The 2014 Diamond Nationals once again demonstrated the beauty and athleticism of sport karate within a well-organized event. The event offered something for all levels of martial arts competitor – from first-timer divisions to top competitor Super Fights. With at the event, participants were able to meet top competitors and get autographs and photos as well. The Diamond Nationals brings sport martial arts competition to the midwest with the event held in Minneapolis, Minnesota the weekend of October 10-11, 2014. Despite all the fun at the event, the top competitors come seeking one thing – the coveted diamond rings given to the overall grand champion winners.

Friday night was the eliminations for the Super Fights, team sparring competition and the extreme and musical forms and weapons competition for the professional black belts. With two Super Fight weight categories, there were plenty of competitors squaring off to see who would be in the night time finals. When the dust settled, the lightweight finalists came down to the 2013 defending champion – Jack Felton and possibly the top lightweight out there now – Justin Ortiz. For the heavyweights, 5-time defending champion Raymond Daniels was in the mix and he made it through the rounds. His challenger – the 2013 winner Trevor Nash.

In men’s team sparring, Jack Felton, Raymond Daniels and Trevor Nash banded together with their teammates to take on all challengers, including Team Paul Mitchell. Paul Mitchell was sporting Justin Ortiz, Hungarians Zsolt Moradi and Laszlo Gombos and new member Kameren Dawson. The final battle was as expected with All Stars facing Paul Mitchell. All Stars threw everyone for a loop and had Daniels fight first. He matched up against Gombos with the match ending with Daniels up 3-2. In round two, Moradi of Hungary matched up with Nash of Canada for a kick-fest as two long legged kickers went the distance. The round was incredibly close and ended with the teams tied 7-7. In the final round, Felton faced off against Ortiz in a pre-cursor to the Super Fight finals. Felton left nothing to chance and held Ortiz to one point in comparison to his 5. The end result was a win for Team All Stars.

Women’s sparring was an exciting debut for new adult Canadian Rachael Young in the superlight sparring division. Young defeated local top competitor Ashley Christensen in an early match and faced new Paul Mitchell member Gina Thornton for the divisional win. In the Young/Thornton match, the two went into overtime as Thorton was surprised by Young’s footwork and speed. Thornton managed to eek out the win but watch for Young as a true contender in women’s fighting. Thornton had one more obstacle in front of her before getting to the finals – Robyn Lebuffe of Florida who won the lightweight division. Lebuffe was able to fend off Thornton to move to the finals. In the middleweight divisions, Nicole Pelland defeated Jessica Sands and the stage was set for the women’s grands.

The men’s divisions were stacked with talent both local and from afar. In the men’s executive divisions, Nathan Thorn flew back from an event in Ireland to fight through and win the 30 and over men’s sparring grand championship title. Fighters that we have not seen in awhile also jumped into the mix. Larry Tankson, Sr suited up and fought in the 50 & over divisions. In the end it was Gerald Dawson with the 40 & over fighting grand championship. Alex Lane jumped into the mix in the welter weight division as well after a long absence. In the end, Justin Ortiz, Jack Felton, Raymond Daniels and Zsolt Moradi were the final four standing for the men’s sparring grands. The fighters fought down to the final two which were Raymond Daniels who defeated Zsolt Moradi, and Jack Felton who defeated Justin Ortiz.

The Diamond Nationals finals is the highlight of the event with a packed and enthusiastic audience. With thousands of people in attendance, the competitors were high energy and ready to perform. Opening the event this year was a fun demo by Team Amerikick that ended with a battle between Thor (Stephen Grasz) and Captain America (Reid Presley). We’re not sure who won but it was still fantastic and made our reporter Mallory Woods’ night!

The event started with the fighting rounds early as the women’s sparring grand championships took the stage. The grand championship matches are two rounds and the fighters needed to be physically ready for the challenge. After the first round, Lebuffe and Pelland were tied. The second round opened with Lebuffe landing a nice kick to Pelland’s head and Lebuffe moved ahead. Pelland mounted a last minute comeback but it was not enough as Lebuffe took the grand championship title and her first diamond ring.

