By: James Retarides
Amateur arm wrestlers from throughout the northeast converged on a sultry summer day at Orchard Beach to vie for a chance to be the Bronxboro Champion and qualify for the New York Arm Wrestling Association's (NYAWA) Golden Arm Series Finals.
The Bronxboro Championship is one of ten amateur tournaments that NYAWA director Gene Camp holds prior to finals, which will be held on the observation deck at the top of the Empire State Building. And many of the pullers that turned out at Orchard Beach June 29 look to be contenders for the finals held this October.
Floyd Ryder, of Bristol, CT set the tone in the first round of the 132lb featherweight class flash pinning his way to victory until he ran into another Connecticut puller named Chris Sciarappa of Seymour. With a good hit off of the go, Sciarappa looked to gain position in the match early, but lost his tuck. As Ryder opened him up in a top-roll, Sciarappa's elbow slipped off the front of the pad in a losing position.
Ryder proceeded to go unchallenged until the finals as did Ray Guzman of the Bronx who had been winning hook match after hook match until he clashed with Sciarappa in a match to determine who would pull Ryder for first place. With superior backpressure, Sciarappa opened Guzman up and half-hooked him to the pad. Guzman took a hard earned third place.
Sciarappa, who fought his way back up through the loser's bracket to once again meet Ryder in the finals. This time, Sciarappa threw into a tricep, flopping his wrist and pushing toward the pin pad. But Ryder's superior hand and wrist proved to be the difference as he rolled Sciarappa out of his tuck once again for the pin and the Bronxboro Championship. Sciarappa took second place. "He (Ryder) took my wrist and after that everything else just fell," Sciarappa said. "But it felt good trying to back up through the loser's bracket."
The tournament was Ryder's second since he injured himself at the 2000 New England Championships in Cromwell, CT. "I injured a nerve in my elbow and it took a long time to heal," Ryder said. "I felt a little nervous today but my arm felt good all day and it feels fine now." With Ryder's speed and tight top-rolling technique he should be a contender at the Empire State Finals.
In the 150lb lightweight class Michael Hall of Pelham Bay in the Bronx capitalized on his youth and endurance to fight his way to finals unchallenged through a 14-man weight class. Though Sean Velazquez, of Maspeth, Queens, looked like the man to beat early on his match with Hall would prove to be the turning point. Velazquez fired into a shoulder-roll and hammered Hall nearly to the pad. But with the tides remaining steady on the shore at Orchard Beach, the tides would turn and the momentum would shift in the battle between Hall and Velazquez. As Velazquez pumped and pressed trying to get behind it with his shoulder, Hall gradually backed him out with his bicep and slowly fought him across the table in a drag hook for the win.
Meanwhile, Richard Lucas of Brooklyn was half-hooking his way to victory up through the winner's bracket until he ran into Hall. In a dogfight of a hook match that went back and forth across the table, Hall finally gained position and drove Lucas to the pad for the win. Lucas would have to battle Velazquez in the finals for another chance at Hall.
After Lucas and Velazques fought for finger position in a top-roll, they slipped grips with Velazques underneath but ended up in the straps because referee Michael Selearis deemed that neither competitor was in a losing position. In the strap, Lucas used his height to stand up tall and keep a tight tuck and jumped the go in a tricep for the win and a shot at hall in the final match. Velazques took third place.
Changing tactics in their second match with the championship on the line, Hall loaded up with backpressure and rolled Lucas out for the win and the Bronxboro lightweight championship. "I felt pretty good considering it was just my first tournament," said Hall, who is just 17 years old. "My first match was really hard, but other than that it seemed to get easier." Up until the Bronxboro Championship, Hall says he had only practiced arm wrestling with his father.
The toughest class of the day was undoubtedly the 175lb middleweight class as it bore 16 competitors including accomplished pullers such as Tony Kaiser, Richard Calero, Harry Wilson and Guy Mettle. Wilson, NYAWA arm wrestler of the year in 2001, came into the tournament as one of the favorites to win the class despite giving up 25lbs to the other competitors. Running into his training partner Calero early, Wilson decided to employ a hook technique, though Calero is known for his tight, fast and powerful shoulder roll.
