Lightning flashes three times in one place

Rockaway Flash three-peats at White Castle ‘Queensboro’Championships

 

By JAMES RETARIDES

Senior news editor

 

Sean Ringgold strolled into the White Castle ‘Queensboro’ Arm Wrestling Championship a heavy favorite to win his third straight title. Coming off an emphatic double-armed victory at the Empire State Finals, Ringgold was back in Rockaway, familiar territory. He was home and ready to defend his turf.

Standing in his path would be Shaun Freeman, the Maspeth, NY native whose arm has become as powerful as his crushing grip.

Yet, while Freeman looked to be Ringgold’s biggest threat, it was a middleweight from the Bronx that gave Ringgold a wake up call in the first round of the open left-handed class.

At 175 pounds and ripped to shreds, Richie Calero’s bodybuilder type physique is a rarity in the world of competitive arm wrestling. Despite his build, Calero was dwarfed by the Rockaway Flash, who stands over 6’5” and weighs nearly 280 pounds.

But setting up strong and tall, Calero’s grip and backpressure left Ringgold scratching his head. The referee’s set the two men up in the middle of the table and with an explosive hit, Calero drove the Rockaway Flash away from his shoulder to secure a quick win. Doing so, he established himself as the new man to beat left handed.

Ringgold complained to referee Mike Selearis that he was not ready prior to the ‘go’ but it was to no avail.

Calero’s status as the man to beat would not last long. Kevin Nelson from Holtsville, Long Island went into his match with Calero having made extraordinary strides over the last year. Setting up it was easy to see that Nelson felt comfortable inside Calero’s hand, which is significantly smaller.

From the start, Calero looked to control the match, however, turning Nelson into a hook on his side of the table. Nelson held strong inside, and a Calero elbow foul forced a restart. On the second start, both pullers hit hard up top trying to gain hand control. Both elbows came up forcing a double foul giving Nelson the win.

Meanwhile Ringgold defeated Arjun Nagpal and Patrick Baffa to work his way up through the losers’ bracket.

In round four, Freeman and Nelson squared off. At the referee’s cadence, both competitors hit ferociously up top, slipping and forcing a restart inside. This time Nelson would elbow foul trying to roll out of Freeman’s hook. Start three saw Freeman driving straight through Nelson for the win. Freeman was the last man standing on the ‘A’ side of the bracket.

Nelson and Calero would have a rematch to see who would fight it out with Ringgold since Ringgold was given the bye. Since both had been experiencing elbow foul trouble during their last match, the start of the second match seemed slightly subdued. Up top, they slipped grips and would be restarted. A parallel pin in the middle of the table put Calero in the finals and sent Nelson packing with fourth place.

The rematch between Calero and Ringgold saw the Rockaway Flash getting as high on Calero’s hand as he possibly could. The two fought for a grip separating several times before they could finally agree on hand position. This time, Ringgold was prepared for the start and drove hard and fast straight across for the win.

“I wasn’t ready when they started the (first) match but truthfully that match got me focused,” Ringgold said. “It let me know that I had to be on time and be ready when the ref is ready to go. He got me that one time, but I took care of him after that.”

Calero said his victory over Ringgold in round one was great though he did regret not finishing him off the second time around.

“It definitely boosted my confidence for me to get him off the go,” Calero said. “But after going against him again and getting beat – well I guess it was better beating him one time than no times at all. Come October, hopefully I’ll be better. I look forward to pulling him again,” Calero added.

Calero said his second match came down to his own indecisiveness.

“He posted up really well and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to go inside or outside,” Calero said.

Ringgold’s most daunting task would be to defeat Freeman twice as he had been unchallenged up to that point. Unable to agree on a grip, Selearis would set their hands. Prior to the start however, Ringgold would slide his finger up and was called for a foul. Even with one foul and one loss, Ringgold decided to be the aggressor from the ‘go.’

Freeman caught Ringgold inside and a dogfight of a hook match ensued. After some struggle, Freeman was called for an elbow foul as he displaced it trying to gain position. From the next start, both competitors would find themselves in the same spot, driving inside trying to gain position. Ringgold’s hand came clear from the peg for a good two seconds but the foul was not called. After readjusting, Ringgold would manage to drive straight across to secure the pin and the left-handed title.

The Rockaway Flash would have to defeat a similar cast of characters if he wanted to defend his right-handed title. Thrown into the mix would be Kristian Gelencser, the muscle-bound College Point, NY native with a powerful shoulder roll.

Gelencser would be pitted against Baffa in round one. The 150-pound seven-time borough champ would prove that he could hold his own in the supers. In the end, it would be Gelencser’s hand, not his arm that would be the difference.

Off the go, Baffa tried to pull Gelencser out of his power but lost his hand completely in the process. Baffa drove without his hand and slipped. On the restart, Gelencser would keep Baffa’s hand and drove him to the pad for the win.

The following match pitted Freeman and Nelson against one another. The two super-heavies hit hard up top slipping. In a hook, Nelson held strong but when Freeman shifted his weight back and fell on it, Nelson followed, falling into the losers’ bracket.

Ringgold was given a bye and drew the 17-year-old Nagpal in the following round quickly defeating him inside after a slip.

Meanwhile, Freeman disposed of Gelencser inside earning a crack at Ringgold.

Gelencser would dispose of Nagpal guaranteeing himself a spot in the finals. To earn a slot in the final four, Nelson and Baffa would square off.

