “It’s not quit-my-job good.”
Instead, Sill will go on managing his family’s restaurant full-time, go on training and traveling and competing part-time, trying to beat those beasts from around the country he calls friends.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.