With both competitors turning inside before the go, Calero gained position and drove Wilson to the pad for the victory. Calero, a Bronx native, looked as though he had established himself as the man to beat in that class. However, "The Ragin' Cajun," Tony Kaiser, a resident of Plainfield, CT who hails from Louisiana used his lightning fast top-roll to advance his way through the winners bracket until his much anticipated match with Calero.
Though much of the crowd that assembled at the front of the stage expected Calero to pound through Kaiser with his overwhelming hook, Kaiser flashed Calero off the go and advanced to meet Mettle, who had just beaten Wilson with a half hook.
Mettle, of Gelena, MD, dove inside on Kaiser, but Kaiser posted him hard and whipped him across the table for a decisive victory. Mettle and Calero would have to pull for the right to meet Kaiser in the finals. After driving into his shoulder roll and elbow fouling, Calero changed tactics on Mettle after the restart. This time, Calero blasted with straight side-pressure and drove him to the pad. Mettle took third and Calero would once again meet up with Kaiser, this time for a first place medal. The match proved to be a repeat performance of their previous pull, as Kaiser's superior hand and hit was too much for Calero to contend with.
Kaiser, who seemed excited about the chance to pull at the Empire State Finals said he would probably be pulling several tournaments prior to the championship in October and did not want to look ahead to it. "Right now I am concentrating on a qualifier in Maryland," Kaiser said. "The competition I'll have to face there will be the best in the world, guys like Bill Sinks, Dave Patton, Jason Vale, Josh Stark, and Mike O'Hara."
Calero would however get his revenge on Kaiser left handed. And Julio Rosario, a young puller from the Bronx would make his statement in the left-handed 175lb weight class. With Kaiser, a natural righty, having a much more laborious time trying to top-roll in the left handed weight class, winning seemed to be a less arduous process left handed for Calero.
The two met up in the middle rounds prior to finals and off the go, Calero snapped into his textbook shoulder roll for the win. After defeating Karta Webb in a long hook match Rosario had to face Kaiser. After a long match up top, Rosario saw his opportunity and jumped up in a shoulder press managing to overpower Kaiser to the pad. But Calero would prove to be too much for Rosario as he once again used his powerful tricep to drive Rosario to pad for the left handed lightweight title.
In the 200lb heavyweight class, Greg Gavin, the man from West Islip, NY, dominated with the power and quickness that Kaiser displayed in the 175lb class. Though Paul Carpino of Pearl River, NY showed a lot of promise in his first arm wrestling tournament Gavin's powerful hit proved to be too much in their pull before the finals. Carpino fought off Jack Loeb in a drag hook in their first match, but Loeb bowed out with a third place finish putting Carpino in the finals with Gavin.
Once again, Gavin smacked Carpino straight across the table with a hard full-hand top-roll for the victory in the 200lb class and a chance at the Arm-Star Award, given to competitors who take first place with both arms in the same competition.
In the super-heavyweight class 201lb+ Eric Russell of Wappinger Falls, NY proved the importance of a strong hand in the sport of arm wrestling. Russell, 25, can close the #3 Captain of Crush gripper, distributed by Iron Mind. Less than 60 strength athletes have succeeded in closing the gripper, which demands 280lbs of finger pressure to mash. Russell was featured in the last edition of Milo Magazine after accomplishing the feat of strength. To date, only Joe Kinney has been successful in closing the #4 gripper though many athletes are rumored to be closing in on that feat. Russell has performed many impressive feats of strength including a 495lb bench press and says he likes to pull because at 235lbs he is the underdog in the super-heavyweight class. "I like arm wrestling because it gives me a chance to beat guys that are bigger than me," said Russell following the competition.
Russell looked to dominate the open weight class Saturday until he ran into Peter Milano from Waterbury, CT. Milano, a hand control expert had won with ease prior to his battle with Russell. Though Milano appeared to have Russell's hand, re-gripping over his index knuckle, Russell fought off the constant pressure of Milano and began to open him up with his tricep. Once Milano lost his tuck, Russell pushed through him for the win and coasted into the finals.
In the finals, Dan Sorrese, another talented puller from West Islip, met up with six-time Bronxboro Champion Luis Diaz for a shot at Russell. Diaz drove inside with a shoulder roll off the go and Sorrese could not manage to back him out. Sorrese went home with a hard-earned third place.
