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John Grizzly from Over the Top
Arm wrestler won't let anyone slow him down
By Emily Werchadlo
August 9, 2007

SAN MARCOS – Last December, Sylvester Stallone released “Rocky Balboa,” the sixth in his “Rocky” series that has spanned nearly three decades. Rumors are swirling that there is a fourth “Rambo” movie in the works.
But if Stallone ever wanted to remake another classic 1980s movie he starred in, “Over the Top,” an arm-wrestling drama set in Las Vegas, there's one former castmate who would be more than willing to get back on the silver screen.


“I hope he does it, and I hope he goes with the original cast,” said Bruce Way, a San Marcos resident who played John Grizzly in the film. “And the perfect title would be 'Over the Hill.' ”

Way was one of the most well-known competitive arm wrestlers long before a Hollywood casting director came calling. His legendary antics began on one fateful day in 1984 when he agreed to participate in a friend's charity arm-wrestling event. It was the first time Way had attempted to arm wrestle.

He strode up to the table, confident despite his inexperience, and stood in front of a 178-pound man much smaller than his 256-pound frame.

“I turned to the referee and I said, 'I think one of us is in the wrong spot,' ” Way recalled. “But then I looked back and said to myself, 'This guy has big hands for a little guy.' ”

Way was handily defeated, and it might have been the end of his career if not for a stunt during the match that made him an instant crowd favorite.

Way had a lighted cigar in his mouth when he walked up to the table and was told by the referee that he had to get rid of it. With his hands already locked with his opponent, and with no where to spit it out, he seemed out of options. “The only other alternative was to eat it,” he said.

Even though he was defeated, Way was surrounded by new fans asking for autographs when he came off the stage.

“I had to sign them left-handed because my right hand hurt so bad,” he said.

While Way slowly improved during the next few years, his onstage antics continued to be his bread and butter. When he showed up to a Vegas competition and discovered he had drawn 610-pound Georgia pig farmer Cleve Dean in the first round of the tournament, Way knew he needed a bigger edge than his cigar could provide.

So he and friend John Woolsey, a fellow arm wrestler from Escondido, went down the strip to find a pet store. The two purchased a small finch, and Way spent the rest of the night popping the bird in his mouth and releasing it, a trick he would attempt when he came up to the table the next day.

“I thought when the judge says “One-two-go” I would release the bird on two,” Way said. “It worked perfect. On two, I released the bird and (Dean) just stopped and watched the bird fly away. But the judge was watching the bird, too, and he never said go. When he finally did, (Dean) dropped all 610 pounds on me. But the crowd went nuts.”

It was these stunts that got Way noticed, and he was cast in the Stallone movie a few years later. Initially, Way was a bit performer who lost to Stallone early in the movie. But after Way made a ruckus while in the background of a scene, Stallone and the director decided he needed a bigger part in the film.

While in Vegas filming, Way was treated to the good life much different from his day job as a heavy-equipment operator, meeting celebrities such as Rodney Dangerfield. He was given his own assistant and limo driver, and action figures were made up for each character, so he's immortalized in plastic.

Before the movie began, Way was already a world champion. He took some time off in the '90s before recently coming back to the sport. Recently in Victorville, he took third place in an event where there were 75 competitors and no age groups.

The future of arm-wrestling appears bright, and it will be a demonstration sport in the 2012 Olympics.

On the horizon for Way are the national qualifiers and world championships, held this year in Bulgaria, for which he is trying to gain sponsorship.

But, he's still waiting for the call from Stallone.

“The experience was so much fun,” Way said. “I'd do it again in a heartbeat.”