Oceania's top armwrestlers make waves in VegasArticle by Phil Rasmussen | Photo Credits Artem Toproll
It would be all too easy for me to spend the better part of this article discussing the pitfalls and disappointments surrounding the controversial lead up to this year’s WAL event. Sure, WAL’s pull out at the last minute due to lack of funds was heart breaking for many, and the absence of ESPN exposure felt like a major blow for the sport as a whole. However, despite these setbacks, the tournament went ahead, and I want to focus on the overwhelming positives that came out of this event.
In most sports, the dissolution of its underpinning organisation a few weeks out from a tournament would almost certainly be the end of it. However, Armwrestlers are of a different breed to most. Through the efforts of some of its key figures the tournament went ahead, WAL or no WAL, and most of the sport’s biggest names showed up to do what they do best. From the ashes of the WAL controversy emerged one of the most energetic and eventful tournaments the armwrestling world has ever seen, filled with new faces besting old legends, and kings maintaining their place at the top – this one had it all.
After 6 months of fierce competition at local, regional, and finally the super-regional qualifiers in Melbourne, Team Oceania took the form of Ryan Scott, Maateiwarangi Heta-Morris, Ben Carroll, Tom Ugljesa, Danny Tesch, Anmol Sandhu, Jordan Davis, Kyle Howarth, Andrew Manfre, super couple Ryan and Kaleigh McClaren, and myself.
In 2015 at the 37th World Championships in Malaysia, our message to the international armwrestling community was that "We Belong". 3 weeks ago at WAL finals in Las Vegas the team from Australia and New Zealand came bearing a very different message, "We're here to win!", and while we may not have taken any hammers along for the long trip home, having 4 competitors make the top 8 in Pro classes was a statement unto itself.
Jordan Davis came into the final after a dream WAL regionals finish in Melbourne winning both arms and was undoubtedly an outside threat to the 165lb class. While having some fantastic wins on his left arm against over seasoned competitors, Jordan was denied ultimate glory on the right arm by none other than his idol Janis Amolins and the man aptly named the "Birmingham Bullet" Craig Sanders. Kyle Howarth had kept a relatively low profile in his journey to the finals but proved right at home at this level of competition with some excellent wins courtesy of his rock-solid inside game and shoulder press.
Aussie Stalwart Ryan "the Milkman" Scott was flagged early on by Devon Larratt as being a major threat to the 225lb class and he didn't disappoint. Ryan took 7th place in a superstar class consisting of Devon Larratt, Ron Bath, and Matt Mask, leaving a trail of destruction in his path and surprising big names like Jordan Sill with his unassuming appearance and brutal hand. Special mention to Tom Ugljesa for jumping into the pro draw after coming back from injury and bringing with him an intensity that saw him push seasoned pros like Danial Worley to within an inch of a pin.
In the super heavyweights Ben Carol and big Maate cut an imposing figure on any given day, but alongside juggernauts "Monster" Michael Todd, Ryan Espey, Dave Chaffee and Travis Bagent, our boys suddenly didn't seem so intimidating. That didn't rattle them, Ben took it in his stride and swept heavyweight after heavyweight aside only taking losses to the big 4 and finishing top 8, while Maateiwarangi put up a valiant fight against his idols Michael Todd and Travis Bagent.
Kaleigh Maldonado may have been our only female entrant but she single-handedly elevated women's armwrestling in Australia with a superb display of skill and determination that saw her finish top 4 in the Pro 128lb Women's division. Fantasic effort Kaleigh!
In the Amateur divisions the action was just as fast and furious. Andrew Manfre looked unstoppable in his class taking top 3 and coming very close to knocking out the eventual winner, while Ryan McClaren's iron wrists took him deep in the 195lb class notching up a handful of victories.
But one Aussie sent shock-waves through the WAL ranks, and that was none other than unassuming Muscle Coach owner, Danny Tesch. Moving through the first few rounds with clinical precision, Danny found himself face to face with 3x WAL champion Paul Talbot who was clearly expecting to dispatch the unknown Aussie in quick fashion en route to another hammer. What happened next was the without doubt the highlight of the day for me, watching my friend, training partner and countryman elevate the reputation of Australian Armwrestling in a 45 second war that ended in Danny delivering Paul his only loss of the day and sending the crowd into a frenzy. After an unprecedented 4th place in the finals in the company of Talbot, Hutchings and Bishop, Danny went on the repeat his success on the right arm following a succession of battles that left a trail of casualties with familiar names such as Frode Haugland, Paul Maiden, and dual hammer legend Tony Kitowski in his wake.
As the WAL dust settles and we move full steam ahead into Queensland Titles, World Championships, Nationals and what promises to be another blockbuster Arnold Classic in 2018, one thing is for sure, armwrestling in this country is certainly showing no signs of slowing down.