Long Island middleweight waves ‘Bye’ to the competition!

Michael Bye perseveres through a tough class and tough times

 

By JAMES RETARIDES

Senior news editor

 

It would be a story of personal triumph for two amateur pullers. One fighting alcohol…the other overcoming a career threatening injury.

On Sunday, Michael Bye won more than just the left-handed middleweight class.

 

Bye also won a significant battle in an ongoing war against personal demons that he says have followed him his whole life.

 

“To be honest, I really didn’t expect to do very well today,” Bye said. “I was just going to use my matches today as a warm-up. After that long layoff I did a lot better than I expected.”

 

For Bye, Sunday would be a day that could be summed up in one word: “endurance.”

 

For the past year-and-a-half, Bye has battled personal problems, many of which he attributes to his bout with alcohol. But Bye says he cherishes the last 90 days. During that time he has sworn off alcohol and put his life into perspective.

 

“I quit drinking three months ago and got my act together. I feel a whole lot better,” Bye said. “I am a lot calmer. You know, I really just took a break. It has made all the difference, it really has.”

 

Bye’s story was just one of a myriad of tales that would unfold to help define this year’s White Castle sponsored New York Golden Arm Series ‘Manhattanboro’ Championships at the 20 blocks long 27th Annual Columbus Avenue Festival.

 

More than 100 armwrestlers converged on Columbus Avenue for the tournament, the last qualifier for the Empire State Finals held Nov. 13 at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. Of all of the matches that took place to filter out the many pullers vying for the finals, an incredible hook match between Bye and Andrey Mart of Bensalem, PA would be the day’s ultimate highlight.

 

Earlier in day Mart stood standing after a dogfight of a hook match with Bye, but in the finals Bye’s never-say-die approach to the sport would prove to be the difference. They fought to and fro, locked deep inside for several minutes. Bye, of East Hampton, NY, kept making the right adjustments to counteract Mart’s drag and ultimately wore him out securing the pin and the title.

 

“I don’t even know where to begin,” Bye said when asked to describe the marathon match with Mart that decided the title. “He beat me the first time around and I knew he was strong. The second time around I just tried to getter the jump off the ‘go’ and outlast him. It seemed like I got the upper hand but then he just wouldn’t quit. We just went back and forth. I think what probably helped me the most was concentrating on my breathing. I think it really helped my endurance.”

 

What Bye endured earned him MVP honors.

 

Another puller that showed poise in addition to perseverance was Chris Sciarappa, of Seymour, CT. Sciarappa made his comeback after suffering a career-threatening ligament tear at the Pennsylvania State Championships this past spring.

 

On Sunday, the 132-pound class was, hands down, the toughest featherweight class of any Golden Arm Series tournament this year. Though Sciarappa flash-pinned his way through the bulk of the competition, Michael Kuor of Brooklyn and Eric Gonzalez of Queens gave him tough matches prior to the finals. Those matches, Sciarappa said, put a lot of strain on his elbow.

 

“In my first match, my elbow felt strong,” Sciarappa said. “The second match (against Gonzales) was a different story altogether. I was hit into a hook in a losing position and really had to dig in there to pull him out of his tuck and then over.”

 

Sciarappa managed to outlast Gonzales inside and remained the last man standing in the winners bracket after another tough match, this time, against Kuor.

 

“After that, my elbow hurt so bad that I decided to finish it off, so to speak,” Sciarappa said. “For the rest of the tournament, I wasn’t nervous off the go.”

 

In the finals, Sciarappa would face Kuor, who was awarded the victory over Gonzalez after a second foul.

 

Sciarappa wasted no time giving Kuor hard wrist curl pressure off the go and flash-pinned him in a half hook.

 

“I was really excited about this tournament,” Sciarappa said following his first borough championship. “I missed all of the previous New York tournaments due to a torn ligament in my elbow and I knew this was my last shot at qualifying for the finals.”

 

Sciarappa will probably be this year’s favorite to win the Empire States at 132 pounds after placing second in last year’s event.

 

But Sciarappa was not the only man to come away with his first borough title.

