It’s safe to say the Ocean State Grand Nationals outdid itself again in its 39th year, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats on multiple occasions over the course of what turned out to be an unforgettable weekend. The annual open sport karate and martial arts tournament took place on April 12th through 14th, 2019 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the coastal city of Warwick, Rhode Island. The tournament, which has been running since 1980, draws in between 3,000 and 4,000 participants and spectators each year and features representatives from 10 countries, has over 350 divisions, and is World Rated by the North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) and Karate Referees Association of New England (KRANE). The competitors range in age from five to over 50, and represent the entire spectrum of martial arts disciplines, including kung fu, taekwondo, weaponry, forms, and extreme, making for an excitingly eclectic experience.
The popular event is a magnet for celebrity guest appearances. This year’s notable attendee was Bronx-born American actor, amateur boxer, martial artist and bodyguard Chuck Zito, who was a regular on the hit TV series Oz.
A Grand Opening
The weekend kicked off without a hitch right on schedule as expected, but ended early at 8pm on opening night. Saturday’s ended even earlier, at 2pm.
Tyreek Saint swept the Men’s Open Weight division title by storm. In the second round of the finals, he trounced his rival Tamas Imre in their second match-up of the event, stunning the crowd with a showstopper of a sidekick. The video clip of his perfectly timed fade away kick quickly went viral, earning him well over 10K views and over 500 shares on his page, which sparked lively discussion in the online Martial Arts world. Imre’s number seemed to be up one last time in the finals, when Saint prevailed yet again with a 5-2 win.
Bailey Murphy of Team Straight Up and birthday boy Justin Ortiz were neck and neck at the Men’s Lightweight grands in a furious face-off of speed and stamina, with Bailey requiring overtime before he was able to finally overcome his veteran opponent.
The Men’s Heavyweight final was a fierce showdown between two native New Yorkers, Troy Binns and Anthony Merricks. The match happened to fall on Anthony’s birthday, but he suffered the same unfortunate fate as fellow birthday boy Justin Ortiz, handing the trophy to Troy. The new reigning champion Troy is also a proud new father to a baby boy, who happened to be in the audience to bear witness to his dad’s big win. (No doubt Dad will be spending some of his winnings on diapers.)
World champion Joey Castro of Team Karate Tournament of Champions (KToC) conquered the Men’s Traditional Forms grand championship, continuing his ongoing winning streak that has spanned over most of the past year.
Spark plug Mackensi Emory continued to steamroll the Women’s Division this year, scooping up wins in both the Women’s Forms and Weapons Overall grand championships. After having won double grands at almost every event she has attended for the past twelve months and more, Mackensi has proven herself to be an unstoppable force.
It was a strategic back-and-forth battle between Canada’s Corina Balan and Chiara Dituri of Team KToC in the Women’s Point Sparring grand championship, with Corina eventually snaring a 10-7 victory over her opponent.
This event was also quite the “haul” of fame for the Presley family. Reid Presley went up against the talented Alec Jahanvash, who practically grew up in his family’s karate studio and made his first appearance on stage as an adult in Men’s Weapons grands. Although Alec implemented his impressive accuracy in his performance, Reid’s powerful presentation with the bo swiftly shredded his up-and-coming competitor, and he grabbed himself two grand championships. Meanwhile, reigning champ Reid’s younger brother Jake Presley swiftly evened the score by grabbing two grand championships for himself, conquering Caio Dasilva in CMX Forms. Little sister Averi Presley also made sure she got in on the action, scooping up a grand championship of her own in CMX Forms when she beat Bella Nicoli. The Presley kids really cleaned up this year, and are clearly paving the way to a promising future for themselves.
In Women’s Teams, Team Straight Up scooped up a surprise 10 point advantage over KToC after a couple of injuries put them in the lead. Punches to the face late in the first round left rivals Nikki Pelland of Team Straight Up and Chiara Dituri of KToC bruised and bloodied. Nikki sustained a split lip, while Chiara’s gash to the hand required stitches, leaving her unable to finish the fight. This brutal bang-up (and subsequent blood cleanup) forced a lengthy delay of the Finals and an arbitration of the rules.
