Warriors lay down their arms to crown arm-wrestling royalty


It was a great day to be at sea as the first hints of spring permeated throughout the city. As Coalition troops were sailing toward Iraq, their comrades were flying the flags at one of New York’s most intriguing venues.


Arm wrestlers from all corners of the world, the U.S., Brazil, Germany and the Republic of Georgia won significant battles by putting down there arms at the NYC Big Apple Grapple XXVI on March 22, 2003.


The battleship Intrepid, converted to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum played a role, once again in a war to decide the best of the best, and on that day it was Mamuka Pajishvili , eventually awarded the NYC King of Arms title after defeating all comers right handed.


The man who gave him his toughest match was undoubtedly Chris Myers of Whitestone, NY. whose Goodyear-Jamaica Tire and Auto Center cosponsored the event with Title Sponsor Nutro Natural Choice dog and cat food.


The two would meet twice vying for the championship in the New York Arm Wrestling Associations newly adopted 225-pound weight class.

With impressive wins over amateur sit-down champ Chris Perka and Empire State champ Dan Sorresse, John Boutinas (AKA John the Greek) fought his way into the finals with Myers and Pajishvilli.


Pajishvilli handed Boutinas his first loss in a strange match earlier in the tournament. Both competitors did not seem to hear the go, but as they realized the match started, Pajishvilli went through Boutinas with an extremely fast top-roll. Beating Myers quite handily early on as well, Pajishvilli waltzed his way into the final match.


In the finals, Myers hit Boutinas in a tricep off the go; putting himself in a position he has become quite comfortable in as of late…in the straps. Myers loaded up, eyes closed, as the referees brought their hands around to start the match. With a devastating hit, Myers reopened his eyes but slammed the door shut on Boutinas, crashing into and through his forearm. Boutinas went home with a hard earned third place. Boutinas, who took a six-year hiatus from arm wrestling looked impressive in his return, Myers would say later.


Meanwhile, Pajishvilli and Myers hooked up for the second time, but this time Myers put up a dogfight. Once again Myers would slip underneath and looked to have Pajishvilli concerned over their looming strap match. Myers exploded inside on the restart pushing down on the strap from his wrist in a tricep. Pajishvilli rolled hard, but gained no ground. Then he pumped and peeled Myers over but Myers stopped him once again. Once last hit secured the pin for Pajishvilli and the heavyweight title.


As dominant as Pajishvilli was right-handed, he looked equally impressive in the left-handed super-heavyweight class. Pajishvilli was on a roll, flash pinning left-handed powerhouse John Ruggiero of upstate New York and the up and coming Baysider Ed Safarian. He was a man amongst boys it seemed, that is, until he ran up against a wall named Mike Selearis, who seemed to relish his role as the underdog.


Pajishvilli appeared to be puzzled by Selearis’ hand prior to the start. The two could not seem to agree on a grip. When the refs finally brought their hands around for the start, Selearis flashed Pajishvilli up top, putting the man from Elmhurst on the fast track to the finals.


Acting as a roadblock to Pajishvilli would be Tim Brown of New Hampshire. Brown lost early on to the hard wrist curl pressure of Selearis, but fought back to final four despite being the smallest of the competitors in the left super-heavies at roughly 185 pounds.


Brown showed exactly how far his left had come with an impressive win over German champ Dirk Schenker. Schenker’s hit looked to be too much from the start of the match, however Brown controlled his hand and the two would slip grips after a brief finger pull. In the straps, Brown owned Schenker with his hard posting pressure, flashing him off the go. But to earn at least a third place plaque, Brown would have to defeat Pajishvilli.


Brown looked confident going to the table with his usual set up, but as he was still finding a comfortable load, the referees brought the hands around and said “ready go.” Prior to the go, Brown said he was not ready, but the refs started the match and Brown was forced to take fourth place home with him on his four-hour drive back to New Hampshire.


Pajishvilli once again found himself on the table with Ruggiero, who won the Canadian-American Championships left handed earlier that month. Ruggiero loaded up hard on Pajishvilli, who refused to match his backpressure. The referees finally convinced Pajishvilli to give a 50-percent load and started the match with results similar to their first meeting. Pajishvilli was just too much up top.


However Pajishvilli had learned from his earlier match with Selearis that he did not have quite enough up top to win the Big Apple Grapple. So he decided to change tactics with Selearis.


Much like during the first match, the two competitors fought hard to get their grips and ended up in a ref’s grip. Referee Dan Fortuna of Wading River, NY gave Pajishvilli a foul after he moved his fingers in a ref’s grip. Twice afterward, Pajishvilli again repositioned his hand in a referee’s grip to gain more leverage but no foul was called. Off the go, the competitors slipped ending up in the straps.


