The upper midwest is becoming a strong center for sport karate, especially for the National Black Belt League (NBL). Part of this growth comes from the long-running Kumite Classic, this year held May 23-24, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh lies right on the border of the eastern edge of the Midwest and the 2014 event drew competitors from all over the midwest, east coast and Canada along with many from the west coast, southern states and even Mexico. The Kumite Classic has distinguished itself from other tournaments by surrounding the event with a fitness expo at the Monroeville Convention Center. Competitors and spectators in attendance were never short of entertainment as the expo offered weight lifting, wrestling, massage and the always popular swimsuit competition.
The event award for best performance has to go to Kameren Dawson and his achievement in men’s fighting. A 12-hour drive with his dad, sport karate legend Gerald Dawson, showed his dedication to the sport. More on Dawson later.
The main focus of the event was the martial arts competition and the participants put on quite a show. Friday night highlights included some tough competition in men’s team sparring. Team Gallio sported a team of Willie Hicks, Jermond Wiggins and guest Velocity fighter Kevin Walker. The three tore through their competition, ending one match-up ahead 39-1. In the other bracket, Team United fielded Jake Haromszeki and Joe Falanga with a surprise appearance by Joey Dacunha – back after a long break from competition. These two teams – Gallio and United – would advance to the stage for the finals.
Friday night also featured weapons and self-defense competition. The Chase sisters teamed up to support sister Hope Chase in junior traditional self-defense. The routine was complete with some hard punches, kicks, throws and locks. Watching made it clear that if a fight really broke out in the Chase household between the three girls, it would probably be quite destructive! It was good to see Jeremy Elliott as both uke and competitor in self-defense. He took a beating as uke and then revved it up to do great in his own division.
Saturday competition was the battle of the forms as weapons were run off on Friday evening. In addition to the NBL forms divisions, the Kumite Classic offered a classical forms challenge with special prize money. This brought out the likes of the infamous Keith Weston to observe and judge the division. The 35 and older adults ran off their forms grand championships during eliminations and it was really impressive. Mike Ledford provided a memorable performance with his contemporary musical performance. The 44-year-old Ledford kicked, flipped AND dropped into the splits like an 18 year-old and won the title. Johnny Watkins was also in the running and managed to break his bo on his very first strike – formidable power!
Chris Chastain has been winning a lot in 2014 in senior fighting and he was able to win the 45 and over heavyweight division. He then went into the executive run offs along with Luis Jimenez and Todd Humes. Humes stopped Chastain’s drive to the grands in a 13-3 match. Humes then faced Jimenez for the overall title and was able to win that match as well to be declared the 35 and over men’s point sparring grand champion.
In fighting, the competition was fierce and one Kameren Dawson somehow managed to get matched up against almost every major middleweight fighter in his drive. Dawson first got to watch the lighter weights battle. Sergio Brandon of Team ATL was able to fight his way through his division and then defeat Christopher Jackson to make it into the final four for men’s fighting and go to the stage.
Kyle Petrosky of Five Knuckle Bullet fought well against the much taller Jake Haromszeki to win the lightweight fighting division. In the next division, old friends Mike Scaperato and Willie Hicks battled for the win. Hicks managed the victory and then defeated Petrosky to go to the stage.
It was then time for the light middleweight division. Jermond Wiggins fought through Jacob Gunn in the final fight in this division to take first and then wait for the winner of Dawson’s division.
Dawson began his day with a fight against Kodaq Wray. Wray and Dawson started out with heavy blows that turned into a real fight. Despite calls for disqualification, the two were allowed to continue and had a second altercation. After that, they held it together and fought it out with Dawson coming out the winner in a hard-hitting match. Dawson was not done as now he had to fight Kevin Walker for first and second. Dawson started out ahead but Walker is no newcomer and he got himself back in contention with the score tied at 5-5 with six seconds left. The two went into overtime where the determined Dawson scored a blitz to win and face Wiggins to see who would go to stage.
Wiggins and Dawson put on a great show. Dawson opened with a two point head kick and then an illegal leg sweep to set the tenor. Wiggins responded, using his kicks to stay in the game as well as to throw his own sweep back. In the end, Dawson was able to get the win with a 9-6 score to go to the stage. The final fighter for the stage was Art Lazenby, the superheavy weight winner, who defeated Anthony Merricks to go to stage.
The women fighters were exciting and they wanted to win. Ali Viola blasted through her opponents and then the lightweight winner to head for the stage. Gina Thornton won the flyweight division and then defeated Julie Vincent to go to the stage to face Viola.
