coverage of Gator Nationals 2011

Kevin Walker and Alexandra Estevez walked away with trophies for their on-stage sparring wins at the Gator Nationals

Starting on Friday the 13th did not bring any bad luck to the 2011 Gator Nationals.  The Friday evening events went off without a hitch and the eliminations on May 14, 2011 included some historic fighting match-ups and inspirational performances in forms and weapons.  It was a like a return to the early 90s in fighting in the 40-49 men’s heavyweight point sparring division.  About 10 people showed up to compete and it was quite the name-dropping event.  Jeff Gears, Steve Babcock, Chris Rappold, Ray Bryant and Marcel Lazenby were all in the line-up.  Babcock, Rappold, Byrant and Lazenby ended in the final four.  Lazenby threw in old-school maneuvers by demanding Babcock’s spot on the floor before the bow-in and grabbing the uniform pant-leg to follow up with a hand technique.  The fight was extremely close with Babcock edging out Lazenby with a 5-4 score.  The Rappold versus Bryant fight was close as well with action throughout.  In the end, Rappold surpassed Bryant by one point.  To conclude the division, Rappold bowed out to Babcock for the final match as this historic final four came to an end.

The other “fight” that has made not only the Gators exciting but many other events in 2011 is the forms and weapons battle between Matt Emig and Marc Canonizado.  Even though Emig and Canonizado are on the same team, neither will bow out to the other as both try to best the other in all their performances.  In creative forms, Canonizado was the winner bringing his wins for the event to two to match teammates Emig and Csoka.  The fearsome threesome are expected to continue to up their performances throughout the year.

In adult sparring, Sue Brazelton showed up to compete in the 40 and over women’s competition and then fought all the way to stage where she will face Chelsey Nash for the finals in women’s point sparring.  Brazelton only shows up to compete at events that are local to her in Florida and tends to show up in the finals often.  Jamie Cravens of Team NK ended Steve Babcock’s charge into the finals but Cravens was unable to get past Peter Chartouni to make it to stage.  Ross Levine and Joe Fife fought for the other spot on stage and it was Levine with a 7-4 win after a fast fight where Fife showed true grit.

In the kids’ divisions, Carson Crawford won 12-13 traditional weapons for the first time and also won the 13 & under boys traditional weapons grand championship to make it to the finals.  Austin Crain was looking like he would sweep the 14-17 boys extreme weapons grand championships but he dropped his kama allowing Vincent Scarduzio to take the title.  Speaking of dropping, little Danny Etkin may not weigh much but when his chuck goes flying, people start to duck.  Etkin, along with most of the competition in the 13 & under boys extreme/musical/creative weapons, dropped his weapon and Jackson Rudolph won.  Dallas Liu won a grand championship title for the first time and will go to stage.

The Gator Nationals finals opened strong with youth weapons competition.  Carson Crawford made his debut on stage in traditional weapons alongside the traditional bo of Amanda Chen.  The evening would go to the musical extreme performance of Jackson Rudolph who continues to dominate with his bo.  Sammy Smith and her nunchucks gave Rudolph a run for his money but Rudolph was too much to overcome.  In the 14-17 youth weapons competition, Vincent Scarduzio was inspirational with his bo and Stephanie Figueroa showed her traditional sword consistency.  In the end, the intricate kamas of Micayla Johnson took the title.

More weapons on stage as the women’s competition began.  Rivals and friends Becca Ross coverage of the 2011 Gator Nationals

Caitlin Dechelle won in the women's weapons division at the 2011 Gator Nationals.

and Caitlin Dechelle worked the stage with their bo and sword respectively.  Aspiring actress and stuntwoman Dechelle was awarded the honors this evening.

The kids were back with the youth forms competition.  It opened with little Dallas Liu – a 1-2 Watch selection by – with his first time on stage with his musical extreme performance.  He was followed by the ever-reliable Sammy Smith and her musical extreme performance.  Danny Etkin raised the bar with his traditional performance to music that gave it a new twist.  Lady Jade Miles continues to amaze as she makes huge strides in the quality of her performances with her traditional kata.  In fact, her performance was so good that she won the grand championship title!

In the 14-17 youth forms competition, Brendan Raszinski opened the competition with a strong traditional performance that set the tone for the competition.  He was followed by the traditional performance of Dayna Huor of Team Paul Mitchell.   The stage floor was only a landing pad for Vincent Scarduzio and Mackenzie Emory with their musical extreme performances.  However, Emory had some trouble landing some tricks which took her out of the running for the title.  Scarduzio’s second time on stage was the trick as he was awarded the win by the judges.

Men’s traditional weapons was a soft style versus extreme versus hard style competition.  Mickey Lee opened the competition with his trademark yellow gi and soft-style straight sword performance.  As Matt Emig got the crowd cheering and ooh-ing, he dropped a chuck to remove himself from contention.  Kalman Csoka of Georgia was the final competitor with his double sword routine.  Csoka’s routine was mesmerizing and amazing as he executed flawless releases for a near-perfect performances.  The judges were unanimous in choosing Csoka.

