Why Didn’t I Look Like Ted Arcidi?

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Oliver Lee Bateman reflects on a forgotten wrestler who embodied the “80s style,” and whose enormous body proved impossible to replicate. 

Ted Arcidi:  I remember you, albeit dimly.  Big brawny mid-carder. One of the few Wrestling Superstars action figures I didn’t have. “Mr. 705 bench press” (and a legitimate lift at that, Dino Bravo).  You wrestled entire matches that consisted of nothing more than bear hugs and tests of strength.  Putting aside the completely untalented Jeep Swenson, you represented the apotheosis of the immobile, bodybuilder-style wrestler that “Superstar” Billy Graham and “Polish Power” Ivan Putski brought into vogue. Vince McMahon’s initial vision for his father’s federation still fascinates me.  Back before he ripped off Paul Heyman’s idea of making all of the top wrestlers wear jorts and wallet chains, Vince desired mass and lots of it:  both on himself (look at how he filled out those tight-fitting suits!) and on everyone who worked for him.  Olympic weightlifter Ken Patera, nearing the end of the road in the late-1980s WWF, recalls in an especially revealing “shoot” interview how Vince approached him, squeezed his thigh, and told him he’d gotten a little soft while he was in prison.  It was at this point that Patera–who along with Tony Atlas, “Big” John Studd, “Hercules” Hernandez, Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, Billy Jack Haynes, the Ultimate Warrior, Don “the Rock” Muraco, Jesse “the Body” Ventura, and “Hulk” Hogan had formed the heart of Vince’s beefcake brigade–decided to hang it up.

♦◊♦

Arcidi’s WWF career ended with even less ceremony.  In the overcrowded field of behemoths adverted to above, he was the odd man out.  He was too short (Vince was always wary of putting the title strap on someone under 6′, which worked against men like Orndorff and Arcidi), not to mention a bad wrestler even by the lackluster standards of the WWF product in those days.  After leaving the WWF, he briefly held the Texas Heavyweight Title in Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling federation (by then rebranded the “World Class Wrestling Association” in one final, pathetic effort to save that doomed promotion).  I’ve never seen any WCCW/WCWA programming from that era–I don’t think many people have–but I imagine the shows must have been akin to those sad AWA studio matches that aired on ESPN near the end of that outfit’s run.  From there, Arcidi appeared on a few TV shows, operated a gym, and somehow managed to avoid the heart failure/drug overdose finishing move that put so many of his contemporaries down for the long 3-count.  Good for him.

♦◊♦

Not so good for me, though.  And, by extension, probably not so good for other young men who grew up during a decade where the “bodybuilder ideal” McMahon championed was popping up everywhere:  in action movies, on the football field, and even in the White House.  I watched these hulks ply their trade, and I wanted to follow suit.  I aspired to become a truly gigantic human being, someone whose thighs bulged out of his Zubaz pants and whose arms could not be contained in any shirt that had sleeves. But why?  What was the point of this desire?  No bully ever kicked sand in my face, and I wasn’t trying to win the heart of some unapproachable girl who wouldn’t give the time of day.  For many years, I “pumped iron” for the same reason that a hamster spins on its wheel, and with a precisely similar result:  I got nowhere.  Well, not exactly.  I suppose that, by whatever the normal standards of human musculature are, I was a relatively well-built person.  Nevertheless, whenever I looked in the mirror, I saw this pathetic shred of a man who didn’t resemble Ted Arcidi in the least.  Why wasn’t I raw-benching 705 pounds? Why couldn’t I insulate my skeleton behind 300 pounds of hypertrophied muscle?

♦◊♦

I succumbed to a strange kind of cultural pressure, much like anyone else who becomes obsessed with some pointless but well-publicized activity and pursues it in a joyless, routinized manner.   Granted, I had serious “body issues,” though these had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual functioning of my body.  My issues concerned developing the sort of rock-hard physique that a well-placed, well-connected meathead like Vince McMahon would respect and admire.  I’d have a body so fantastic that I’d never find myself in a situation where Vince, engaged in his daily inspections, would have to pinch my thigh and inform me that I was getting a little soft.  I’d have a body so unbelievable that Vince would take one look at me in my vast and ineffable hugeness and say, “Oliver Lee, you’re going over tonight.  You’re pinning Hogan in the center of the ring, 1-2-3.”  I’d have a body so perfect that it would send thousands of young men rushing to their bathroom mirrors, pinching the flab on their bellies and wondering why they didn’t look like me.

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It was a pretty ridiculous dream, all things considered.

Photo—The Pitt News/Oliver Bateman (with Jamie Eason)

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About Oliver Lee Bateman

Good Men Project contributing editor Oliver Lee Bateman is a columnist for Al-Jazeera America and Made Man Magazine. His writing has been featured in Salon, The Atlantic, Johnny America, Stymie: A Journal of Sport and Literature, the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, STIR Journal, Mic.com, and NAP Magazine. He is also one of the founders of the Moustache Club of America and Penny & Farthing, two blogzines specializing in flash fiction and creative nonfiction that he co-curates with web developer Erik Hinton, medical consultant Nathan Zimmerman, and freelance writers Christie Chapman and J. R. Powell. Oliver is a lawyer as well as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Follow him on Twitter @MoustacheClubUS or on Google+.