In the straps, Pajishvilli fell across the table toward the pad quickly at the start of the match. The only problem was that his hand, as well as Selearis and his entire arm remained at the middle of the table. With his elbow hanging off the table for some time, the referees let the pull go on. Selearis stayed at the center, showing veteran poise, waiting for his opening. As he drove, his elbow came off for a moment and, ironically, Selearis was called for an elbow foul.


Fortuna did redeem himself however when the match was restarted for the fourth time. Once again Pajishvilli opened up from the start, but with his elbow visibly off the back of the pad Fortuna called the foul, and Selearis was crowned left-handed champ. Following the competition, Selearis was also awarded with the NYAWA’s Armwrestler of the Year trophy.


To be awarded the Arm Star Award as well, Selearis would have to emerge victorious from a right-handed 200lb heavyweight class that included the legendary Ray Darling and the explosive veteran Mike Ondrovic.


Ondrovic made his presence known early on as he defeated Ricardo Moreira of the Brazilian National Team with a quick hit in the straps.

Darling would get an early dose of Selearis, as he managed to catch Selearis in a hook, but could only hold on for a few seconds.


Ondrovic would not get his first loss until he came up against Selearis either. Slipping on the start, Selearis would own Ondrovic in the straps and Ondrovic would have to fight it out with Darling to decide who would get another crack at Selearis.


Darling went with his strength against Ondrovic and it paid off as he turned him inside off the go. Ondrovic, known for his fast hit, got off to a slow start but held Darling for a while in a losing position. Eventually Darling would secure the pin, having to take on what would prove to be his toughest obstacle… Mike Selearis.

The final match was a carbon copy of the first, with Darling turning Selearis inside, and Selearis getting the pin and the championship.


Darling had to settle for second in the open class, but in the masters’ class, Darling reigned supreme. Joining him in the finals were two Connecticut pullers, Ron Klemba of Portland and Jean Daigle of Bristol.


Though Klemba was slow getting started in their first meeting, he managed to flash Daigle twice. Against Darling, Klemba’s biggest attribute was his speed as he twice tried shoulder-roll Darling. Darling caught each attempt and managed to open Klemba up and roll him to the pad for the masters’ championship.


Klemba was perhaps more impressive left handed as he beat a fired up Peter Brown, younger sibling of Tim Brown, and 175lb Empire State Champ Richard Calero of the Bronx.


In what would prove to be one of the better matches of the day, Klemba fought long and hard with Steve Black of Whitestone, NY. Klemba controlled Black’s hand early on with Black folding underneath in a tricep. After some struggle, they slipped grips and were set up in the straps. 


The crafty veteran Black was too much in the straps as he kept a bent wrist and drove Klemba to the pad for the win. But the two would meet again.


Meanwhile, Georgian native and Rego Park, NY mainstay, Georgie Gelashvilli won with ease through the lightweight left handed class. Gelashvilli, whose workout regimen is legendary, breezed through Patrick Baffa, Calero and Black.


Klemba fought through another war with Calero and defeated Baffa to take a slot in the finals along with Black and Gelashvilli. But to earn a crack at Georgie, Klemba would first have to seek retribution against Black.


In the finals, Black once again proved too strong in the straps for Klemba after a long match. Licking his chops, waiting for Black, with a fresh left arm was Gelashvilli. Black caught Gelashvilli’s hit inside, only to absorb another big pump from Gelashvilli who came away with the left handed title. To win an Arm Star Award, Gelashvilli would have to duplicate his feat right handed.


And he would, going unchallenged in the 175lb middleweight class. But the story of the day in that class may have been Harry Wilson, the Brooklyn native that missed making the lightweight class by just a few pounds. Wilson went with a higher grip and more knuckles-up pressure than usual, diving into a hook rather than just turning inside. It made all of the difference.


With a win against his best friend and rival Richard Calero, Wilson then found himself in the straps with Black. Wilson flopped Black over in the straps putting Black into a position he usually finds comfortable, pushing with his tricep. But Wilson held him off, driving Black below the pad for the win and enough momentum to find himself in the finals with Gelashvilli and Baffa.


Baffa made his way into the final three by eliminating Richard Calero and Peter Brown who looked to be on top of his game.


Baffa and Wilson slipped on the start putting them in the straps. Neither being textbook strap pullers, they both decided to turn inside from the start and Wilson simply outlasted him getting the pin and a match with Gelashvilli.


Georgie was simply head and shoulders above the rest however, as he smoked Wilson inside. Wilson took a well-deserved second place plaque back to his home in Brooklyn.