After the tension had finally subsided, Gabi Cunha stepped in for Straight Up and was able to carry their lead into the second round, securing the team’s victory. The ever-determined Gabi, a high school senior, has been fighting since she was five, and has spent most of her life traveling with her team all across the country to fight in World Karate Championships (WKC), World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO), and NASKA World Championships, winning the gold several times over.
We checked up on Chiara to see how her recovery from her hand injury is going, and found her in good spirits, determined to be back and better than ever the next time she competes.
Budapest, Hungary’s Laszlo Gombos, who trained at Kiraly Academy to become a prized point fighter, made a special trip to the US to compete for Team Paul Mitchell. His team took on KToC in the finals, starting off against newly minted adult Antoine Berube and eventually capturing a 4-1 lead.
With the score tied at six all going into the Finals, it all came down to Troy Binns and Justin Ortiz in the final match-up. With his insurmountable skills in the ring, Justin quickly secured a steady lead and ran circles around Troy, walking away with the championship for Team Paul Mitchell.
Competitive Edge lived up to their name and kept the competition on edge as usual, snagging another victory for Demo Teams and continuing their domination of that division.
Team Amerikick had nothing short of first-rate representation this year in the Boys 13 & under grand championship. The unstoppable Shane Billow let his skills shine on stage as he swept both Weapons divisions. He was also the runner up to his teammate, Ottawa-born Gabriel Bastien, in the Overall Forms grands.
Team Top Ten USA’s Olivia Rando, 20 times World Champion martial artist (NASKA, WAKO, WKC) was unconquerable this year in the Girls 14-17 Forms grand championship. Her outstanding effort to capture her second title of the evening in the Girls 14-17 Weapons grand championship did not go unnoticed, but it was Alessandra Alinea of Team Amerikick who took the crown that night with her top-notch traditional bo-wielding prowess.
Girls 13 & Under CMX division saw two promising up-and-coming champions go head to head, with Kodi Molina up against Ava Thurston from Team Straight Up. Though Ava struggled through her CMX performance, it helped her win the title in her very first appearance on a NASKA World Tour Event. Kodi, who is affectionately known as the “Yellow Rose of Texas” for her cheerful smile and an unquenchable passion for martial arts, already has over 200 tournament victories under her (second-degree black) belt. She started karate at age four and became a black belt at the tender age of six. She is now a 3x World Champion and a 2019 Grand Champion for the AKA Warrior Cup 13 & Under Traditional Weapons. Keep up the good work, Kodi!
When it came to Boys 14-17 Weapons, Dawson Holt of Competitive Edge brought his infectious energy to the stage in his match up with Jake Presley, who is arguably one of the strongest and most consistent junior competitors. Dawson wowed the crowd with his well-honed sword performance, but in the end, it was Jake’s lethal combination of speed and power in traditional bo that proved yet again to be untouchable, and he came out on top once more.
Winston Jones proudly made his marvelous debut as an adult grand champion in Men’s CMX (Creative, Musical and Extreme) Weapons. The relentless Ryker Weaver whipped the audience up into a frenzy as usual with his frenetic execution, until the pivotal moment when he dropped his kama.
Meanwhile, serial champ Reid Presley flat-out refused to break his winning streak, beating Delaware’s Zar Succarotte to dominate the Men’s CMX Forms. Zar might have lost this time, but his tremendous talent for theatrics was evident in his performance, and it was easy to see why he has been cast in the upcoming Kung-Fu Panda Live show in Asia. Nobody has any doubt that Zar will go far.
Jackson Rudolph did not disappoint when he wrapped things up with his dazzling demonstration of weapons tricks, wowing the crowd and judges alike.
Awards were handed out to the champions in front of a cheering crowd as this year’s epic Ocean State Grand Nationals came to a close.
If you would like to know more about how it all went down at this year’s competition in Rhode Island, you can check out highlights of the event, and photos, videos and more right here on our website, www.SportMartialArts.com. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow our Facebook page for further updates and to learn more about future events. As always, we look forward to seeing you!