Over the Top
Set In: 1987
Sport: Arm Wrestling


The premise of the movie revolves around a man named Lincoln Hawk, played by Sylvester Stallone, who is a professional truck driver. In his off time he dabbles as an arm wrestler and has established himself a legend of sorts in some of the underground arm wrestling circles (yes, I just said “underground arm wrestling circles”). The plot centers ultimately on him trying to bond with the son he abandoned but the arm wrestling aspect comes into play near the end as he enters the 1987 Las Vegas World Arm Wrestling Federation Championships to win enough money, and a new truck, to start his own business. And of course, being a movie, we see some things that don’t quite make sense.

Rules on this may not have been accurate for the time period. According to the World Armwrestling Federation website, the WAF formed in 1977 but the rules that I found on that site were first created in 1994, making a 17-year knowledge gap that spans the time this movie took place. The rules haven’t changed much between ’94 and today from what I could tell so we’re operating under the assumption that the rules could have been very similar in 1987 when Over the Top is set.

His Signature Move
As the title states, Hawk’s signature move is to go “over the top” of his opponents by taking his four fingers and repositioning them to engulf his opponent’s hand. The question is, is that move even legal? From what I can tell the answer is actually yes, but not if your opponent breaks contact because of it. If the opponent doesn’t like what is happening and breaks contact, it could result in a foul for Hawk under the terms of a Slip Out. According to the World Arm Wrestling Federation rules:

8.4 Slip Outs
The referee will call one foul for “causing a slip out” when:
8.4.1 You lift your fingers off your opponent’s hand prior to a slippage[.]

In the film Hawk tries this and his opponent in the championship match (amongst many others and teaches it to his son who uses it to defeat a truck stop pinball kid), an undefeated competitor by the name of Bob “Bull” Hurley, pulls his arm away and breaks contact. From what I’ve gathered of the rules, all he would need to do is explain he removed contact because Hawk was repositioning his fingers. If the referee sided with Bull, and given this rule it seems like they would, Hawk would be called on a foul. But from the sounds of things, any other time this move is used, so long as it does not result in a Slip Out, it could actually be legal.

The Double-Elimination Rule
The announcer in the film goes on to say that the Championship will be a double-elimination style, which is at least accurate to the rules:

5.1 Double Elimination Seeding
5.1.1 WAF championships will always be double elimination. All contestants must lose twice.

In a dramatic moment during the finals where the Championship is down to 8 contestants, Hawk loses for the first time to a crazy, bearded Hacksaw Jim Duggan-esque man. He must, in true family film fare, rise above this loss to come back and ultimately face Bull in the final match. Not surprisingly, being a family film, Hawk overcomes adversity and beats Bull to win the Championship and also the new truck and cash prize. But up to this point Bull has not lost as far as we are shown. The rules do not differentiate that the final match of the championship will be any different than previous matches. This means that there should have been a rematch to ultimately decide the winner. This of course never happens and while it is certainly possible that they never showed Bull losing a match prior, that would make little sense from a movie standpoint because it would show that Bull is in fact capable of losing and becomes less of a superhuman obstacle to overcome.

Flipping the Magical Hat Switch
Reading the rules to research the previous 2 entries led me to this little interesting fact. In the film Hawk wears a black trucker’s cap which he turns around to show that he’s serious. In a segment shot like a documentary talking to each of the final competitors he talks about how when he spins his hat backward it’s like “flipping a switch.” Unfortunately for him, that wouldn’t have been allowed in a real Championship:

5.2 General Guidelines
5.2.3 Anyone with long hair will have to have their hair restrained in some fashion. Head bands are permitted but not hats.

Under the basic rules of the Championship, hats are not allowed to be worn during the matches. This means that Hawk’s switch, unfortunately for him, would not have been available and he should have been fighting each match without his hat entirely.

The Tournament Itself
Most surprisingly it seems that the tournament itself could not have actually happened in the way that it was demonstrated in the film due to one very large rule: the World Arm Wrestling Federation Championship is done using teams from countries all over the world. It is not a competition for individuals; it is comprised of teams of many people spanning left arm, right arm and each has their own sets of weight classes:

1.1 – Teams
Must be composed of Members of Country represented. If required, a team member or individual may have to produce any document demanded by WAF to establish proof of his/her nationality to so represent his/her Country. The term “team” for all intents and purpose, will mean all of the categories presented, both left and right arm, both female and male. A team trophy will be awarded, based only on total points accumulated for all categories in both genders. Teams can be broken down to determine points by gender, only to establish ranking of female and male teams from each country. Teams can be further broken down to left and right arm categories, again by gender to further establish rankings. Trophies will only be awarded in these categories if the host country wishes, but only with written permission from WAF.

1.2 – Number in a Team
Up to two competitors per Country in each right and left arm categories

Instead of an individual prize being awarded, Hawk would have had to be able to join the USA’s arm wrestling team (as a right-hander in his weight class) and points to determine an overall victory would have been tallied across the entire team. If the film had taken place at a real-life WAF tournament, there would have been no individual events or prizes, nor could Hawk have randomly strolled in off the street and just signed up amongst 5,000 other US competitors. This is a world championship, that would be more like a national championship.

Then again, it makes sense when you factor in the fact that in addition to the substantial prize money, how utterly convenient the writers made it be that the other part of the grand prize happened to be a top-of-the-line semi-truck.