Ted Arcidi, Respect Earned!
It should come as no surprise that discussions about the bench press, more than the other two official powerlifts, still evoke the strongest of responses among powerlifters. In the sport’s earliest days, I believe that the three individual lifts, contested in the order of bench press, squat, and deadlift, were given equal attention and were approached with equal enthusiasm. Men who trained consistently with the intent of becoming big and strong did squats. Almost all of them did deadlifts and certainly those who trained for any athletic event or sport included some form of squats and deadlifts as a regular part of their lifting programs. We have chronicled how this has changed through the years with the bench press ascending to a position of popularity and importance that has led to its performance as a separate sporting activity.
In short order, the bench press became the one lift that even casual fitness buffs and the non-training public at least had heard of rather than “just an exercise.” As long time lifter Dan Martin put it, when talking about the bench press’ “place” in the hierarchy of lifts, one that relegated it as a basic movement done by all athletes rather than a specific, separate focus, “Hell, although it really has been quite some time, I can recall when the bench press was used by Olympic lifters as an assistance lift for their press and jerk. Three to five sets of 3. Tops!!!” And it has been some time because even the aforementioned fitness buffs might engage in a program that consists of three sets of ten reps in six or seven movements, but will usually do a lot “extra” on the bench press. Thus it should not be surprising that some of our most recent highly rated bench pressers sent comments via the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS website, informing me whom they believed to be the world’s or nation’s “best bench presser.” The question posed last month was directly related to the performance of Ted Arcidi.
I was very clear that Ted, long before the days of the internet and availability of personal computers, sent a well written, thoroughly thought out, and grammatically correct defense of his own accomplishments. The hand-written letter was also harsh, critical, and nasty, all because I did not name him as my choice for the world’s best bench presser. Having never met Ted, and to this day, despite my decades of involvement in the sport dating back to both early ‘60’s odd lift contests and powerlifting’s beginnings in 1964, still having not made his acquaintance, I was nevertheless impressed with what was his obvious intelligence and ability to communicate. I already knew some things about his background and involvement in the sport. Coming from a family of professional parents, he and his siblings had high levels of education and by any measure, were successful. His father has been described in various publications as a dentist or orthodontist but in every case, highly respected and accomplished. Some siblings also entered the health care professions and this had been Ted’s stated goal. His start in weight training was typical in that he wanted to improve his performance as a collegiate hockey player, beginning his career at Salem State University and transferring to Norwich University where he earned a BS degree in Physical Education. Much was made of his departure from dental or pre-dental education to pursue the bench press more or less as a means of livelihood but the mid-1980’s saw a change in the fitness industry and culture where increasing exposure and popularity allowed some participants to sell mail order courses, open gyms and training centers, and otherwise actually support themselves through their attachment to the sport of powerlifting or bodybuilding. As Ted rapidly became very large and very strong, he took advantage of the opportunities before him and left academia. His bench press brought him attention and after a very rapid rise that saw him complete a 666.9 lift in 1984, entered him into every conversation related to “the world’s best bench presser.” Big Jim Williams had set the lifting world on its ear, and established a long standing American record with 675 in November of 1972 at the second official and sanctioned world championships. There were numerous and credible reports of Jim completing 700 under contest conditions in training and only the fact that world records were not recognized until a year or so after Jim did his best contest benching kept him from claiming higher official numbers.