Comments

  1. You do realize that without the ‘Special Elixier’ that Vince McMahon almost went to jail for ‘Distributing’ you’ll never look like your wresteling ‘Heros’. True story, I’m working on a construction job with the brother of Kevin Nash, the somewhat fameous wrestler. Now, this fellow is big and THICK. His hands look like 2 catchers mitts. He wresteled too, making it as far as the ECW, until injuries(2 knee and a shoulder operations) ended his carrear. Then he showed me a picture of him in his wresteling days, at378 pounds with 22″ biceps. He said to me “You don’t get that big from protien shakes and steaks.”

    • Oliver Lee Bateman says:

      Yeah, McMahon has much to answer for, and the fact that he was (apparently, although almost certainly) ordering “the boys” to juice in the 80s is a big part of that. But I suppose he practices what he preaches, given how enormous he still is.

      • Oh yeah, by the way, he lies about his age too! He’s at least 10 years older than me! ( I remember being about 14 or 15 and watching a mid 20s skinny Vince Mc Mahon Jr. Interview wrestlers for the forunner of the WWE that his father ran!). Now I’m 58 so OLB, you do the math!

  2. Arcidi was a real brute of a man. His accomplishments in powerlifting, my own sport, stood for many years. The only men I’ve seen with a thicker chest have been Mendelson (the man who broke his record) and Mark Henry.

  3. bambooforrests says:

    Very good article. Steve Bell also provided an eye opening look into the world of bodybuilding in his documetary Bigger, Stronger, Faster. It’s almost impossible to achieve that kind of a physique without the use of steroids, which goes without saying. Bell interviewed his brother, a semi-pro wrestler struggling to find a spot in the WWE circuit, who was despondent for failing to find some sort of mythical He-Man status among fellow men. He had a loving wife, his health(at least physically), and the two were sharing a comfortable apartment in California. I wanted to ask the guy if becoming a professional wrestling superstar was the only way to find contentment. After quickly assessing the trials and tribulations of less fortunate people in comparison to his own life, I’m sure he would have given an emphatic “no.”

  4. bambooforrests says:

    Correction-that would be Chris Bell.

  5. Oliver Lee Bateman says:

    Bell’s documentary is indeed fantastic, and I urge everybody to watch it. If you want to learn “why” people get big, there’s one truly amazing moment in there when he’s talking to Greg “World’s Biggest Arms” Valentino and Valentino admits that even though his huge guns earned him far more attention from men than from women, it was attention…and that’s all he wanted.

    Scot Mendelson is like a modern-day Arcidi. Unlike some of the bench-suit stars, both of those guys even make the incredibly difficult “raw” lifts look easy.

  6. I’m a big fan of Shawn Lattimer and Glen Ross, too. Both are real gentle giants and Ross is incredibly fast and agile for a man who has weighed, at times in his life, in excess of 500 pounds. I’ve only worn a bench shirt one time and it felt like I was dying of an asthma attack. I’ve been a 100% raw lifter ever since.

    Wanting to “get women” is the worst reason in the world to lift weights… it doesn’t really help, first of all, other than for the confidence that you might gain in yourself from being able to commit to the program and do it. Well, that and meeting the really cool women who are also into strength sports, CrossFit, etc, who are great to talk to and hang out with. But yeah, long story short, I started having a lot more fun when I moved away from the “body building” style, hoping to impress the ladies, and started finding ways to challenge myself and push myself and to use training as a “whole self building” exercise.

  7. I’ve never heard of Arcidi, but I know this feeling, and I don’t know why you felt the need to put “body issues” in quotation marks; I’ve recently accepted that I suffered for years from the same body image issues as anyone who’s suffered from anorexia or bulimia. I’ve only recently come to terms with body dysmorphia, and indeed have become far more comfortable with myself and confident in my body since I stopped going to the gym for a while. Not that I “let myself go,” mind, but for years I ran that same hamster ball–because places like the WWF and action movies made me feel like I wasn’t a real man unless I was a huge man.

    Well, I’m barely 5’8″, and I weigh about 150 or so, and I buy clothing that fits. I still have a 32-inch waist, but that’s because I’m healthy, not because I’m anxious I don’t have quite the six pack I used to.

    This seemed to almost get at those issues. Almost.

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  1. [...] hoping to offer a bit of everything:  cultural commentary, sportswriting, comedy, flash fiction, slice-of-life vignettes, and much more.  What links us to the GMP is not so much our subject matter but our deadly [...]

  2. [...] I mentioned in an earlier post about the cartoonish bodies of 1980s WWE wrestlers, I harbored an intense desire to reach epic, Ted Arcidi-esque proportions.  This was a ludicrous [...]

  3. […] with doing this, given that the WWE had once employed Ted Arcidi, a world bench press champion and a behemoth of a man over whom I had obsessed years earlier.  To be fair, Bravo, even in this heftier state, could still sell wrestling moves and give a […]

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