At the ‘go,’ Nelson and Baffa hit hard up top, slipping and sending both pullers off balance. Restarted in a hook, Nelson looked to gain position, Baffa’s elbow came off the pad and referee Frank Malis called a foul. But the match kept going even though it appeared as though Nelson let up slightly. Baffa would gain inside position and drive Nelson to the pad. He was awarded with a very controversial win and would await the loser of the grudge match between Freeman and Ringgold.

Ringgold jumped the ‘go’ at the first start and was fouled. Ringgold was fast inside on the second start earning the win and the Arm Star Award, given to the competitor that wins a borough title with both arms.

Following the tournament, Ringgold said training with members of the city’s professional team has made the difference.

“I’ve just been practicing with Gene Camp and a lot of the other arm wrestlers like Mike Selearis,” Ringgold said. “Those guys have given me a lot of good techniques to practice. Even though I don’t follow the circuit I still try to pay close attention to those guys when they give me advice and follow what they teach me.”

Freeman said his loses to Ringgold let him down slightly but also will serve as motivation for him to work harder.

“I’m disappointed,” Freeman said. “I really thought I could take him. But I have to give him credit. He’s strong.”

Ringgold was not the only one vying for an Arm Star Award. Veteran puller Harry Wilson from Brooklyn would have to fight through two extremely large middleweight classes to pull off the feat. Wilson, 41, came into the tournament a 17-time borough champ.

Aged just 17 years, Alex Josowitz of Brooklyn has become quite a rival for Wilson as of late. Thrown into the mix was Anthony Navaretta of Syosset, NY, who had been getting the better of Wilson recently.

Right handed, Wilson survived all the way up the ‘A’ side after outlasting Navaretta in their first match.

Navaretta would have to pull Josowitz for another shot at Wilson. Earlier in the tournament, Josowitz almost hit Wilson straight to the pad but Wilson was able to exploit Josowitz’ weakness, turning him inside and dragging him over in a hook for the pin.

Josowitz almost hit Navaretta to the pad off the ‘go’ as well but much like Wilson, Navaretta was able to turn him inside and pull him over for a shot at the title.

Navaretta surprised Wilson in match one, sucking him into a hook on his side of the table and exploding across for the win. Wilson would regroup, however, in the second match of the finals. With an elbow foul on Navaretta, Wilson was able to turn him in and fall on it. He was too much inside and held on for the middleweight title.

Left handed, Josowitz would seek revenge. Joined in the finals by William Baona, whose powerful tricep move had baffled opponents en route to the finals, Josowitz would use his explosive hit and superior side pressure in the straps to earn a rematch with Wilson.

After smoking Wilson in match one, Josowitz would come to understand how crafty the veteran could be. Wilson switched strategies and decided to abandon his hook move for top pressure. Wilson gained hand control off the start but Josowitz managed to slip setting up a strap match. In the straps, Josowitz attempted to drive without his hand and Wilson was able to use the strap to pull back and straight-wrist Josowitz to the pad.

Wilson would go home with an Arm Star Award of his own and a newfound respect for his young rivals.

“Josowitz and Navaretta were both tough opponents,” Wilson said. “In the finals after those loses I knew I had to recuperate. To tell you the truth, I really thought Navaretta was going to beat me again.”

Wilson’s normal class, the lightweight class, saw another old familiar face. Silverio Espinal of Brooklyn made his return and would be tested by the up and coming Shaun Velazquez of Maspeth, NY. Velazquez lost early on to Espinal after a long hook match but returned in the finals after handily defeating third place finisher Christopher Dupars of Hackensack, NJ.

Velazquez would once again try to outlast Espinal. Hitting Espinal into a losing position, Velazquez looked to have the advantage inside. But once again, Espinal wore his younger opponent down and would drive him across the table for the lightweight championship. Following the tournament, Velazquez said he would likely change his approach to pulling Espinal if he had a rematch.

“I was trying to hit him over and tire him out,” Velazquez said. “It wasn’t working. He has a lot of endurance. If I had a chance to pull him again I would probably pull him with a lot of back pressure rather than just in a hook.”

The featherweight class came down to a showdown between two hometown favorites, Luis Carrero and Gerard Thomas, both of Rockaway. Early on, Thomas lost to Andrew Castellaneta of Massapequa, NY but came back to defeat him in the finals. Carrero would be too much for him however as he nonchalantly side pressured Thomas to the pad for the featherweight title.

The women’s open weight class was also defined by a dominant performance. Daniala Pigari of Sumo Village, NJ top-rolled through the competition with ease. Taking second and third place were Rosa Diaz of the Bronx and Dora Fedroso of Rockaway Park, NY.

Calero, whose strong showing left-handed paled in comparison to the display of brute force he exhibited in the right-handed heavyweight class. Pulling up a weight class, Calero flashed pinned all comers including last year’s Empire State Champion in the 45+ years old masters’ class, Mike Degraffenreid.

Degraffenreid managed to take home second place after coming back to defeat Wilfredo Velez in the finals after Velez beat him early on. Velez took third.

ABC-TV- Sports and the Discovery Channel covered the tournament, sponsored by White Castle Hamburgers. The network was on the scene filming a documentary on the sport of Arm Wrestling in New York and the New York Arm Wrestling Association, which will be aired in the fall. ###

      



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