The 2020 AKA Warrior Cup has made a habit out of redefining itself and pushing towards bigger and better things with every iteration and this year was no exception. With a new location in the Sheraton Grand in downtown Chicago, a new layout necessitated by the change, and some major tweaks to the schedule, there were plenty of challenges for John Sharkey, Hunter Lyon, and the AKA team.
And they, without a doubt, knocked it out of the park.
The Sheraton Grand is a beautiful hotel located in the heart of downtown Chicago just a few blocks from the previous location. But, instead of having several spaces that were available for the weekend events, the Warrior Cup had just one. This meant the 2019 NASKA Banquet, Friday Night Eliminations, Saturday Eliminations, and Night Show were all held in the same space. A feat not unheard of at other events, but one that does create a unique set of challenges. However, the AKA team rose to the challenge and was able to facilitate all the changes necessary, and still have friendly smiles for the constant streams of competitors and their families.
There are several unique aspects to the Warrior Cup, one of them being the NASKA Banquet. It’s a place and time where competitors can gather to celebrate the last year of competition and interact in a totally different mindset than the one provided by the tournament floor. This year’s attendance was high and it was a great way to kick off the new divisions and challenges presented with every new season.
As the first NASKA event of the year, the AKA Warrior Cup always provides fierce competition. This year’s Warrior Cup had some truly deep and talented divisions that raised the bar in spectacular ways. Dennis Brown stated the Boys 14-17 CMX Runoffs was one of the best runoffs he’d judged in all his years of NASKA. And that’s the level of quality that was present across the board, in every division. Competitors were pushing hard, and showcasing some incredible skills, both traditional and sport, that wowed the audience and fellow competitors alike.
Throughout the two days of eliminations, the Warrior Cup showcased another twist unique to this tournament: The Mini Cup.
A few years ago John Sharkey and Hunter Lyon began awarding Mini Cups to underbelt grands winners. This has gained some traction in recent years and the underbelt divisions were quite excited to get their crack at a moment on the stage, and an opportunity to take home one of these unique awards.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday, there were 6 winners for the 2020 Mini Cups. Dale Cox won 13 and Under Traditional Forms, Ryan Clifford won TWO Mini Cups in both 13 & Under CMX Forms and 13 & Under Weapons. Miguel Avellaneda took home the 14-17 Traditional Forms while Aiden Lopez won the 14-17 CMX Forms. 14-17 Weapons was awarded to Luke Atchley and Jermel Golston took home the Adult Forms/Weapons Mini Cup. Each competitor brought their very best to the stage and showed the future of martial arts is looking very bright indeed.
Saturday Night Finals was presented with all of its normal splendor and class and the night kicked off with AKA’s very own Gabrielle Dunn singing the national anthem. She then did a quick change and was part of the Sideswipe Performance Team Demonstration, Nerds vs. Jocks. It was a lot of fun, and great to see a more lighthearted performance. Starting off the evening of competition was the Adult Women’s Overall Grands. Dani Auborger, Trinity Davis, Jemeliznna Ortiz, Mary Amato, and Julia Plawker lit the stage on fire with some incredible performances. Plawker took the win, but it was a stacked division and a heck of a way for the night to start off. Alex Miller did a victory lap for the 13 & Under Boys Weapons, he had won the other divisions and took home the grands after a great performance.
Isabella Nicolli and Kodi Molina battled for the 13 & Under Girls Weapons with Nicolli taking the win while Mason Bumba and Dawson Holt took to the stage for 14-17 Boys Weapons Overall. Bumba took the win with an incredible bo form, exhibiting some spectacular new skills. Haley Glass did a victory lap for 14-17 Girls Weapons Overalls, taking the win and setting the stage for the Men’s Sparring Semifinals with Oscar Coca beating out Jack Felton and Richard Avery Plowden decisively took the win over Christopher Robinson, setting the bracket for the finals later in the evening.
Team Proper faced off against Team All Stars in Team Fights. At the end of round 1, Team Proper was up 5-1. But Felton returned to the stage in round 2 and ended his match with an impressively definitive lead, putting Team All Stars at 11-5 against Team Proper. The spread remained pretty consistent all through round 3 with Team All Stars taking the win with 15-7 over Team Proper.
