Jarrett Leiker (2d to R) wins the men’s forms grand championships after a tough battle with Sen Gao, Steven So and Will Coneys.
The Ocean State Grand Nationals is one of the top martial arts events on the East Coast. This NASKA 5A World Tour event is also a KRANE 5A+ rated event and it draws competitors from all around the world. Hosted by Team Paul Mitchell head coach Don Rodrigues and his legendary wife Christine Bannon-Rodrigues, the event boasted some incredibly exciting fight match-ups along with top performances from competitors. Held April 12-14, 2013 in Warwick, Rhode Island, this year’s Ocean State Grand Nationals offered great competition.
Men’s teams was not about quantity but about quality. Although there were only four teams, they were powerful teams. Team Alliance debuted at the AKA Grand Nationals. The team is coached by Mike Conroy and features many of his former Team Full Circle members. Alliance had a tough match-up against Paul Mitchell’s first team. Alliance started off strong as Jason Grenier took an early 7-4 lead over László Gömbös, but Cass Sigmon was able to dominate his match up and swing the momentum to the JPM side with a 10 point victory. JPM fighter Zsolt Mórádi was able to hold off Hamed Firouzi to clinch the victory for Paul Mitchell.
The other semi-final match up featured the red-hot Team Next Level from New York and the second Paul Mitchell team. JPM rookie Justin Ortiz made quick work of Paris Wilson with an 8-1 start. Kodaq Wray was able to take two point back for Next Level in a close match up against DeAndre Walker. Anthony Merricks fresh off his grand championship win at the Amerikick Internationals gave it his best shot at brining his team back but seasoned fighter Greg Betlach was able to hold it down for Paul Mitchell to put both team Paul Mitchell teams into the finals circle. Ultimately, Team Paul Mitchell decided to play nice and have the team of Ortiz, Walker, and Betlach bow out to Gömbös, Sigmon, and Mórádi.
On the forms and weapons side several new adult competitors took the next step and were able to take home divisional wins. Steven So was the big surprise in the men’s CMX divisions with a couple of division wins. This year several females moved up to the adult division and now the divisions are stacked with talent. Micayla Johnson and Stephannie Figueroa both took home first place finishes in weapons and forms competition.
In the junior divisions the talented Presley boys have been making a huge impact this year. Cole, Reid, and Jake all won their respective traditional form divisions! They are sure making Mom and Dad proud.
Chelsey Nash is the female fighter to beat right now and she had a tough match-up against Chiara Dituri in a heated battle. This was one of the most intense female fights in years and both women wanted to make a statement. Nash made it clear she is still the one to beat as she advanced to the finals to match up with Robyn LeBuffe for the fighting grands.
Top men’s fighter Ross Levine was in attendance but after catching a Raymond Daniels’ elbow to his face at the Canadian Open a few weeks earlier, he was unable to fight at the event. Levine decided to dust off his bo and make a return to weapons competition. Levine had the crowd going wild and the judges loved his performance and awarded him the creative weapons divisional win.
The Ocean State Grand Nationals has always taken pride in finishing saturday eliminations quickly so competitors and spectators have plenty of time to rest before the finals. 2013 was no exception. Everyone had several hours to relax and catch up with friends before the highly anticipated finals.
Everyone’s favorite polar bear and DJ, Joey Greenhalgh had the energy at a high level when the doors opened. The night show started with a performance by demo team champions Karate Sport Action from Canada. KSA has been one of the most consistent teams in the division over the last year.
Next up, the 13 and under division for grand championships consisted of Sage Sweeney and Alex Vecchio’s traditional forms as well as the CMX forms of Isabella Caracta and Dallas Liu. Vecchio was looking solid but had a stumble to take him out of the running. Sweeney was solid and strong and Isabella has been making huge strides and we keep seeing awesome performances. However, little phenom Dallas Liu was unstoppable and got the nod from the judges.
