Valdosta Daily Times

May 11, 2011

Arm-wrestling legend Cleve Dean passes

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — A South Georgia man known internationally as the “Arm Breaker” died Tuesday.

Cleve Dean of Pavo became an internationally known arm-wrestling champion. He won matches throughout the United States. He competed around the world.

Preliminary reports claim he died of a heart attack near  Stockbridge, Ga., Tuesday. Dean was 58 years old.

Cleve Dean appeared in the 1987 Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie “Over the Top.” Legend claims that Stallone’s character was supposed to arm wrestle Dean at the movie’s conclusion. Producers reportedly felt no one would believe even Sylvester Stallone could defeat Cleve Dean, who stood 6-foot-6 and weighed more than 300 pounds during his championship years. Dean’s hand could eclipse an entire beer can. Stallone’s hand would have vanished in the massive vortex of Cleve Dean’s palm. So, Ox Baker was tapped as Stallone’s final competitor instead.

In his prime of the late 1970s and early ’80s, Dean won more than 60 world championship titles. He could grapple either right hand or left hand.

“I totally dominated arm wrestling and wrist wrestling there for so long, I reckon I just got burned out,” Dean told The Times in a 1996 interview. Referees became more difficult than his competitors. “It got to be where associations had entire Cleve Dean rules.”

By the early 1990s, he had left professional arm wrestling. His weight ballooned to more than 600 pounds. He was 100 percent disabled. He suffered constant back pain. He shared fears of having a heart attack 20 years ago. He trained and lost weight. He returned to arm wrestling in 1993, a move he called “premature.”

By 1996, he continued working out through isometrics, a stationary bike, and walking through chest-deep water. He struggled to return to his 300-pound prime, reducing a 72-inch chest to 64 inches.

Earlier this year, The Times interviewed Dean, who said he had last competed in the mid-2000s. He was bothered by a hip-joint replacement. He had a mobile home business. Dean said he had given his life to God. Though in his late 50s, he weighed the possibility of competing again.

Overall, he considered himself blessed.

“I’ve met more people than, well, anybody around here, I guess,” Dean told The Times. “I’ve met some of the most famous movie stars there are, some of the most famous athletes, people from every walk of life there is, boxers, baseball players, football players, and gone and judged the Strongest Man competition. I’ve been a judge for that a couple of times. So I’ve sat elbow to elbow with some celebs, and it’s not something I’m bragging on, but it’s something I’m proud of and thankful that I was able to do and going to these places and seeing these countries firsthand. I’m proud of it. I’ve been very blessed, very fortunate to do the things that I’ve done and see the things I’ve seen, and met the friends that I’ve made.”