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Draper Journal

Draper Man Prepares to Defend World Arm Wrestling Title

Jul 01, 2016 08:21AM ● By Ron Bevan

Draper’s Robert Baxter poses next to his jersey and the gold medal he won as the world arm wrestling champion in the unlimited masters division. —Ron Bevan

By Ron Bevan | [email protected]

It began as a quest to be able to best his mom. It turned into a college hobby. Now, a Draper resident stands at the pinnacle of his sport and awaits his chance to defend his world arm wrestling title.

​Robert Baxter, 52, won the world title in the unlimited masters bracket last October in Malaysia. He will defend the title in Bulgaria in October.

​Baxter won the title by beating Russia’s Sergey Soroka in the finals of last year’s tournament.

​“It is a double elimination tournament, meaning you aren’t out until you have lost twice,” Baxter said.

​Baxter reached the finals undefeated, even besting Soroka once early in the tournament. But Soroka took the first championship match, forcing a final.

​“When I lost, I just calmed myself down,” Baxter said. “I knew I would need to make adjustments. I needed to be real calm and think.”

​Baxter entered the final match and quickly pinned Soroka.

​All this from what at first was an attempt to beat his mother at arm wrestling. Baxter’s mother was a ninth-grade teacher who regularly beat the boys in her class. Baxter learned about technique and was able to beat his mom by the age of 11.

​He continued to wrestle and beat anyone who wanted to try. Even as a runner on the track team at Utah State, Baxter would beat the football players who would challenge him.

​“I knew all about arm wrestling technique,” Baxter said. “But when you begin wrestling other arm wrestlers, they all know the technique, so you have to continue to improve.”

​Baxter graduated, married and moved to Sandy. He found out a former world champion, John Brzenk, also lived in Sandy. He thought he would look Brzenk up and see how he stacked up.

“He easily beat me, but he began to let me come around and train with him,” Baxter said. “I began to get better and better, so I began entering tournaments.”

Baxter doesn’t fit the mold of a world-class arm wrestler. Unlike most arm wrestlers who look like weightlifters, Baxter’s appearance is of the entrepreneur he is most of the time. He is soft spoken as well. If you ran into Baxter at the local mall, you would think he was just another neighbor.

​“I think my build and my temperament gives me an edge,” Baxter said. “Most people think I don’t look like an arm wrestler. My opponents take one look at me and write me off. They think they have already won, until I put their arm down.”

​Baxter was once interviewed by Malaysian television news because, he said, they wanted to talk to the arm wrestler who looked so normal.

​But underneath that layer is a competitor who likes to win, and has worked hard to get where he is the champion. Baxter puts in hours training each week, wrestling with other competitors on three arm wrestling tables he has set up in his business office. He also trains his body for the rigors of the sport, pulling on a thick rope with two different styles to help build his forearm muscles.

​It isn’t just muscle strength that is important in arm wrestling, however, and that’s what gives Baxter his edge.

​“You need to have strong tendons in arm wrestling,” Baxter said. “I have worked on my tendons for years and have got them to be very strong. As you get older, the tendons get stronger.”

​It hasn’t always been an easy road for Baxter, however. In 2002 his bicep tendon came off the bone in his right arm. Surgeons attached it with a titanium plate directly to the bone.

​“I joke that I am the bionic man now, but that tendon is never coming loose again,” Baxter said. 

​One injury nearly derailed his career. Competing in the 1995 Utah State tournament in Ogden, Baxter was looking to put his opponent’s arm to the table. But as his body and shoulder followed through with the pin, he heard a loud pop and his forearm and hand went the opposite way. He had broken his humorous, the upper arm bone, in the match.

​“It was a spiral fracture, which is one of the worst types of break you can have,” Baxter said.

​The break also severed Baxter’s radial nerve, which caused paralysis in his right hand. His arm had to be immobilized, which was followed by months of physical therapy.

​Even so, Baxter wasn’t ready to give up his passion for arm wrestling. He continued to train with others so when his arm was ready he could still wrestle. He would practice, even though his hand couldn’t grip.

​“I never thought it was over, so I kept training,” Baxter said. “I just had a peaceful feeling that everything would be fine.”

​It took two years for Baxter to get use of his hand again. In 1999, four years after the injury, Baxter finished third at the World Championships. Although there are still lingering issues from the injury, none of it slows him down.   λ