Another Georgie has been raising quite a stir on the New York armwrestling scene. His name: Georgie Bregvadze, a Corona, NY resident who is also a native of the Georgian Republic.


Bregvadze burst on the scene earlier this year winning the Tune-Up for the Big Apple Grapple back in February.


But the right-handed super-heavyweight class was stacked with great competitors, such as Dirk Schenker, Paul Walther and John Ruggiero.


Ruggiero fell to Bregvadze early on and so did Mike Libretto, as Bregvadze used his strong hook and deceptively strong hand to take a slot in the finals. Schenker, who had controlled everyone’s hand, except for Walther’s, accompanied Bregvadze. And Walther who seemed dominant all day rounded out the field.


Since Walther beat Schenker in the straps fast in the opening rounds and flashed Bregvadze just prior to the finals, the German and Georgian pullers would have to pull each other to determine who would go on. Schenker took Bregvadze’s hand from the start and laid on it. Everything else followed, and Schenker would move on to face an undefeated Paul Walther. In the final match, Schenker hit Walther hard and put everything he had behind the pull. The competitors slipped grips and Walther stayed on stage awaiting a second strap match with Schenker. But Schenker never answered the bell, apparently suffering a wrist injury as he and Walther slipped. He bowed out and Walther took home the gold.


“He has a strong hand and wrist,” said Walther of his earlier match with Schenker following the tournament. “But by going into the strap I eliminated his hand and wrist.”


The lightweight class was also light in competitors, boasting just four. As usual, Dan “Blue Thunder” White of Staten Island came out on top with a dominant performance. He outclassed Anthony Navaretta of Syosset twice, though Navaretta did flash pin the competition. In third place was Steve Lewis of Vorhees, NJ who defeated Patrick Uhm of Manhattan for third place.


Though he was the obvious favorite as a lightweight, “Blue Thunder” ran into a cold front when he was pitted against Ray Darling in the overall. Darling smoked White inside and awaited the winner of the Selearis/Gelashvilli match-up. Selearis and Gelashvilli would slip off the go, ending up in the straps. The referees kept insisting that Selearis straighten his wrist prior to start. Gelashvilli took advantage of a slower, seemingly less powerful Selearis, turning him into a hook and securing the biggest win of his young career.


Following the tournament, Selearis said he might have exerted too much energy in the final match with Pajishvilli left-handed.


“That match drew everything out of me in the left-handed class,” Selearis said. “My whole body came down and felt terrible after that match.”


The man Selearis beat for the light-heavyweight championship right handed seemed to be all fired up for Gelashvilli.


In the straps, after a Ray Darling elbow foul, Gelashvilli staved Darling off inside, hooking his way into the final match where he would face the winner of Walther vs. Pajishvilli. Pajishvilli shocked those in attendance with a flash pin over Paul Walther who has beaten many of the best this sport has to offer. Following the tournament, Walther said he should have stuck with his original game plan.


“Against (Pajishvilli) I tried to change the technique I’d been using all day,” Walther said. “And it didn’t work. That is the way it goes in this sport sometimes though I guess. But he is a great armwrestler.”


Two Georgian pullers, Gelashvilli and Pajishvilli would battle to determine the King of Arms, and once again Pajishvilli was just too much. His fast hit up top secured the overall and alerted the armwrestling contingent of America of his presence.


Meanwhile some great puller sat in the crowd and admired. Among those in attendance were Marcio Barbosa, Vepkia Samkhardze, and Bobby Buttafucco. Once can only wonder if their presence in the tournament would have made a difference in the outcome of who would be crowned King of Arms.


In the women’s classes, Susan Fisher of Fairhills, PA was too much for Jacky Richmond of Syosset, NY and Debbie Newport of Wethersfield, CT in the 120lb weight class.


At 135lbs, the young star Amanda Fortuna of Wading River, NY outclassed Margaret Nelson of Sayville, NY and Linda Sottile of East Meadow, NY.


Successfully defending her crown as NYC’s Queen of Arms for the forth straight year, Cynthia Yerby captured the women’s open weight class with ease. Yerby is also a seven time world champion. She beat out Empire State Champion Dina Fortuna who took a controversial second place over last years Bronxboro Champion Cindy Looney of Milford, CT.


Though Fortuna flashed her in the first round, the competitors ended up in the strap in the finals. Looney popped Fortuna over and appeared to have a victory holding her beneath the pad. Referee Frank Malis was heard telling Referee Bob Columbe that Looney secured a pin, but Columbe did not call match. After a foul, the match was restarted and Fortuna secured a fast pin.


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