In order to recognize the youth fighters, the Gator Nationals put youth fighters on stage for some final fights in divisions.  First, in the 14-15 girls point sparring division, Alexandra Estevez of Team Full Circle faced Ashley Dahlquist of Straight Up.  The fast kicks of Dahlquist could not overcome Estevez’s timing and Estevez ended ahead 3-2 despite a last minute score by Dahlquist.  For the 16-17 boys finals, Kevin Walker and Austin Cowan fought for the title of overall fighter as the tall and short divisional winners fought.  Walker got off to a great lead with a 5-0 score in the first minute.  Walker continued on his scoring drive and ended the match with an 8-0 win and the bragging rights.

Vincent Scarduzio and Jessica Goldman are determined to win in the synchronized pairs form division.  They debuted at the Quebec Open with a strong and much talked-about performance.  They fell to Team Paul Mitchell’s Caitlin Dechelle and Marc Canonizado.  Gator Nationals was their second chance to make a challenge.  It would be Paul Mitchell with the win again but Scarduzio and Goldman are edging closer.

Women’s Superfight sparring assured diversity in the finals.  Felicia Marcial, now an adult, faced Nicole Pelland in the semi-final round.  Pelland won 3-1 to advance to face Teri Jacoby in the finals.  This was followed by men’s team sparring with Straight Up facing Team Full Circle.  Cody Nascene of Straight Up, broken nose and all, faced Tico Vilda in round one.  Vilda opened up his scoring drive with four unanswered points in the first minute showing his ability using both hands and feet to score.  In the end, Vilda started Full Circle out with a 5-0 win.

Nathan Thorn was next for Straight Up and he faced the multi-faceted Damian Rodriguez.    Thorn brought the experience but the younger Rodriguez was no stranger to the ring either, having competed since around the time he could walk.  Rodriguez used the ring to hold on to his lead while Thorn had to go on the chase to get points for his team.  Thorn’s need for points made him vulnerable and Rodriguez scored 4 points and gave up one point for going out of bounds.  Full Circle was ahead 9-1 when Straight Up sent out Joe Fife to face Ross Levine.  The two had fought earlier in the day with Levine coming out the winner and this time, Fife was at a severe disadvantage because he had to go on the attack against the larger Levine in order to score for his team.  Fife started a scoring drive at the end, scoring 4 points in kicks but it was not enough as Levine held onto the lead and the match ended with Full Circle having 12 points and Straight Up with 6.

Persistence really does pay off and Giselle Segura is evidence of this as she has been on stage the last two NASKA world events with her traditional form for the women’s form grand championships.  She’s been at tournaments for quite some time and is now being recognized with on-stage performances.  She faced Becca Ross’ Koreanperformance, Audrie Donihoo’s traditional routine and Caitlin Dechelle’s musical extreme form.  Dechelle, once again. was crowned the victor for her second title of the evening.  She continues to reign supreme in the women’s divisions.

The finals for women’s point sparring evidenced a huge generational gap as Chelsey Nash, in her second year as an adult, faced Sue Brazelton, the 40 and over divisional winner.  Brazelton, a native of Florida, is usually only sited at events local to her but when she shows, she is a real threat to all the national competitors despite her age.  Nash ended up the winner with a 3-1 score with Brazelton keeping it competitive.

Ross Levine anchored the winning men’s team earlier in the evening and was back on stage to compete for the overall men’s sparring grand championship.  Team Gypsy’s Peter Chartouni was the challenger.  Levine opened with 3 fast points.  He continued to blast Chartouni with a back knuckle reverse punch combination that worked over and over.  Down by 8 points, Chartouni had to go on the chase which is exactly where Levine wanted him.  The match ended with Levine taking the title.

Men’s overall forms and the final Superfights were the remaining events on the schedule.  Matt Emig opened the men’s form competition with a vengenance as he was determined to walk away with at least one grand championship title after his disappointing drop in weapons earlier.  A face from the past was back as Florida’s Jeremiah Miller took the stage after his win in the men’s Japanese division.  Miller had competed extensively as a youth and has been absent from the national scene for a few years.  He showed that he is still training hard with a strong performance on stage.  Marc Canonizado was the third competitor and he moved across the stage with ease performing his musical extreme routine.  Mickey Lee was back again with his soft style open hand performance accompanied by music.  Mickey Lee was awarded one perfect 10 but it was not enough to overcome the scores of Marc Canonizado as Canonizado took home the cash and prize.

The final event of the evening was the finals for the adult Superfights.  The women were up first as Teri Jacoby faced Nichole Pelland for the title.  Jacoby has not been competing on the national level for the past year while Pelland has also taken some time off for school.  Pelland scored first and then kept on scoring as the match ended with a 4-0 score with Pelland taking home the Superfights title for the evening.

Justin Ortiz and Chad Cannon were the last fight of the night as they worked for the men’s Superfight title.  Ortiz had fought brilliantly during the Friday night eliminations but on stage, Cannon dominated the first three-quarters of the fight.  Ortiz finally got on the board with a 2-point head kick that Cannon quickly whittled away with two points from hand techniques of his own.  Cannon ended the fight ahead 6-2 with his first Gator Nationals Superfights title.

The Gator Nationals lived up to its reputation as a laid-back and stress free tournament in a fantastic vacation destination.  This year the Gator Nationals grew in size but still maintained its fun atmosphere making it again, one of the best-kept secrets of the NASKA world circuit.  It is inevitable that the event will eventually be inundated with competitors looking for a great event in a great location but promoter Charlie Lane has promised to make sure that the well-organized and relaxed atmosphere will continue no matter how large the event grows.  We’re pretty certain he means it and will work hard to keep his promise!