In the men’s superfights, Jack Felton faced Justin Ortiz for the third time at the event. This time, the rules were different as it was for Super Fights. The match opened with Ortiz on the board first. Felton tied it up with a punch and then went on a scoring spree which ended with Felton up 6-1 at the buzzer to take his third Superfight title. Next, the heavyweights were on the stage. Raymond Daniels faced teammate Trevor Nash. Although the men were respectful to one another, they did not pull any punches as they blasted each other with kicks and blows throughout the match. The two started out tied at the beginning but Daniels slowly moved into the lead and held it to take the Super Fight title for Diamond Nationals.

The team forms and weapons competition was entertaining. Reid and Cole Presley continue to amaze with their double (and sometimes triple) bo routine. They were able to win the synchronized title. In Team Demo, it was all about Wisconsin’s Team Infinity as the number one team in the world took top honors at the Diamond Nationals.

The executives in forms and weapons usually perform during the eliminations but tonight, Diamond Nationals put their grand championships on stage – and for good reason. The event opened with Missouri’s Terry Creamer – a pioneer of the sport – and his traditional tonfa to music! Next, hometown heroine Catherine Miller was on stage with her open hand form – she looked great with high kicks and perfect stances. The final competitor is someone well-known in sport karate – Mike Welch – who has been competing since he was a junior is now an executive. But regardless of his age, he was still able to perform better than a lot of the juniors with acrobatic tricks, great stances and lots of energy. It was Welch who got the win and took home the title and diamond ring for the night.

The kids divisions are always fun as you get to see the future of the sport and be amazed at the talent displayed by such young competitors. Kieran Tamondong of California has been winning all over the place in 2014 and the Diamond Nationals was no exception. His traditional routine was the winner for the 13 & under forms grand championship. Another Californian, Jacob Pinto, shone through in the 14-17 forms category. His extreme routine gets better every time.

It was all about that bo in kids weapons competition. Jake Presley had a minor mistake in his bo routine but he was still so awesome that he took the 13 & under weapons grand championship title. In the 14-17 competition, Jackson Rudolph continues to excel and he won the grand championship title with his bo, defending his win from 2013.

It has been a banner year for Caitlin Dechelle. She has won a grand championship title at every event she has competed in during 2014. Add to this, her stunt and movie career is taking off in Hollywood. At the 2014 Diamond Nationals, she added to her diamond ring count with grand championship wins in women’s weapons and women’s forms to give her a total of 8 diamond rings. This ties her for the most rings ever won!

In the men’s divisions, it has been a great first year as adults for Reid Presley and Tyler Weaver. The two have been going head-to-head in weapons and forms all year and continue to push each other. In men’s weapons, Reid Presley’s double bo routine garnered two perfect 10s as he added some new crazy maneuvers to his routine that got the crowd pumped up. Tyler Weaver has some new tricks as well but Presley was able to get the win for weapons. However, Weaver was not done as he was back for men’s forms. This time, he received a perfect 10 and the win for his first adult diamond ring.

For the men, Jack Felton and Raymond Daniels are friend but they are also rivals in the ring. The smaller and younger Felton has been in the shadow of Daniels’ more gregarious personality for years. When the two face each other in the ring, it is clear that Felton seriously wants to beat Daniels and Daniels has to watch out as Felton has beat him in the past. Tonight was no exception as Felton was determined to defeat Daniels for the men’s sparring grand championship title. Felton fought smart and was able to counter the size and speed of Daniels. At the end of round one, Felton was up 7-4. In the second round, Daniels stepped it up a bit to counter Felton’s strategy. The two found themselves tied at the buzzer and an overtime was forced. The two exchanged blows and in the end, it was Daniels with the point to take the grand championship win for the evening to win his 6th diamond ring and prevent Felton from winning his first.

The Diamond Nationals provided great entertainment and a chance to see amazing performances from athletes at the top of their game and performing at their best.