Ted jumped to a newly recognized world record 705 on March 3, 1985, during the period of time of my POWERLIFTING USA bench press discussion, at what was then the annual Hawaii World Record Breakers Meet, an invitational event that boasted exactly what the contest title offered, an outright attack on the record book by the world’s best powerlifters. Using one of the early bench shirts, Ted put the 700-plus mark onto the books officially, ending Big Jim Williams’ claim to the “biggest bench.” Within the insular world of powerlifting and specialized bench pressing, the 700 mark was just as significant as breaking the 600 pound bench press barrier though it pales in comparison to today’s astronomical numbers. Similar to the breaking of the four minute mark in the mile run, it had been viewed as an impossibility which gave Pat Casey, the owner of the first 600 pound bench press, and Ted Arcidi an immediate and indelible distinction. Disappearing from the lifting scene, or more accurately, disappearing from the scene of officially sanctioned contests, Ted entered the world of professional wrestling. Of course the wrestling promotions were compelled to work Ted’s immense strength into the “act” and like other “lifting guys” who performed in the wrestling ring, Ted would use one of the rigged barbell sets to elevate what were supposed to be huge weights or world records, fighting against Kaz for example, for the title of Wrestling’s Strongest Man. Watching the tape of their “lifting contest” which is available on Youtube, is rather entertaining. For those interested, as Kaz completes what is supposed to be a new world record 745, Ted jumps him, apparently rubbing lifting chalk in his face as he precariously holds and balances the huge load over his face and chest. Thank goodness that the lift wasn’t much of a strain for Kaz or the spotters since all of them eventually fall to the ring floor in a heap of swinging fists, arms, and elbows! Its great fun for those who enjoy this kind of spectacle but I wouldn’t describe it as Ted’s “continuing involvement in the sport of powerlifting.”
Returning to competition after retiring from wrestling, Ted was successful with a 718 pound bench press in a September 1990 contest in New Hampshire, a lift that was recognized as a world record. A year later, going head to head with Anthony Clark, Ted put up 725 but it was disallowed due to lack of an elbow lock, a problem that had plagued Ted previously. Relative to many heavier lifts that followed Ted’s, his 725 was no doubt just as “legal” and good. The internet and sites like Youtube have made it possible to view powerlifting and bench press contests from every part of the world and many so-called records are an embarrassment. Technical errors, illegal wraps, and incomplete lifts have been credited as new world or national records, to the extent that many of the “old lifts” such as Arcidi’s, can be viewed as being every bit as good and legal as what now passes for legitimate. Thus if you want to give Ted credit for 705, 718, or 725, he remains the first to officially complete an official 700 pound bench press and should always be lauded for that accomplishment. As per my column and comments in POWERLIFTING USA so many decades ago and the questions I posed then, Ted Arcidi did not have the longevity in the sport that might have made him the best ever. He rose quickly through the ranks, made his incredible lift, and then moved on to other endeavors. Certainly he should be credited with coming back approximately five years after leaving the sport to enter the wrestling ranks, and competing at the top level, but he wasn’t there as was a Pacifico for example, setting record after record consistently. One very important quality that Ted does get high points on is what numerous individuals report as his availability in helping others, a pleasant demeanor, and acceptance as being a very nice person. Obviously these qualities are a lot more important than one’s bench press records. I was told by Brooklyn’s Pat Susco, that he had what turns out to be a typical encounter with Ted, many years ago. From Pat:
.”…btw, when I put on a bench contest in `90 (” APF Biggest Bench in Brooklyn”) I flew Ted in , me & Randy picked him up @ the airport – what a sweetheart… Before the meet , he treated his fans with a seminar, a workout, benched 500 x 10 in a tank-top, gave most of the lift-offs, and stayed to hand out the trophies ……….have seen him in a couple of movies of late….”
I both cringed and chuckled watching Ted in his wrestling “schticks” as he strutted, bellowed, threatened, and cried out to the audience. In truth, he did all of these rather well and convincingly in the ring which may have prepared him for his “other job” as an actor who is seen regularly in various television series and of course, in a number of recent feature films. The television in our house was tuned to one of the Law And Order shows one evening as I walked through the living room and my eye was drawn to the screen. I found myself stating, “I know that guy! Gee he looks familiar” and of course, it was Ted Arcidi, playing the part of a building superintendent. It was a small part but he played it well and of course, others must agree as he regularly augments his primary business income with that from various and regular acting jobs.