Raymond Daniels, Promoter Roy Baker and Luisa Gullotti
The 2012 Irish Open is the pinnacle of fighting and is, actually, the largest fighting tournament in the world. Nearly 2500 competitors attended this pre-registration-only event, the event’s highest number of entries in its 15 years, with a mere 175 entering the forms and weapons divisions. The rest were there for one thing; to fight and, more importantly, to win. Held March 2-4, 2012 in Dublin, Ireland, the event started with dramatic team fighting and ended with intense, hard-hitting point fighting.
At the center of it all was fighter Raymond Daniels of the United States. Daniels capped off a near-perfect weekend by winning the coveted men’s open weight grand championship title and cash award. He also won his individual weight category and went undefeated the entire weekend. His triumphs in his individual divisions made up for his team’s loss in the 4 man, 1 woman team fighting division where his Team All Stars were eliminated in the final round by Team Kiraly of Hungary when Hungary won the first three rounds of the best of five match up. As the anchor, Daniels did not even fight in the match-up against Hungary.
Team Kiraly brought its own impressive display of talent from its young group of fighters. The Hungarian group matched up well with fighters from all countries. Richard Veres of Hungary was especially impressive with his speed in the ring. He defeated Team All Stars’ Jason Tankson to give his Hungarian team the team fighting victory on Friday evening. Veres also eliminated Team Full Circle’s Hamed Firouzi in an exciting elimination round in the -69 kg eliminations on Saturday. In the open weight competition, Veres nearly made it to the final four but was defeated in a hard hitting match with Robbie McMennamy of Ireland as McMennary advanced to face another Hungarian in the semi-finals, Zsolt Moradi. Moradi was one of two of Team Kiraly fighters to make it into the final four of the open weight division on Sunday. He was joined by teammate Krisztian Jaroszkievicz after Jaroszkievicz elimated Jason Tankson in his bracket to advance.
In the women’s competition, Italy’s Luisa Gullotti had an Irish Open to remember as she defeated Team Paul Mitchell’s Chelsey Nash of Canada to win the women’s open weight grand championship division. Although Nash was highly disappointed after the loss to Gullotti, Nash had nothing to be ashamed of as she brought home two individual weight category titles from the prior evening. In the -65 kg division, Nash paced herself in her fight against Charlie Maddock of England and finished with a 5-3 victory for her first title. Nash was back again in the -60 kg division against Ireland’s Caradh Donovan. This was a closer match that came down to the wire with Nash holding on for a 16-15 win and her second title of the night.
Gullotti’s success at the event was not limited to her open weight grand championship win. Gullotti also won an individual weight class title in the women’s -55 kg division as she defeated Rachel House by a 10 point spread. Gullotti and Nash’s wins were the highlights of an enormous turn out for women fighters. The appeal of the Irish Open brings more women fighters to one place for head-to-head competition than any other event in the world.
Although forms and weapons are not as popular in Europe as in the United States and Canada, the Irish Open offered traditional forms and musical forms and weapons divisions for youth and adults. With the event sanctioned by the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO), the WAKO rules applied. The rules limit the number of gymnastics moves and weapons releases that a competitor can incorporate into a routine. The WAKO rules also require a performance to last at least one minute after the competitor introduces himself or herself to the judges.
In the junior forms and weapons competitions, USA competitors Dallas Liu, Amanda and Jacob Pinto did well with Liu winning his musical forms division and Pinto winning both musical forms and weapons. Liu and Chen each won their traditional forms divisions as well. Paige Cerson of England also won her forms division. Her routine included swing-through gainers and clean hand techniques as she helps with bringing the UK to the forefront in the acrobatic martial arts arena.
Liu fell pray to the weapons release rule and lost points for his infraction. The length of performance rule was the bain of Micah Karns’ existence as Karns discovered that the speed and fluidity of both his forms and weapons routines did not amount to a complete sixty seconds in either. Not making the time limit resulted in each judge giving a full point deduction to Karns, leaving Karns as a finalist in each division. Karns did win first place in the traditional forms division and ended the musical competition by being thronged with excited fans, most of them female, that wanted to be photographed with him.
