Being the first event on the NASKA World Tour is a lot of pressure for the AKA Warrior Cup, but the event did not disappoint with top competitors, a huge turn out and and an exciting finals. The enormous 70 pound Warrior Cups that are the namesake for the tournament garnished various rooms in the event on display for the competitors and spectators. The Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago, Illinois was the setting for the event that was held January 19-20, 2018.  The theme seemeed to be families as siblings and children of current and past sport karate competitors were winners in various disciplines.

As always at the first event of the year, competitors showed up representing new teams to demonstrate the shuffle, ebb and flow of teams in the sport karate world. Josh Horwege debuted his new Team Dojo featuring Kameren Dawson, formerly of Team Paul Mitchell. Gina Thornton also departed from Team Paul Mitchell and was sporting a Team Impex uniform at the 2018 AKA Warrior Cup. Cole Presley joined his brothers on Team Paul Mitchell. The event marked the return of sport karate couple Jason Grenier and Verona Soliman of Canada, representing Team Impex, after Soliman gave birth to their first child.

Large divisions were the name of the game in most rings and competitors put forth maximum effort in hopes of having a chance at a coveted Warrior Cup or, for under belts, a mini-Warrior Cup. The team sparring divisions were fought off during the day. The new Fighters Syndicate/All Stars team was brought up short twice. In men’s teams, the final match between Avery Plowden and Jack Felton went down to the wire with Plowden’s enviable back fist keeping him in the game and giving him the win. ┬áBelgium’s Evelyn Neyens’ representing Fighters’ Syndicate was defeated in the final round of women’s teams by a determined Raelynn Perkins and Katie Lacy combination representing Team Unity. For the junior boys, Next Level, led by Tyson Wray took the title. Team Hayabusa, led by Viewer’s Choice for Best Youth Fighter Elizabeth Roulliard, was the champion for the girls.

The ultimate prize at the AKA Warrior Cup is one of the six Warrior Cup awards for overall champions in fighting, forms and weapons. Before that was determined, the underbelts competed for min-Warrior Cups in their grand championship competition. Under belt grand champion winners were Sadeek Mohamed the adult winner, and youth champions Mason McDowell, Donovan Ruble, Delia Twaddell, Darren Payne, Cole Vonlukawiecki and Aidan Guernsey (who was competing in his first tournament of his life).

For the black belts, the battle was tough and the tough survived. In sparring, Avery Plowden faced off against Jack Felton after each won his respective weight title. The fight went to the wire with some amazing techniques from both fighters. In the end, it was Plowden carrying on the family legacy with the win with his father Richard and sister Morgan coaching and watching. Both father and sister with their own multiple Warrior Cup wins stood proudly on the stage with Plowden as he received his award.

A knee injury kept Morgan Plowden sidelined at the event. The final match for the women’s point sparring Warrior Cup came down to Evelyn Neyens of Belgium and Verona Soliman of Canada. It was Belgium with the title this year as Europe took home its first Warrior Cup ever.

Mason Stowell of Team Top Ten USA has seen the AKA stage before but was always denied a Warrior Cup by teammate Derek Meegan. Meegan moved into adults for 2018 along with Danny Etkin and Allen Davies. In 2018, Stowell took advantage of the situation with an overall win in the NASKA grands with his traditional form and then the Warrior Cup win for youth forms for the night. Another remarkable story was Danny Etkin of Team Paul Mitchell. Etkin, from New York, has been pumped up to move into adults since the middle of 2017. He’s been talking about bringing it to competition for months and at the AKA Warrior Cup, bring it he did. Etkin defeated forms newcomers and veterans alike to take the adult Warrior Cup title in his very first tournament as an adult.

We told you it was all about family at the AKA Warrior Cup and for weapons it certainly was true. Brothers Reid and Jake Presley took top honors in different age groups. Reid’s double bo routine was the overall winner for adult weapons. Little brother Jake was able to walk away with his second Warrior Cup of his career in youth weapons.

Things that made the 2018 AKA Warrior Cup special were the little touches by the event. Large banners with headshots of all of the 2017 Warrior Cup winners adorned the competition area. The event used professional electronic scorekeeping with Uventex and had screens at each ring. Videos were showing throughout the hotel with footage from prior years and photos from the NASKA banquet that was held Thursday night. The finals were professionally staged and filmed with an amazing live stream broadcast on and in the SMA Network.

It was a great year for the AKA Warrior Cup with signs that it will just keep getting better and better.