Taking it to the streets
The region's strongest amateur arms locked up to determine the Manhattanboro Championship at the Columbus Avenue Street Festival

By: James Retarides

The sweltering heat sizzling from the pavement provided the perfect backdrop, not only fitting for summer's final day but for the Major World and Major Chrysler/Jeep Sponsored 'Manhattanboro' Arm Wrestling Championships as well. The event was presented by The West Side Chamber of Commerce and The City of New York Parks and Recreation.

A slew of armed warriors, many of whom were clad in tank-tops, surrounded the 45' City Parks Dept. stage perched in the center of Columbus Avenue at the cusp of 86th Street in anticipation of their final opportunity to qualify for the Empire State Finals on Oct. 10. A captive audience of thousands watched the exciting 'armed combat' throughout the day.

The lightweight class featured a combination of arm wrestlers that are quickly becoming mainstays in both the 132lb featherweight class and the 150lb class. The puller that established himself as the man to beat early on was James Rought of Laceyville, PA.

Rought, a seasoned puller, got his start in the sport at a tournament four years ago at the Staircase Lounge in Pittston, PA. Despite his experience, however, Rought would have his work cut out for him with an up and coming Chris Sciarappa jumping up a weight class to pull at 150lbs.

Sciarappa, 24, of Seymour, CT, would twice lock horns with Blagomir Urumon who resides in Astoria, NY. Realizing that Urumon had a strong hook, Sciarappa decided to employ a post and roll technique off of the "go" in match one. With superior wrist pressure, Sciarappa was able to roll Urumon to the pad, but two rounds later the two would come to battle in the finals.

Meanwhile, Sciarappa hooked up with the larger, more experienced Rought as the two remaining pullers in the winners' bracket. Rought took Sciarappa's wrist from the start, however, Sciarappa held steadfast in a tricep to prolong the match. Sciarappa was unable to get behind the pull with his shoulder, however, and Rought managed to roll Sciarappa to the pad.

The second match between Sciarappa and Urumon was a harder fought battle. Sciarappa posted hard, rolling out Urumon's wrist. Urumon, however, stopped the roll and Sciarappa drove until Urumon could not hold on any longer. Urumon pulled hard and placed third but it was Sciarappa who would get a second shot at Rought.

Rought's wrist proved to be the difference in the final match, as Sciarappa could not manage to get into his deceptively strong shoulder roll. Following the tournament, Sciarappa said he was undaunted by the loss to Rought and is looking forward to competing at 132lbs in the Empire State Finals.

"I was nervous because I was put in a bigger weight class and I was really just glad to have placed," said Sciarappa, who will be one of the favorites to win his respective class at the Empire States. "In that last match I was debating whether I should go up top or in a hook and I ended up leaving my arm wide open. That guy (Rought) was good, he had a really strong hand and wrist," Sciarappa added.

As is often the case, the right-handed 175-pound middleweight class was stacked with the most competitors. The hungriest of those competitors was undoubtedly Richard Calero.

Calero, a personal trainer from the Bronx, set the pace early on with his textbook shoulder roll that is rapidly propelling him to the top of the middleweight class, flash pin by flash pin. In his first match, Calero drove Jason Hall inside and rolled his wrist out for the win and a great deal of momentum going into the second round.

Calero met up with another tough competitor in round two: Joe Nelson, one of five Nelson siblings to pull at the tournament Saturday. Nelson attempted to counteract Calero's powerful tricep with his solid drag hook. But Calero would prove much too strong for the East Islip, NY native.

Calero, the puller with the Superman tattoo on his upper arm might as well have had the 'S' on his chest as he marched unchallenged into the final match pillaging through the middleweight class.
Nelson's hard half-hook staved off a promising Carlos Gutierrez, climbing all the way back up through the loser's bracket. The win pitted Nelson against Jack Chau, who used his hard wrist curl pressure and his speed to earn a spot in the middleweight finals.

Chau's backpressure caused Nelson to open up and pull away from his arm. With constant driving pressure, Chau extended his body out across the table earning the victory and a second shot at Calero. Nelson took third place.

Chau, of Whitestone, NY, was manhandled inside during his first match with Calero and match two would prove to be no different. Chau was unable to slow down Calero's shoulder roll. Calero claimed the class and was named the most valuable puller.

Calero said going in, he heeded the advice of the 187lb-double-armed national champ Mike Selearis.

"I stopped covering my (thumb) knuckle and started going into a low post grip," said Calero of his new approach. "I have to thank Mike for that and I also have to thank my coach Marty (Soven) for all of the good advice he has given me."
Though Calero managed to garner MVP honors and the first place award in the 175lb-weight-class, the story of the day was newcomer Steve Shlian.

Shlian, 19, of New Brunswick, NJ could soon be establishing himself alongside the area's top young guns, pullers such as Patrick Baffa and Ed Safarian of Queens, NY.