In the final match, Russell and Diaz set up tall on the table with their arms tight to their shoulders. Off the go, Diaz dove into a hook on Russell, but Russell used his superior hand and wrist strength to roll him out to the pad for the win.
But it would be training partners Sorrese and Gavin that would battle for left handed super-heavyweight Bronxboro title. Milano showed poise after being hit nearly to the pad in a hook by Diar Gashi. Milano caught Gashi who was straining and keeping constant pressure. For about 30 seconds the pull did not move until Milano started to wear Gashi down and drag him to the center of the table. Once Milano gained hand control he gave Gashi rolling pressure to the pad. Milano could not do the same with Sorrese and Gavin, however and ended up taking third.
After opening up Russell and then rolling him out, Sorrese managed to flash pin Milano in the straps after what appeared to be a voluntary slip. Fighting back from the B-side of the bracket, Sorrese knew he would have to beat Gavin twice in the final to win the class. After defeating Gavin up top for the win in the first match, Sorrese looked to be the favorite to win the class. But Gavin had other ideas; with an explosive hit he managed to take Sorrese to the pad and garner the Arm Star Award.
In the women's bracket, the lightweight class proved to be the superior class drawing a better turnout of pullers. With seasoned veterans such as Christine Scheurich and Liz Sanchez from the Bronx as well as Susan Fischer from Fairless Hills, PA, the class did not disappoint. The three pullers, each with distinctive pulling styles breezed into the finals where Fischer and Sanchez would pull for the right to meet Scheurich in the finals. Though Fischer had gone to her top-roll earlier in the tournament, she defeated Sanchez after putting her foot up on the leg of the table and giving Sanchez a hard wrist curl straight down, driving into a half hook. Sanchez took third.
In the finals, Scheurich proved to be to strong administering backpressure before the go and drag hooking Fischer to the pad. Scheurich watched closely to see who she would be facing in the women's overall.
In the women's open weight class, Cindy Looney and Carrie Wilson both from Connecticut, set the tone early on. Wilson, a new comer to the sport was not a favorite to meet Looney in the finals, especially after Looney and Renata Maia of Brazil fought tooth and nail in the straps. Looney secured the pin though her strap was high on her wrist and Maia would have to face Wilson in the finals.
With the two competitors slipping grips up top, Maia would once again find herself in the straps. Wilson took Maia's wrist and fought off her tricep, holding on for the win and the right to face Looney in the finals. Maia took third.
In the final match, Looney re-gripped up top to secure hand control. Wilson fought valiantly but Looney's roll was just too much for Wilson and Looney took home the gold.
Looney and Scheurich would grip up in the women's overall to determine who would take home MVP honors and bragging rights. With a quick hit and a hard hook, Scheurich flashed Looney to the pad for the win.
In the men's overall, the winners of the middleweight, heavyweight and super-heavyweight class clashed with no decisive favorite. Kaiser and Gavin would have to compete for the right to pull Russell in the final match. Though Gavin took off with a quick hit, Kaiser corralled his hand and looked to gain finger position. Both pullers battled up top until Gavin looked to regain position with his index finger and with a few pumps of side-pressure, he took Kaiser to the pad.
In the overall match, Gavin and Russell hit simultaneously up top and ended up slipping grips. Though Russell had an obvious size advantage, Gavin looked to be more adept at pulling in the strap. Off the go, Gavin flashed Russell straight across to claim the overall award and MVP honors. Gavin said only that he felt good after the tournament and attributed all of his success in the sport to his trainer, Frank Malis.
Malis, a decorated puller with superb hand strength, says Gavin's hard work has helped him rise through the ranks of his weight class locally. "The guy (Gavin) is always there for practice and always gives 200 percent," said Malis, a professional in the 176lb weight class. "Greg gets to a point in practice where it is almost annoying because he pulls every single match like he is trying to win a world championship. But I guess that is how he has come so far."
With Gavin and Sorrese earning all of the points for Long Island, they managed to take home third place in the team competition. A strong showing from the Connecticut team in the featherweight, middleweight, super-heavyweight and women's open class secured the victory for Team Connecticut and the hometown boys from the Bronx had to settle for second.