Devin Bair has always been strong. He also knows hard work, dedication and consistency, and those traits have allowed him to excel in a sport he loves – arm-wrestling.
Such has been Bair’s success in the sport that in June he will be inducted into the Wyoming Arm Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Bair, 34, has been arm-wrestling for 17 years now, half of his life, and he was selected for the Wyoming Hall of Fame by Jeff Ames of Mile High ArmSports, who promotes arm-wrestling in the Rocky Mountain region under the umbrella of the United States Arm Wrestling Association.
“Jeff does all of the rankings and is a historian of the sport,” said Bair, who will be the seventh person from Wyoming to be inducted. “He manages the Colorado Hall of Fame, the New Mexico Hall of Fame and the Wyoming Hall of Fame. I’ve been involved as a source of information about others being inducted. Then I heard I would be chosen around last November.”
Bair will be inducted on June 24 during a tournament he is holding in Lovell during Mustang Days at the community center. He will receive a trophy, and his name will be inscribed on a traveling trophy, as well. A film about his career will be shown.
Ames said he was on the road and didn’t have Bair’s overall record handy when contacted Tuesday, but he had plenty of praise for one of Wyoming’s finest pullers.
“Devin has represented Wyoming all over the U.S. and in several countries,” he said. “He’s been ranked in the top 10 in the U.S. and in North America, and he has five top-four placings at Worlds. He’s one of the best arm-wrestlers in the history of Wyoming and the U.S. He’s pound for pound one of the best arm-wrestlers to come out of Wyoming.
“Devin’s pretty special. He’s beaten the best of the best. Lovell should be very proud of this guy.”
Bair started arm-wrestling in February of 2000 when he was 17 years old. He had been entering power-lifting competitions for two years before that and knew he was strong, but in arm-wrestling he found a sport in which he could excel.
“In power-lifting I could lift, say, 300 pounds, but when a guy walks in who can lift 350 pounds, you know you can’t win. Arm-wrestling has so much technique involved you can beat someone way stronger and way bigger. That’s what attracted me to it.
“And as you grow older you can become stronger and better, unlike other sports. The best arm-wrestlers in the country are 35 to 45 to 50 years old. A kid can come in and see an old guy and think he ran into a freight train. He’ll think, ‘This guy’s nothing,’ but these guys are powerhouses. Plus, it’s a good reason to train and eat healthy.”
National and world competition
As he spoke to a Chronicle reporter last week, Bair was planning to attend the 2017 Arnold Classic Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, March 2-5, named for famed power-lifter and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some 18,000 athletes compete at the Arnold Classic in a variety of sports, and the Classic includes the top 100 “pullers” from all over the world.
Arm-wrestling is extremely popular in many other countries, Bair added, noting, “It’s a high school sport in Turkey.”
Bair said he placed second at the Arnold Classic in 2004, noting, “I got beat by an old guy with a paralyzed left arm (Vern Martel). I’ve never beat him; I’ve finished second place to him every time.”
Over the weekend in Columbus, he placed fifth (right-handed—he’s even stronger left-handed) behind a 66-year-old Canadian, a guy from Cheyenne and pullers from South Korea and Kazakhstan.
Bair has attended well over 120 tournaments throughout the years and during a three-year period competed in around 20 a year. He has won or placed high at many of the top tournaments and has placed and won medals at the World competition, earning a silver medal in Canada, a bronze in Japan, two fourth-place finishes in Springfield, Ill., (both left- and right-handed) and another fourth in Poland.
“The year 2001, my second year, was my first placing at Worlds (in Poland),” he said. “I went with Jaime Petrich. I’ve competed (in the sport) every year since.”
There are a variety of classes at arm-wrestling tournaments, Bair said, based on weight and right- and left-handed arm-wrestling. He said there are generally five weight classes in novice and open competition, plus master’s classes for older pullers.
When Bair was first starting, he, Petrich, Steve Muller and Travis Davis worked with Ed Baxter of Cody, who taught the foursome the technique.
“Ed worked with us and that shot us to the top,” Bair said, “and I’ve continually lifted weights and trained. I started at 143 pounds, then 154 and 176. I competed at 200 pounds a year ago in Texas, but I’ve trimmed down a lot since then. It wasn’t pretty. I was strong, but I decided I’d rather be thinner and leaner. Now I’m back at 176.”
Bair said he has won world medals in both right- and left-handed competition but said his left hand is his most competitive hand.
“I’ve been ranked left-handed over the years,” he said. “I’ve been ranked number one in my weight class, but this is the first time I’ve been ranked number one overall (all classes) in Wyoming. I’m the reigning overall left-hander in Wyoming (as ranked by Mile High ArmSports).
“I haven’t been beaten left-handed in a long time and definitely not in my weight class.”
Key to success
Bair said consistency is the key to his success, noting, “I’ve been doing it for 19 years, 19 years of weight training and 17 years of treating it like an Olympic sport. You’re training for it every day. You get stronger and stronger and stronger.
“I’m not a big person, but I’ve always been strong my whole life. In elementary school I could do more pull-ups than anyone. It’s a game of consistency. You do it long enough and often enough. I have strong hands and wrists. It’s everything from hands and wrists to your back.”
As co-owner and manager in the field of Bairco Construction, Bair travels a lot, but he always finds time and a place to workout.
“I’m in the gym every other day, and I get in a good arm-wrestling practice at least once or twice a month. When I’m traveling, everywhere I go, I go get with the local club to wrestle, and I have gym memberships in places like Alamosa, Colo., Moab, Utah, and Cortez, Colo. Whatever town you’re in, you can go get a membership. It’s work a 10-hour day and then get your ass in a gym. It’s tough.”
Locally, he pulls with Petrich and Davis and said “there’s a bunch of guys in Worland I pull with, or in Billings.”
Asked if arm-wrestling could ever be an Olympic sport, Bair said, “There’s no money in it. You could sell Ibuprofen or water, literally that’s it.” Then he thought and added, with the sport’s popularity around the world, “I think it will become an Olympic sport in the next 16 years. Other countries treat it like an Olympic sport, whether it is or not.”
Whether the sport makes the Olympics or not, Bair does long to return to the world stage.
“I want to return to Worlds,” he said. “I feel like I’m hitting my prime in the sport of arm-wrestling right now. The next Worlds is in September in Budapest, Hungary, but I don’t think I’ll go for a couple of years yet. It’s hard with work.
“I want to see what my left hand can do. It’s doing really, really well right now.”
And it all goes back to elementary school and those pull-ups. When he was in the second or third grade, though he was strong, he nearly got beat in Donna Minchow’s P.E. class by classmate Sugar Walker.
“That inspired me. That lit a fire,” he said. “No one’s come close since. I was in the 20s (for pull-ups) by the next year.”
And now there’s a second generation of Bair athletes coming along. Daughter Charlotte, 9, attended the Arnold Classic with Devin over the weekend, and she has a pull-up bar in her room at home.
“She’s up to 15 or so,” he said proudly.
And in the future, others will be able to work out like Bair has. He and wife Stacy are in the early stages of constructing a full-service fitness center next to Bairco on the Cannery Road that will be called Club Dauntless and feature the very latest equipment. Bair said the new facility should be up and running by November.
By David Peck