Hailed as the largest sport karate event in North America and, quite possibly the world, the US Open ISKA World Martial Arts Championships was held July 5-6, 2013 in Walt Disney World, Florida. More than 45 countries were represented at the event including lesser-known nations like Qatar. Large contingencies were on hand from nations like South Africa and Jamaica as well. The event was action-packed throughout the two days of amateur and professional competition.
The US Open is like an event, within an event, within an event, ad nauseam. The North American Grappling Association (NAGA) championships were held in one huge area. At the same time, breakers competing for titles through the United States and World Breaking Association (USBA) were in another ballroom ferociously and creatively destroying boards, bricks and many other objects. In the main ballroom, the sport karate was featured with an amateur competition for black belts and underbelt competitors that spanned over 25 rings and hundreds of divisions.
Adjacent to the amateurs, the professional level competitors were on hand seeking a chance for the US Open World Titles during the Night of Champions held Saturday night. Only a few would be selected for the prestigious opportunity to compete in the Night of Champions and then, only one could be crowned the ISKA World Champion in each of the 15 world championship categories. The SportMartialArts.com/ISKA ratings determined seeding for the professional level competitors and their performances during the Friday and Saturday eliminations either solidified or identified the competitors who would appear in the Night of Champions. Even more exciting, the Night of Champions was broadcast live on ESPN online with later taped performances to be broadcast on ESPN TV.
Fighters received quite a bit of attention at the 2013 US Open event. The US Open co-sponsored an autograph table with SportMartialArts.com to highlight some of the top fighters of 2013. Fans crowded around to get a photo with or a signed special fighters poster featuring Raymond Daniels, Jack Felton, Zsolt Moradi, Ross Levine, Kodaq Wray, Gina Thornton, Chelsey Nash and Morgan Plowden. The fighters then moved on to compete to see who would make to the final four for men's fighters and the final two for women. These six top competitors all were in the Night of Champions show.
Friday started with team competition including men's team sparring. We talked a lot about Team Kiraly of Hungary after the team made quite an impressive showing at the Irish Open in March of this year. The kids on the team train hard in sparring and definitely leave a mark when they are at an event. In men's team sparring, Team Kiraly was fighting hard to assure everyone that they were a force to be reckoned with. Ritchie Veres was the 2013 Irish Open open weight winner and Tamas Imre defeated powerhouse Raymond Daniels during eliminations at the Irish Open. The US Open was only Veres second appears in competition in the United States and Imre's first. In men's teams, Kiraly moved into the final four remaining teams after defeating strong challengers. It was the match against Team Impex's strong line-up of Jadi Tention, Ross Levine and Avery Plowden that finally stopped the Kiraly march to the finals. However, there were still individual weight class divisions remaining.
Team Paul Mitchell's Zsolt Moradi, Laszlo Gombos and Cass Sigmon were also doing work in the other bracket. Moradi and Gombos both originated as kids from Team Kiraly and their fighting prowess is well-known. Team Paul Mitchell took on a tough mixed European team with members from Austria and the Czech Republic, including Roman Brundl of Austria who was in the final four for the open weight competition at the 2013 Irish Open.
It ultimately came down to Team Paul Mitchell against Team Impex for the men's team sparring title. Ross Levine opened well for Team Impex with a 6-4 lead after facing Laszlo Gombos. It was now up to his teammates to hold the lead. Cass Sigmon of Team Paul Mitchell faced Jadi Tention in the next round. The two were hitting hard but Tention was getting the points as he ended the match with Impex up by four points. The final match was between Zsolt Moradi of Team Paul Mitchell and Avery Plowden of Impex. Moradi had some catching up to do and Plowden was not ready to concede. In the end, Plowden gave some ground but was up by two points when the buzzer rang and Team Impex took the men's team sparring title at the 2013 US Open.
The Night of Champions is the event that some people plan for all year long. The 2013 show offered lots of excitement as well as some amazing performances. James Sang Lee won his fourth self defense title and he had Carmichael Simon as an uke! Yvar Bajaki won the AAU sparring match while 14-year-old Alyis Mursuli garnered the NAGA grappling win after a tap out by his opponent. Matias Bustamante of Argentina won the continuous (semi-contact) sparring title. All the way from Wisconsin, Mike Welch and his Team Infinity were crowned the Demo Team ISKA World Champions this year. Team AKA's sibling duo, Cole and Reid Presley, managed to get into the Night of Champions despite a mishap during the day time eliminations but they pulled off their double bo synchronized routine perfectly during the Night of Champions and were awarded the synchronized team world title.
Jadi Tention, Ross Levine, Avery Plowden, all from Team Impex and Ritchie Veres of Team Kiraly were the four fighters to make it to the Night of Champions after winning their weight classes and run-offs during the day time eliminations. Tention and Plowden were eliminated during the semi-finals leaving Levine to face the lightweight Veres. During the team sparring competition, the two had gone head-to-head with Veres winning on points in the round but his team losing on overall points. It was clear that Veres would be a formidable opponent for Levine. The two put on a good show, each trying to feel the other out. Ultimately, Levine was able to outscore Veres to win the 2013 US Open ISKA World Title for Men's Sparring.
For the women, Marissa Mayer of Team Straight Up managed to blast her way through her competition in the day time eliminations. She found herself facing Canadian Claire Cocozza of Team All Stars on stage in the Night of Champions fighting for the women's title. Cocozza may fight in the 30 and over divisions but do not under-estimate her. Her long legs and timing keep her fighting like the 18-year-olds. She defeated Mayer to take the 2013 US Open ISKA World Title for Women's Sparring.
Jackson Rudolph retained his world title in 14-17 weapons with a crazy performance that had him spinning multiple times while his bo flew through the air. The crowd appreciated his intricate moves and so did the judges. Tyler Weaver showed his strength with acrobatic kicking combinations that were amazing enough to win the 14-17 forms world title.
Three competitors stood out by winning double world titles for the evening. First, it was little Dallas Liu with titles in both the 13 & under weapons and 13 & under forms competition. At only 11 years old, Liu performed like a champ. Sen Gao has exploded onto the competition scene after his debut at the AKA Grand Nationals this year. Sen Gao hails from China and was a wushu team performer in his country before coming to the United States to teach martial arts. In 2013 he has been tearing up the competition scene, winning at least one overall title at each event he's attended and creating quite the following. He managed a win for the world title in the men's forms competition despite a strong challenge from Austin Crain who had won the overall title during the day time eliminations earlier in the day. Austin Jorgensen had defeated Sen Gao in the weapons eliminations during the competition on Saturday afternoon but Sen Gao could not be toppled during the Night of Champions as he also won the men's weapons world title.
The story of the night was Caitlin Dechelle. A Florida native, she has competed at the US Open since she was a young child and has been in the Night of Champions many times before as both a youth and adult competitor. However, she had never won both a forms and weapons title at the same event as an adult. The 2013 US Open would be her lucky charm as she dominated in both divisions and walked away with world titles in both.