The UK and Italy stood out in the men’s musical forms and weapons competition with Luke Scott and Phil Campbell of the UK and Stefano Scandola of Italy making their mark. Scott won first place inmusical weapons and Scandola won second in weapons. Campbell took first place in musical forms with Scott in second. Scott has trained with Americans Jarrett Leiker and Matt Emig and throughout the past few years competing in the UK and on the WKA circuit, Scott is becoming a formidable forms and weapons competitor. He plans to attend the Amerikick Internationals and US Open in 2012 to test himself against USA competition. Italian Scandola represents Team AIKI and has competed on the WKA circuit and traveled to the USA for competitions. He is very competitive in the traditional divisions and is had a clean musical weapons routine at the Irish Open. Campbell, along with junior Cerson, represent the new Team ProRank UK.
Over 160 competitors from the United States and Canada crossed the ocean to attend the tournament and only a few ended up making it into the winner’s circle. The rules of the Irish Open are different, allowing front hand body punches, deducting points for rules infractions and allowing points to be awarded to both competitors at the same time. The new rules were troublesome to many of the non-Europeans and resulted in disappointing finishes. Despite this, a few emerged from the fray. As mentioned, Chelsey Nash and Raymond Daniels won individual weight divisions and Daniels won the open weight grand championship.
Cass Sigmon of Team Full Circle faced the younger brother of Michael Page, Kaylon Page, in the +94 kg title fight. Sigmon has been training hard for this opportunity, putting in hours of bag work and cardio to prepare. In his fight he was first on the board and up 5-0 after the first round of fighting. In the second round, Sigmon picked Page apart and managed a 12-1 routing that ended the match early due to the 10-point spread rule making Sigmon the champion.
In the closest match of the Saturday night finals, Jason “the Sleeper” Grenier of Team Paul Mitchell faced Paulo Niceforo of Italy for the title. Grenier’s unorthodox techniques pushed him to an 8-5 lead after the first round but Niceforo started his comeback in round two by taking a 14-11 lead with only 40 seconds left. Grenier worked in some kicks to bring the score to a 16-16 tie with Niceforo being awarded a point at the buzzer for a hand technique to give Niceforo the 17-16 win.
Team Full Circle started out at the Irish Open being eliminated in the team sparring division by Team Top Ten Blitz Brothers, a team made up of some of Europe’s most talented fighters. The six fighters from Europe that made up the team were Drew Neal of the UK, Morten Spissoy of Norway, Robbie McMennamy of Ireland, Dimitri Gaulis of Switzerland, Ina Grindheim of Norway and Gregorio di Leo of Italy. After defeating Team Full Circle, the European mix was eliminated in team competition by Team All Stars. In the other bracket, Team Kiraly defeated Team Paul Mitchell after Paul Mitchell took on and narrowly defeated Italy’s Bestfighter team. As mentioned, Team Kiraly ultimately went on to defeat Team All Stars and take the team fighting title.
Despite not having the team win, Team Full Circle brought home two firsts for North America with Cass Sigmon’s win and Ross Levine’s strong fight against Drew Neal in the -94 kg weight title. Levine was ahead 7-5 after the first round and in the second round showed his ability to adapt to the European style by scoring with a front hand back fist to the body. Neal was down by 1 point in the second round when he injured his knee with over a minute remaining. Neal’s injury was so severe that he could not continue and had to bow out of the match. Grenier added a second place for Team Full Circle and Samuel Gagnon of Canada took in another second after facing Robbie McMennamy of Ireland in the -79 kg weight title match. McMennamy was up 6-2 after the first round with Gagnon and held on to his lead throughout the fight to bring victory to the host country.
Neal and McMennamy were not the only fighters from the Top Ten Blitz Brother’s team with a name that deserves mention. Gregorio di Leo of Italy did a fine job at the event. He won his -74 kg weight title in an exciting fight with Ireland’s Mark McDermott. di Leo was up 8-6 after the first round and used his timing and strategy to score points on his opponent. di Leo ran into a head kick towards the end of the second round but McDermott fell down after the technique so it was not scored. In the end, di Leo finished with a victory. di Leo also did well in the open weight division, nearly making it into the semi-finals but falling to Zsolt Moradi in the final match in his bracket.
“If you consider yourself a fighter, one of your goals should be to win at the Irish Open,” stated Raymond Daniels – the nine-time open weight grand champion winner of the event. With over 2500 competitors, the 2012 Irish Open is the largest open martial arts event in Europe and has become the largest fighting event in the world. Winning at the event is a true accomplishment and requires tenacity, dedication and training – the traits of a true martial artist and Irish Open fighter.