14-17 forms grands was super competitive and Team Emig’s Tyler Weaver and Mackensi Emory were flying all over the stage and had the crowd going crazy. The traditionalists Gigi Valdivia and Cole Eckert had extremely strong showings. Tyler Weaver continued his dominance of this year and took home the trophy plus a goodie bag of Paul Mitchell products to assure that his hair would continue to look amazing.
Our friends from Hyper hosted contests and seminars throughout the whole weekend as well as sponsoring a team trick battle. The finals for the team trick battle ended up with another match up of Team Emig’s Mackensi Emory, Danny Etkin and Aidan Considine against Team “Sensei’s Stach”’s Cody Sanders, Justin Okubo and Keenan Carr. Team Emig took home the $250 prize again.
Micayla Johnson was killing her form but lost control of her kama, Jenny Espina also lost control of her weapon leaving Kimberly Ross’ double broadsword form and Stephannie Figueroa’s sword form to decide the women’s weapons championship. Figueroa showed she can definitely step up to the next level and won her first overall adult grand championship.
The men’s weapons division was loaded with Geo Leon, Steven So, Kyle Montagna, Sen Gao, and Ross Levine. Levine decided to up the ante throwing a lot more difficult moves then we saw in his first appearance and unfortunately dropped his bo making the judges decision a little easier. Sen Gao also was disqualified after his weapon snapped in half. There was only a small margin between Leon, So, and Montagna. The judges decided in the end that Kyle Montagna would take the W for Team Paul Mitchell.
We have seen Robyn LeBuffe from Florida make a few appearances on stage already this season and this would be her toughest match as she took on Paul Mitchell’s Chelsey Nash. LeBuffe was trying to put pressure on Nash with her kicks but Nash was able to use her experience to dodge and score on several blitzes and even get a quick kick of her own in to easily take home yet another title.
Aidian Considine was able to stand out in the 13 and under weapons grand championships with crazy bo tricks and flips meshed with fantastic basics. The older kids weapons grands was a tough match up as Amanda Chen, Tyler Weaver, Sammy Smith, and Reid Presley made the judges decision a tough one and Presley’s insane bo speed and solid stances was awarded the title.
Tyler Weaver and Mackensi Emory put on a fantastic demo next as winners of the synchronized team division. It is amazing how great the two teenagers timing is. In women’s team sparring, Team Paul Mitchell continued its fighting dominance as Nicole Pelland and Chelsey Nash paired up to take the victory over Team Alliance. And then it was on to the men’s fighting…
The first of the men’s fighting semi-finals match was a rematch of the Diamond Nationals overall final fight. Kodaq Wray wanted to prove that his victory over Zsolt Mórádi was no fluke. Mórádi was looking for revenge and was able to get it to advance to the final fight. On the other side of the bracket, former teammates Cass Sigmon and Hamed Firouzi matched up to see who would have the chance to win $1,000 against Mórádi. Sigmon and Firouzi went back and fourth in an extremely good match. Firouzi snuck in a last second punch at the buzzer for the victory.
In women’s forms, Stephannie Figueroa and Micayla Johnson both showed they really wanted to take home the prize money and had great performances. However, Becca Ross was not going to let that happen and performed one of the best traditional forms she has done to date for the victory.
Steven So made another appearance on stage for men’s forms grands and crushed his form. DMV tricker Will Coneys was tricking all over the place and the crowd loved it. Sen Gao’s soft style performances have been a crowd favorite over the first half of the year, and Jarrett Leiker performed a flawless traditional form. It was the closest division of the whole weekend but Leiker definitely earned the victory and the $1,000 prize money.
The final event of the evening pitted Team Alliance’s Hamed Firouzi from Minnesota against Team JPM ‘s Zsolt Mórádi of Hungary. The match was filled with fast and hard hitting action. Firouzi was as aggressive as we have ever seen him trying to throw Mórádi off of his game but Mórádi was able to get a couple more points in to take home another win for Paul Mitchell.
The event closed out with the winners coveting their new awards as they smiled for snapshots with family and friends. WIth only the Quebec Open remaining to close out the first third of the NASKA 2013 NASKA, it is shaping up to be quite the competitive year on the circuit.