Team Core opened up the Kumite finals with a great demo featuring some kids that will be a force to reckon with in the future. One of those kids is Paul Piazza. Piazza faced Evan Brown and Aaron Bailey in the youth musical forms grand championships and Piazza was declared the winner with a pretty impressive performance.
In youth musical weapons, Jacob Cleary gets bigger and still keeps on winning. He beat out Ecab Amor and Hunter Orlowski for the title at Kumite. Cleary also went on to win the Can Am Conference titles for youth forms and weapons. The kids also were able to perform in traditional grand championships. In the Japanese competition, it was a Canadian invasion as Jacob Cleary, Zoe Brown and Rachel Young all from United Martial Arts in Ontario faced each other. Young was declared the winner. In the youth Korean competition, Brown and Young were back, this time with Hope Chase. Chase opened the competition and her intensity held the lead to give her the grand championship title.
Adam Goldstein’s unique soft style performance was just what the judges needed in the adult contemporary forms competition. He defeated Tim Conkel and Tressa Young for the title. Conkel was back for the adult contemporary weapons competition, facing Taylor Lynch and Hector Cruz. Although Conkel dropped a kama in his first try, he used the restart rule and performed without a flaw the second time to take the grand championship title.
The adult traditional competition began with the new Classical Competition finals. Joey Castro was able to channel his intensity into the first Classical Challenge title for the event. Castro was back again for the adult traditional forms and weapons competition. He faced Ali al Raisi, Tressa Young and Taylor Lynch. This time, al Raisi’s Japanese performance was the winner.
In the kids continuous fighting on stage, Jonathan Foster and Blake Fewster held nothing back in their fight. In the end it was Fewster with the win. Evan Brown was able to show his fighting skills against Max Steiner and Brown was declared the winner.
Billy Leader took a nice shot in the Traditional Kumite (K-1) eliminations earlier in the day and was sporting a shiner in his continuous sparring fight against Matt Lakari in the finals. Leader did not let a bloody nose or a black eye stop him from taking the win.
In men’s team sparring, Willie Hicks took his first groin shot of the night facing Jake Haromszeki. He was still able to end the round up 4-2. Jermond Wiggins extended the lead in his fight against Joe Falanga and it ended 9-3 in favor of Team Gallio. In the final match, Joey Dacunha could not get things started against Kevin Walker and Gallio won the men’s team sparring title.
Things got a little crazy in the rest of the sparring divisions on stage. In the Traditional Kumite finals, Jermond Wiggins was defending his 2013 title. He faced Rocky Whatule in this hard-hitting fight. The Japanese style required the fighters to hit with great focus and very little padding. Whatule opened with the first score and then Wiggins scored with a hard front kick to the body. With Wiggins up 5-3, Wiggins landed a round kick to Whatule’s nose that drew blood and required the match to stop. Whatule had the medic working frantically to stop the bleeding within the five minute limit allowed by the rules. He was able to do it and continue to fight but he was not able to get anything started and Wiggins won 5-4 after Whatule was given a 1-point penalty point for excessive contact.
Women’s fighting has been one of the most exciting divisions of the year and the final match between Ali Viola and Gina Thornton was no exception. The two women sized each other up and ended up with a 1-1 score with only 30 second left in the match. Thornton then scored and Viola tied it up. A side step move by Thornton put her ahead 3-2 and then Viola came back with a blitz to score. As the buzzer rang, Viola was able to sneak in a punch to go up 4-3 and win the title.
Sergio Brandon faced Willie Hicks in the first men’s fighting run off. Brandon could not get a lot started against Hicks as Hicks was up 3-0 with 34 seconds left. Brandon managed to get in a couple scores but Hicks ended the match up 5-2 to advance to the final fight. Kameren Dawson faced super heavyweight Art Lazenby in the next semi-final fight. The Lazenby versus Dawson fight opened with Lazenby throwing a super hard ridge hand. Dawson took it and started his own point drive, landing round kicks to the body. In the end, Dawson managed a 9-3 win over Lazenby and advanced to the finals to face Hicks.
In the men’s final fight, the young relative-newcomer Dawson faced the experienced Hicks for the title. The two immediately scored and were tied 1-1 when Hicks took an elbow to the face which was soon followed by Hicks’ receipt of a second groin kick. The two battled and exchanged points throughout the fight. They were tied 5-5 with 4 seconds left and Hicks scored, Dawson replied with his own score and then scored again at the buzzer for the win in another nail biter grand championship fight.
Dawson’s fantastic win concluded the 2014 Kumite Classics – lots of great championship performances that highlighted the talent and determination in this sport.