 

The middleweight class would feature a showdown between the promising newcomer, Anthony Buro of Hopatcong, NJ and the seasoned pro, former lightweight Empire State Champion Will Marini of Manhattan.

 

Rounding out the finals was Andrew Kendall whose speed and powerful shoulder-roll earned him a spot on the medal stand in what was likely the tournament’s toughest weight class.

 

Kendall’s shoulder-roll met up with the fast and powerful chop of Marini and was no match, though Kendall looked impressive in his third place finish.

 

Marini fought a war against Buro earlier in the tournament coming close to a parallel pin. In that match, Buro managed to out endure Marini to coast all the way through the winner’s bracket into the final match. This time, though Marini would, once again, battle him inside, Buro never let Marini get completely behind the pull dragging him over for the pin.

 

 In his first tournament, Buro won the borough, adding another feat of strength to the resume of the young man that can close the number-two Captains of Crush gripper.

 

Marini said his own endurance problems probably meant all of the difference.

 

“I just couldn’t seem to finish him off,” Marini said. “That first match, well there is really no excuse for not finishing that one. I think he did a great job today of catching me in my hook, coming back and just outlasting me.”

 

Marini is determined to come back strong in the Empire State Finals, however.

 

“In November, I am looking to crush people,” he said.

 

Another man who is determined to make a strong showing at the Empire State Championships is Kevin Nelson of Holbrook, NY.

 

Nelson says he has trained hard since a controversial loss to Pat Baffa in the super-heavyweight class at the ‘Queensboro’. On Sunday that was evident as he marched unchallenged into the final match against Joey Milano of Stratford, Conn.

 

Though a pesky Milano fought him long and hard outside in match one, Nelson managed to defeat him after the two competitors slipped grips and were restarted in a hook. In the final match, Nelson overpowered Milano’s hand-wrist combination to secure the title.

 

“I am getting a lot more confident on the table,” Nelson said afterwards. “I have been training for armwrestling more so now than bodybuilding. I have just been focusing more on my wrist and forearm and trying to incorporate armwrestling into every exercise.”

 

Nelson’s new training regimen has got him ready for November’s finals.

 

“I feel confident,” Nelson said. “From practicing I feel like I am getting more comfortable up there on the table. I always was jittery up there and I would lose my mind before the ‘go’ but now I am watching what I am doing more so. I am not just exploding and then waking up afterwards to see what happened.”

 

Taking third in that weight class was a newcomer named Frank Marzillo of Bayshore, NY. Marzillo’s powerful hook won him match after match though some pullers exploited his lack of backpressure, by loading up thumb-to-nose.

 

One of those pullers was Harry Wilson, of Brooklyn, the veteran that handed Marzillo his first loss in the masters’ class.

 

Wilson, 41, survived through the class into the finals without a loss, top-rolling Marzillo. Marzillo would defeat Jean Daigle to get another shot at Wilson and he made the most of it. Marzillo came back to defeat Wilson twice inside to claim the masters’ class in his first tournament.

 

Wilson’s defeats may have been attributable to his hard-fought matches in the pro middleweight class with Angel Cosme and Richard Calero.

 

No puller in New York has come further in the past year than Calero who would once again prove to be the top middleweight in the city.

 

Calero would face Cosme, typically his rival left-handed right off the bat. Hopping around prior to the ‘go,’ Calero seemed psyched up more than ever and drove hard inside catching Cosme’s hit. Cosme fell too far into his drag hook, opening up and elbow fouling. The restart went much the same way, as Cosme would once again elbow foul to send Calero into the winners bracket.

 

Cosme met up with Wilson afterwards with a similar result. Falling to the same spot, Cosme nearly drove Wilson past his shoulder but Wilson managed to stop his hit and waited for him to make a mistake. Cosme would eventually double elbow foul again setting up a bout between the old rivals, Wilson and Calero for the pro title.

 

Calero made quicker work of Wilson than usual, however, hitting him into a losing position off the start and holding on for the pin and the title. Even though he lost to Calero, following the tournament, Wilson seemed positive that he would beat him in the Empire State Finals. Though he managed to escape with a win over Cosme, he said Cosme would be his toughest competition.