Next up was the Women’s Sparring Final. It was KTOC’s Kulia Meja versus IMPEX’s Morgan Plowden. Plowden took the win, securing another Warrior Cup with a big smile.
The Men’s Sparring Final was Richard Avery Plowden versus Oscar Coca. Despite an incredible cheering section for Oscar Coca, Plowden took the win 7-5, winning another Warrior Cup, and for the first time, winning one at the same time as his sister.
The Junior Weapons Finals was a fierce battle between Mason Bumba, Alex Miller, Isabella Nicolli, and Haley Glass. It was a close thing, but with a drop from Glass, Bumba was able to take the win with another electrifying performance.
Adult Weapons was a joy. There were some incredible competitors, including a returned Danny Etkin, an old favorite Edgar Cordova, and crowd favorites Rashad Eugene and Julia Plawker along with Jackson Rudolph and Rosario Succarotte. Everyone put on a great performance. Etkin took the stage with an intensity the was breathtaking to watch, while Sucarotte gave a beautiful and complicated performance that ended up netting him two tens! However, despite the incredible competition, Rudolph was the one able to win the Warrior Cup in this truly stacked division.
Keeping the energy high and the performances of spectacular quality, Adult Women’s Overall Grands was a powerhouse of incredible competitors. Gabrielle Dunn, Jewlianna Ortiz, Rose Rheaume, Noelle Jellison, and Mary Amato took to the stage with serious power and skill. Showcasing everything from traditional to extreme, it was a phenomenal division. Mary Amato took the win, securing her place in the Warrior Cup Finals.
Adrenaline Trick Battle was next, exploding onto the stage with their customary energy and hype. With judges and competitors alike all being talented trickers, it was a treat to see some of the best around battle it out. Composed of trickers and competitors who had been on the stage that night, and the winners of the Adrenaline trick eliminations on Saturday evening it was a lot of fun, a lot of energy, and a whole lot of gravity-defying skills.
The 13 & Under Boy’s Forms Overall Grands between Alex Miller and Matthew Grutia was a classic demonstration of Traditional versus Extreme. Grutia took the win with his traditional while Isabella Nicolli took the 13 & Under Girls Overall Grands and, Caio DaSilva beat out Dawson Holt in a powerful performance for the 14-17 Boys Overall Grands while Haley Glass took the 14-17 Girls Overall Grands.
Team Sync Forms versus Team Sync Weapons highlighted Competitive Edge’s Esteban Tremblay and Ben Jones working their extreme bo versus Team Infinity’s Connor Chasteen and Diego Rodriguez-Florez with their traditional empty hand. Both teams put on a rock-solid performance, but Team Infinity took the win with a powerful performance.
Team Infinity came right back on stage as winners of the Demo Team Division, showcasing their award-winning performance and energizing the crowd with their customary fire, creativity, and rock-solid choreography.
The Junior Forms Warrior Cup Final was a battle between Haley Glass, Caio DaSilva, Matthew Grutia, and Isabella Nicolli. Each competitor had been on stage previously and proven their prowess but now it was all on the line for the Warrior Cup. Each put on an incredible performance, but DaSilva took the division, defending his title from last year and taking home another Warrior Cup.
Wrapping up the evening was the Adult Forms Warrior Cup Final. And it was stacked in a way that boggled the mind. Rosario Sucarotte, Joey Castro, Mary Amato, Ryker Weaver, Aiden Constadine and Danny Etkin all took to the stage and gave phenomenal performances. In the end, Danny Etkin took the Warrior Cup with his energy and absolute power.
Each year the Warrior Cup sets the bar both for competitors and promoters. This year was no exception. The competitors brought a whole new level of talent to the mats and, despite the challenges provided by a new venue, John Sharkey and Hunter Lyon delivered a high quality, incredibly competitive, and friendly event with a touch of class we all enjoy. With the 2020 AKA Warrior Cup as the benchmark, the rest of this NASKA season is set to be one of the best yet.