For Steven Rosenblum, a Jewish resident of Northeast Philadelphia, arm wrestling is no mere party trick.
Several years ago, it became his main hobby. Then it turned into his side hustle, as he hosted tournaments all over the Philadelphia area. And now, it’s about to transform into his business.
Rosenblum, who works a winter job as a foreman for a snow plow company, is going to add arm wrestling to a combat school in the Franklin Mills Mall this January. The Philly resident will have sweat equity in the business, meaning he will work for his percentage.
“I think it’s a great way to bring a community together,” he said.
Rosenblum, 47, seems like he’s out of central casting for an arm wrestling enthusiast.
At Northeast High School, he was a four-sport athlete in football, baseball, basketball and wrestling, winning a Public League wrestling championship. He also did judo, Golden Gloves boxing and even kickboxing.
Then, as an adult, Rosenblum owned gyms for 15 years before the COVID-19 pandemic forced him out of business.
But it was at one of his gyms that he discovered his new niche passion.
A member named Sue Fisher asked Rosenblum if she could bring in her arm wrestling table. She told him she was a professional arm wrestler.
“It’s not really a sport,” he said, “no offense, defense, running, throwing.”
But as time went on, it was Fisher who got the last laugh.
Rosenblum was fascinated that Fisher, a middle-aged woman with toned, but not huge muscles, could win battles of strength like this.
“It’s more than just power,” he said. “It’s skill. It’s technique. It’s training your arm.”
Around the same time, Rosenblum’s son Brecken, then 11, told his father that he beat his aunt in arm wrestling. Yet again, the Jewish man laughed.
“I said, ‘You can’t beat an adult,’” he recalled.
But yet again, as time went on, it was the arm wrestler who got the last laugh.
Rosenblum challenged his son to beat his mother, and he did. Then the father pushed his son to defeat his grandfather, and he did.
“My father, a stronger older gentleman who works out,” Rosenblum said. “My son beat my father with little to no effort.”
That was when Rosenblum decided to try this niche sport himself. He sat down against his son and beat him handily.
He was hooked.
The Philly resident started the Philadelphia Arm Wrestling Team, a group of five guys who got together to, well, arm wrestle. He also began hosting tournaments at places like the Final Score Sports Bar & Grill in Bensalem and Daydreams Gentlemen’s Club in Philly.
Rosenblum has hosted 24 tournaments since 2019 for beginners, amateurs and pros. He has won four himself, and he describes himself as a low-level pro who can beat 90 percent of the population.
The tournaments, which started early on Saturdays and went all day, were fun but not very profitable, according to the host. So recently, he pivoted.
Rosenblum loves arm wrestling. He also has a sense that it’s gaining popularity. But he believes it can get even bigger with more formal training facilities.
As Rosenblum put it, he’s building a school.
“I can’t wait to finish the gym so I can start teaching classes and really promote the sport,” he said.
Rosenblum loves the sport because, contrary to its reputation as a test of raw strength, it actually has a way of leveling the playing field. Someone like Fisher, a regular-sized woman, or his 11-year-old son can beat people who are bigger and/or stronger.
A school will help smaller and weaker kids train to beat bigger and stronger kids, according to the teacher.
“It shows kids that it’s not only size or strength,” Rosenblum said. “A weaker kid can easily beat somebody a lot stronger if their tendons are stronger and they’ve been doing the sport for a while.”
Like other combat sports, both today and in the past, arm wrestling can also be a way to channel kids’ energy, according to the gym entrepreneur. Rosenblum hopes to one day start a youth league through the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Center.
He said arm wrestling “would do great in the inner city.”
“Kids will grow,” he added. “They’ll see it’s not a one-day thing; it’s a long-term sport. You have to put the time in.”
Rosenblum has seen this process play out with his own son. The two practice when they get together and attend tournaments.
John Hancock Demonstration Elementary School actually banned arm wrestling because Brecken was beating everybody, according to his father.
“When he picked up arm wrestling, he liked to prove to somebody that he was stronger than them without beating them up,” Rosenblum said.