 

“I can’t beat Angel,” Wilson said. “I didn’t really beat him. I got him on a foul. If he could’ve stayed on the pad I feel like he still would have beaten me. And Richie…I feel like I can’t beat any of those guys right now. But I want to come back for the Empire States and beat Richie (Calero).”

Cosme would return the favor left-handed however going through Wilson with ease and winning two tough inside matches against Calero. After losing to Calero inside earlier this summer Cosme said the difference this time around was that he was able keep Calero out of his shoulder-roll.

Calero’s training partner Shaun Freeman continued his impressive run taking the left-handed super-heavyweight class over Dan Sorrese and Peter Shellenberg. His most impressive victory, however, came in the right-handed open weight class.

 

Freeman defeated Georgi Bregvadze, of Corona, in the straps after controlling his hand and wrist in a class that would be plagued by controversy. Freeman lost to Sorrese in the straps the following match setting up another battle between he and Bregvadze.

 

Seeking redemption, Bregvadze would hold off Freeman in the straps putting himself in the right-hand finals with Sorrese.

 

Locked deep in a hard fought hook match, Sorrese was determined the winner by one of the referees after parallel-pinning Bregvadze. The other ref let the match continue, not hearing the match called, as Sorrese let up pressure. But once again the match was stopped. The referees held a short conference and reviewed video of the match from two separate angles.

 

Like a true champion Sorrese volunteered to restart the match despite an agonizing wrist injury. This time Bregvadze would get the better of Sorrese inside and was declared the winner.

 

“I felt strong in that first match,” Sorrese said following the tournament. “I thought I won it. I thought I had him pinned. I felt that tap on my shoulder and I let up a little bit. I knew the crowd wanted a rematch and I really wanted to do the best I could in the rematch even though I wasn’t ready for one. My wrist and forearm hurt and I just didn’t have that much left for him.”

 

Bregvadze would defeat Nelson twice in the finals of the pro left-handed super-heavyweight class to garner an Arm Star Award. In that class Joey Milano bowed out due to a wrist injury of his own taking third place in absentia.

 

Shellenberg, who took third place in the amateur left handed super-heavies came out with a vengeance right handed. His most daunting opponent would be Arjun Nagpal of Elmhurst, a young bright spot in an otherwise watered-down local heavyweight class.

 

While Nagpal flashed his way up top through the winners bracket, Shellenberg would be tested in his first match against Jason Delacruz. Delacruz put the breaks on Shellenberg’s powerful inside move and the two engaged in a long hook match. Shellenberg stood up and kept his tuck wearing Delacruz out and securing the pin.

 

In his first match with Nagpal, Shellenberg was exploited up top but slipped to get a restart in a hook. On the restart, Shellenberg chopped through Nagpal sending him to the B-side.

 

Nagpal and Delacruz would then square off to determine who would face Shellenberg in the finals. With superior hand control, Nagpal gained an advantage from the start. Delacruz managed to stop his hit, but Nagpal just squeezed his fingers and the rest of the life from Delacruz’ arm earning himself another shot at Shellenberg.

 

In the finals, Nagpal would avenge his earlier loss to Shellenberg popping him over up top. Shellenberg slipped in a losing position according to Referee Frank Malis, who did a superb job during the event.

 

A third match was held to determine the championship and Shellenberg would emerge victorious. After both pullers were called for a foul apiece, Shellenberg pounded through Nagpal in a tricep for the title.

 

In the lightweight class, Shaun Velazquez proved that poise will on occasion overcome power in the sport of armwrestling defeating inside pullers Urumove Blagomir and Anthony Torres with his sweeping top roll and vastly improved wrist curl pressure.

 

In the ladies class, Sherri Woodroff held off Jodi Kuhljuergen and Heather Lifland each of Manhattan, for the title and the women’s MVP award.

Queens won the points championship at the ‘Manhattanboro’ earning 46 to defeat Long Island and Manhattan respectively. The tournament was sponsored by White Castle.

 



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