McALLEN — Jesse Chia does data entry for a home healthcare company, but when he’s not inputting data, the 38-year-old Mission native goes by his alter ego, Pitbull.
Chia is one of three directors of the South Texas Pullers, a competitive arm wrestling organization that is looking to grow the sport throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
“I’ve always loved to do it,” said Chia, who has been involved with the organization for eight months. “In high school, I used to arm wrestle all the time. As you get older, you go to friends’ houses,’ you go to bars and you tend to arm wrestle. I’ve always done it.”
That’s exactly what Chia and his group of fellow arm wrestlers did Saturday evening when they took their sport to Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery in McAllen.
A 26-inch-by-38-inch table with 6-inch pegs on each end stood at the center of the room of the pub. As people entered, members of the Pullers invited them to try their hand at competitive arm wrestling.
They place their elbows on small pads on the table before clasping their hands together. Their other hands hold on to the pegs, or face a foul. Just in front of the pegs are the crossing cushions which help determine the winner in each bout.
Juan Hermosillo, founder of the South Texas Pullers, wears a black and white striped shirt. He acts as the moderator for the match. He looks at the competitors hands, he makes sure that their elbows remain on the pads at all times, and he adjusts their shoulders to make sure that they are square to the table.
Hermosillo, 42, of Hidalgo, used to be an engineering technician for AEP Texas. Now he is self-employed and focuses his time on the organization that he helped establish just over a year ago.
“I think people wanted arm wrestling for a long time,” said Hermosillo, who goes by the alias The Professor when he’s competing. “There was a show about eight years ago. A lot of us got very interested. We Googled it and searched for it, but we didn’t find anything. It was called Arm Wars if I’m not mistaken. Fast forward eight years, a couple of friends were interested in starting some arm wrestling, and I said, ‘If I can’t find something, let me start something.’ Let’s start something, and let’s build something out of it.”
The Pullers began at the end of 2018 and held their first event in February 2019 at Desperado Harley Davidson in McAllen. Since then, the group has hosted over 30 events.
Hermosillo said that he was mentored by arm wrestling groups Alamo City Pullers and Austin Arm Wrestlers, and he brought that knowledge back to the Valley to share with other fans of the sport.
“Personally, arm wrestling is about true strength,” Hermosillo said. “I’ve always been into body building, powerlifting, fitness, and the first time I got into a table, a 150-pound guy just kicked my a–. I thought, ‘He looks 150 pounds, he can’t even bench 100 pounds, he can’t even squat 150 pounds, he can’t even curl 30 pounds, and this guy is kicking my a– on the table.’ That’s what really excited me.”
“It’s a whole different set of skills, and it’s a whole different set of muscles that get involved,” Hermosillo continued. “It’s a whole different type of strength. I call it true strength because no matter how much you can squat, no matter how much you can bench, no matter how much you can deadlift or shoulder press, if your hand cannot take a good amount of weight, all that doesn’t matter. Your hand is your weakest link. If your hand cannot take 30 pounds, it doesn’t matter how much you can bench press. That’s one of the reasons I got into it.”
Hermosillo said that the sport continues to grow. He said that an event his group hosted in November 2019 called Border Arm Wars attracted competitors from San Antonio, Austin, Houston and El Paso.
With interest growing, Hermosillo said that he plans to open a gym in the near future. In the meantime, training sessions are held at Hermosillo’s house in Hidalgo.
The Pullers currently boast approximately 20 active members. Of those members, about six are women.
“We’re family oriented. My wife is involved. Her friends are involved. We’ve got some females who are interested,” Hermosillo said. “Unfortunately, it’s very limited. There’s not too many girls. There are only five or six girls that are part of our organization. We keep growing. Girls, females are braver than guys. That’s something that I’ve noticed in the Valley.”
Hermosillo’s wife, Carmen, currently works in nursing. She said that she was not interested in the sport initially, but now she is the top ranked female member of the South Texas Pullers.
“I would just go with (Juan) to support him, but now it’s different. It’s fun,” said Carmen, who goes by My Lady when she competes in arm wrestling. “It’s challenging. It’s a lifestyle to stay fit.
Carmen recruited Lileni Hernandez, 30, of McAllen, who works as a career service advisor at the College of Healthcare Professions by day. When she is competing with the South Texas Pullers, she goes by Gemini.
“It’s a lifestyle,” said Hernandez. “We want to be active. We want to be involved with the community. It motivates you to want to workout, to want to be stronger and to do something other than just sitting and eating. Get up, join us, and let’s test your arm out to see how strong you are.”
Information for the South Texas Pullers can be found on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.