Arm-wrestling is a time-honored way for two people to test each other's strength, but Robert Drenk felt he needed to take it to a new level.
The 32-year-old Huntington Beach native grew up arm-wrestling as a child and it was soon apparent that it was more than a hobby.
"When I was in the third grade, I got a letter sent home with me to my step-mom that said, 'Robert was good today, but I couldn't get him to stop arm-wrestling,'" Drenk said. "That was around 1988 and I still have that letter. I just grew up arm-wrestling and I really love it."
To quench his thirst, Drenk would arm-wrestle against his coworkers on Fridays after work. But after beating every employee in the company, he sought a professional setting where he could compete against tougher competition.
But after failing to find a league to join, Drenk and colleague Bill Collins decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the Ultimate Armwrestling League three years ago.
The Ultimate Armwrestling League has evolved into almost 100 sponsored "pullers" from across the county, competing against one another for cash prizes and a title.
On March 23, Drenk's league held its sixth event called UAL III at the Tap House in Huntington Beach, where there were amateur bouts early in the afternoon and three super matches, including the super heavyweight world championship between defending champion Jerry Cadorette and No. 1 contender Michael Todd.
Todd, the 39-year-old self-proclaimed "redneck" from Cabot, Ark., became the new super heavyweight champion Saturday night after taking the first three matches in a five-round bout.
"I'm always extremely nervous before my matches. For some reason, I always start second guessing myself," Todd said, whose record now stands at 44-1. "The funny thing is every match I've had in the last 20 months, I've done that and I've been undefeated."
The new heavyweight champion's path to the title didn't come easy, with the first round lasting for 2:45 minutes, taking a toll on Todd's arm, he said.
"Jerry was stronger than what I expected him to be," he said. "I thought I'd be able to transition around and finish him a lot faster."
After 23 years of arm-wrestling Todd's arms have taken quite a toll. He's fractured his right elbow about 70 times in competition and had his medial collateral ligament in his left elbow ripped off the bone, he said.
Todd has improved on his technique since those injuries and believes he has turned into a better arm-wrestler. And after proving that against Cardorette, he's excited to defend his new title.
"It was definitely a fulfilling and rewarding victory and having that ring sure does make it all a little bit better, but my arm is definitely toasted right now," he said.
As the Ultimate Armwrestling League holds more events in the Huntington Beach area, Drenk notices the increase of people showing up.
"It's a great scene. It's been getting better and better," he said. "As we do more events locally, we've been finding more competitors are coming. I put up some pre-registrations and we have quite a few people showing up from Orange County. I really think it's growing in Southern California, in general."
Drenk said he hates comparing his league to the UFC but just like the mixed-martial arts sport, it, too, started "at ground level, exactly like we are. Look where they are today."
"I know it's hard and they worked very hard and they had a good key group of people that made it happen, but we have the same thing," he said. "We have a great group of guys that aren't in it for the money. They're in it for the sport and they're in it for the passion and the drive to achieve something. We're all putting this together and I think it will come around and when it does, it's going to pay off for everybody."