Ross Levine wins 7th Warrior Cup

Ross Levine wins a record-setting seventh Warrior Cup at the 2013 AKA Grand Nationals.

The 2013 NASKA season started with a huge turn-out in the windy city February 1-2, 2013 with the AKA Grand Nationals in Chicago, Illinois. With eleven teams in men’s team sparring, junior fighting teams and large women’s fighting divisions, the tournament that normally is considered a “forms and weapons” event, was a great battleground for fighters. The event also provided a glimpse into the direction of women’s forms and weapons for 2013 with a number of juniors moving up and flooding the women’s divisions which have been rather empty the past few years. The AKA Grand Nationals also boasted appearances by the famous and infamous. Leo Howard of Disney XD’s Kickin’ It and Craig Henningsen – a former competitor and now actor – were on hand and conducting interviews at the finals. had a mini-reunion as the original J-E-F-F – Jeff LaFrance, showed up to say hello.

The line-up for men’s teams told the story of the changes to come in 2013. After a great seven year run, Team Full Circle disbanded at the end of 2012 with sponsor Tom Kelly finally calling it quits. Mr. Kelly had personally sponsored the team and his support did great things for a lot of fighters. He and his great heart will be missed. Full Circle’s coach Mike Conroy has coached many teams in his sport karate history and somehow always manages to find a new team and new sponsorship source for his loyal fighters. He was back at AKA Grand Nationals with his new Team Alliance that consisted of Hamed Firouzi, Jason Grenier, Tico Vilda and Sam Gagnon.

Last year’s mens team champions were at the event – in part. Avery Plowden and Troy Binns were back fighting for Team Impex with 2012 Warrior Cup fighting champion Ross Levine as their third fighter. Plowden and Binns had represented Team Victory in 2012 and had won the men’s team sparring title in a crowd of 11 teams. There were 11 teams again in 2013 but this year, even with the addition of Levine, Plowden and Binns could not bring home a win. Team Impex eliminated Team Alliance in a semi-final match setting up the final fights. Despite Impex’s efforts, it was the tough-as-nails fighters from Texas’ Team Gipsy who narrowly toppled Impex with a 3 point victory. Chance Turner, Chad Cannon and Vito Rodriguez trained hard for this opportunity in the winner’s circle and fought incredibly well.

Another team was in the spotlight at the AKA Grand Nationals as Matt Emig debuted his new Team Emig line-up. Danny Etkin, Aidan Considine, Mackensi Emory and Tyler Weaver were all proudly sporting their new Team Emig wear. The four of them combined won 13 first places in the Friday night weapons and forms competition. 2013 looks like it will be a good year for this group. Even with only four members, they stand to bring home a high percentage of wins in their respective divisions.

Last year the talk was all about Micah Karns’ move up to the adult divisions and his Warrior Cup win at the 2012 AKA Grands. This year, the big moves came in the women’s forms and weapons divisions as a number of key juniors moved up. Stephanie Figueroa, Jessica Goldman, Samantha Suddeth and Micayla Johnson all lined up in the women’s divisions turning what previously were divisions with only 2 or 3 competitors to packed and highly competitive. Add in the incumbents – Caitlin Dechelle, Becca Ross and Jennifer Espina – and the game is now ON! Micayla Johnson threw down the gauntlet at AKAs with a win over Dechelle and Espina in women’s overall weapons grands. Dechelle didn’t go home without anything, however, as she took home the women’s forms grand championships.

The forms and weapons performances were exciting but surprisingly, the adult fighting divisions on Saturday were also full of fun and drama. Justin Ortiz showed up in a Team Paul Mitchell uniform – showing where some of the former Team Paul Mitchell competitors will end up. Cass Sigmon is also expected to be wearing a Team Paul Mitchell uniform where ever he appears next. Donald Brady made the trip from Minneapolis and won his 30 and over division. However, Brady couldn’t make it past Kodaq Wray who defeated him in the 30 & over grands run offs. Wray’s win took him to the stage for a chance to repeat his success at the 2012 Diamond Nationals where he had just won the overall grands. He would be joined by Ross Levine, Avery Plowden and Hamed Firouzi, the heavy, middle and lightweight daytime champions respectively.

In the women’s fighting divisions, Verona Soliman defeated Morgan Plowden in women’s run offs to advance to the stage. Soliman’s opponent was new adult competitor Raelyn Perkins of Florida. In their journey to the stage, Soliman defeated Nicole Pelland in a divisional match and Perkins defeated Robyn Lebuffe in her division.

The Team Emig kids managed a 25% success rate in the NASKA overall grands competition with one out of four – namely Tyler Weaver – going all the way for an overall win in 14-17 forms grands. Little Dallas Liu was able to dominate the 13 & under grand championships with double wins in 13 & under weapons and 13 & under forms. Jackson Rudolph turned 15 over the weekend, introduced a new bo routine AND won the overall 14-17 grands on the stage Saturday night. The night got even better for Weaver and Rudolph as both won Warrior Cups for youth forms and weapons. It was the second Warrior Cup win in two years for Rudolph and nice birthday gift to himself.

The great fighting turn out was whittled down to four men and two women for the finals. Verona Soliman faced the long and thin Raelynn Perkins in the fighting finals for the women’s title. Perkins was able to get at least one kick in but Soliman kept her cool and accumulated points to win 6-2. Watch for both of these women to appear on stage throughout 2013 to keep the women’s fighting divisions exciting.

Hamed Firouzi stopped Kodaq Wray from another grand championship title in the first men’s sparring semi-final with a 6-2 score. Wray couldn’t get anything started and Firouzi was on his game. In the second semi-final match teammates Ross Levine and Avery Plowden faced off with Avery’s dad and team coach Richard Plowden watching from the sidelines. Levine opened with the 1st point and didn’t look back as he advanced. In the men’s final between Levine and Firouzi, Levine was down 3-2 after the first minute and a half and then started to push forward on Firouzi. Levine was able to score 3 unanswered points to win 5-3 and get his record setting seventh Warrior Cup. After his win, in a gesture of support for women’s fighting, Levine gave his Warrior Cup to the women’s champion, Soliman saying “I want there to be equal treatment in our sport. Women deserve the same respect as men in this sport.”

Team Infinity has been steadily creating a dominate demo team led by coach and instructor Mike Welch. In the synchronized teams competition, Jae and Sage Sweeny of Team BringIt shocked Team Infinity’s Mike Welch and Tyler Shaub with a win with their blindfolded traditional routine. However, Team Infinity still brought some trophies home to Chicago with a title and the win in the demo team competition, defeating Team Sport Action of Montreal, Canada.

The adult weapons Warrior Cup was a smorgasbord of competitors with Micayla Johnson as the sole female representative. Johnson put on a great performance as did Kyle Montagna of Team Paul Mitchell. However, both were surprised as Sen Gao of Illinois was declared champion with his soft style performance.

It was extreme against traditional in the adult forms Warrior Cup championship with Micah Karns and Jarrett Leiker. Karns’ extreme performance earned a number of 10s as did Leiker’s traditional routine. In the end, Karns was declared the winner for his second adult Warrior Cup in 2 years and his fourth Warrior Cup overall.

The AKA Grand Nationals was the prelude to an exciting competition year in 2013. With the ┬áinflux of new adult competitors, this year could be anyone’s game.