There’s nothing try-hard or gimmicky about Jeff Dabe’s TikTok videos. One features the 59-year-old retiree from Stacy, Minnesota, calmly drilling screws into a new cedar fence (1.4 million views). Another shows Dabe smiling as he sharpens vintage tools (5.3 million views).
The one where looks up and asks, with gentle charm, “Watermelon anyone?” after ripping the fruit in half by hand? That clip has shot past 12 million views.
“I get a lot of compliments from people,” Dabe says. “If it was more common, it’d be something everyone was doing. I’m just amazed that people pay that much attention.”
It was clear Dabe’s arms and hands were uncommon ever since he was a farm kid in Hugo, Minnesota. At around eight, Dabe visited the Mayo Clinic with his parents and met with “50 or 60” doctors to determine whether the youngster had gigantism or elephantiasis. No such conditions were detected. “They never really did give us an answer,” he says matter-of-factly.
Dabe says his hulking limbs have never caused any hardship. “Honestly, the hardest thing is finding gloves,” says the man who’s nicknamed Popeye and, in more recent years, Wreck-It Ralph. His unique physique has presented more upsides than challenges, particularly in the sport of arm wrestling, which he began dabbling in senior year of high school.
Dabe was a natural. As a teen, he even beat a fellow supersized Minnesotan, Scott Norton of WCW and Over the Top fame, with relative ease. “I beat him left-handed. He was mad,” Dabe says with a chuckle.
Dabe’s meaty right paw would slam down opponents with regularity until, in 1986, he suffered an elbow injury that derailed his arm-wrestling career. “I kinda got away from it,” says Dabe, who’d work for decades as a heavy machinist at St. Paul-based building contractor Bolander & Sons Co.
Inspired by Crystal, Minnesota’s Josh Handeland, Dabe got back in the arm wrestling game just 10 years ago. This time, he’d be competing against World Armwrestling League foes using his non-injured, 19-inch-wide left forearm. His size advantage is evident even among fellow arm-based athletes.
“Yeah, I’m the biggest,” he says with modest nonchalance. “Some guys come close, the 400- to 500-pound lifters.”
Dabe proved to be a force—he’d win the North American WAL title in 2018 and 2019, then lost it right before COVID hit. Now that normal competition has resumed, he’s hoping to slam his way back to the top. Dabe’s 1.1 million TikTok followers will receive updates on his matches, as they have since his daughter, Ashley, and wife, Gina, began posting on his behalf two years ago. “Gina stayed at it, and now I’m everywhere,” he says, adding that “we see some money” as star content creators, though TikTok skims plenty off the top.
Most of Dabe’s posts have nothing to do with arm wrestling. Fans get regular updates from all over his 10-acre Stacy farm, where he maintains a koi pond and tends to his beloved miniature horses. There’s a zen-like quality to observing the day-to-day tasks of the soft-spoken Minnesotan, one who just happens to have jumbo, championship-caliber arms.
“I try to stay off social media during the day,” he says. “Otherwise you can waste the day away pretty fast.”