With 13 men in both his left and right handed weight classes Shlian would have to show endurance more so than strength to come out on top.

In the right-handed heavyweight class, Shlian won hook match after hook match finding himself in the finals with Steve Maucere of West Babylon, NY and the top-roller from Allentown, PA, Steve Bennett.
After slipping grips up top in a match that took place prior to the finals, Maucere and Bennett started in a hook with Maucere coming out the victor. After Maucere lost to Shlian inside in the following round, Bennett, the crafty veteran, knew he would have to bear down to take the weight class.

In the finals, Bennett would show just how crafty he was as he had a few surprises left for the other two competitors.

Bennett was determined to hold on in his second match with Maucere. Off the "go," Bennett fired up top keeping Maucere at bay with his powerful wrist and fast roll. Maucere had to settle for third, setting up a much-anticipated match between Bennett and Shlian.

From the start, Bennett's backpressure was too much for Shlian, as he pulled Shlian's elbow clear from the pad. Setting his elbow off of the pad in the middle of the table, Shlian was able to stop Bennett's roll and sucked him into a hook, pinning Bennett to claim the heavyweight title.

Shlian would again find himself in the finals with Maucere in the left-handed super heavyweight class, and with similar results.

Joining the two men in the finals was Kevin Nelson of Holbrook, NY. Nelson was parallel pinned in an early round match up with Joe Milano of Stratford, CT. Nelson managed to regain his composure and fight his way up through the losers bracket. Beating Dan Sorrese up top secured his chance to take a crack at Maucere.

Much like Nelson's earlier defeat to Milano, Maucere controlled Nelson up top, finding himself in a rematch with the 19-year-old rising star Shlian.

Shlian attacked Maucere, drilling him to the pad in a hook, once again. As a result, Shlian was awarded the Arm-Star, given only to competitors that win their weight class both right and left handed.

"I never armwrestled competitively before," said Shlian, a business major at Rutgers University. "My step father just put me in there. I was kind of surprised; I really didn't know what to expect."

Shlian says the armwrestling world can expect to get another glimpse of him soon, as he is poised for a return to the Empire State Finals.

Though Sorrese came up short of the medal stand left handed, placing fourth, he would get revenge against Nelson in the right-handed super heavyweight class.
Sorrese, typically a heavyweight, had to push up a weight class in the final qualifier prior to the Empire States.

Nelson was able to keep Shawn Freeman, last year's runner up at the Empire States, out of his powerful hook in the finals and forced Freeman to slip in a losing position. Nelson was awarded the match; Freeman took a hard-fought third place.

Sorrese sought vengeance against his training partner, Nelson, in the final match, and as it turns out, justice would be served. With an explosive hit up top, Sorrese took Nelson's hand. Though Nelson was able to stop Sorrese momentarily, he could not fight off Sorrese's driving side pressure. Sorrese took the title, but was not done for the day. He would later meet up Shlian in the overall match.

Sorrese, a favorite to win the 200lb weight class at the Empire States welcomed the rookie with a blistering top roll driving Shlian straight to the pad to win the overall match.
Following the tournament, Sorrese indicated that he was looking forward to competing at the Empire States, appropriately held at the Empire State Building on Oct. 10.
"I didn't know what to expect coming into today," Sorrese said. "I wanted to win today because I want to keep pace with (Greg) Gavin."

Gavin, the outright favorite to win the 198lb class at the Empire States, would also be one a few favorites to win the overall, on an even keel with other favorites such as Tony Kaiser, Eric Russell and Sean Ringgold.

Gavin was happy to see his training partner win the overall at the Manhattanboro Championship, and says he is looking forward to locking up with him at the Empire States. "Dan did great today," Gavin said. "And I can't wait to see him at the Empire States."

Kevin Nelson, who placed second right-handed and third left-handed, says he is also getting armed and ready for the Empire States.

"I am looking forward to pulling with both arms," Nelson said. "Even though I am a natural righty, I pull a lot stronger with my left arm," he added.

Brother Joe Nelson surely can relate. Placing third with his right arm, Nelson would prove to be the strongest competitor in the left-handed lightweight class. Jason Hall's victory over Steve Moucere came in the form of a hard top-roll, putting him in a position to gain a possible upset over Nelson.

But it was not to be, as Nelson hit Hall into a top roll of his own, letting out a victory roar for good measure.

In the women's open class, the Nelsons' sister, Margaret Messina of Sayville, NY showed some of that superior Nelson side pressure to drive second place finisher Melanie Oualles to the pad twice. Jennifer Griffith took third.

In the lightweight women's final match it featured Ydiaza Decastro, of the Bronx beating out Katherine Weck from Westfield, NJ. for the 'Manhattanboro' title.

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