The ISKA US Open World Martial Arts Championships is not just a tournament – it is an experience and in 2014, it was an experience that made history. The event was packed with talent as nearly all of the top competitors in the world traveled to Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Florida to go head-to-head for World Championship titles the weekend of July 11-12, 2014.
The Friday and Saturday daytime eliminations were full of the jostle and bustle of thousands of under belt, amateur and professional level competitors looking for divisional titles. Defending champions Caitlin Dechelle, Jackson Rudolph and Sen Gao worked their way through the eliminations in forms and weapons with their eye on a spot in the Night of Champions and another chance for live TV and an overall World Title.
In fighting, the best-of-the-best first battled in team sparring. For the women, the duo of Chelsey Nash and Claire Cocozza (Cocozza is defending women’s sparring champion) were surprised by their defeat at the hands and feet of Team Impex’s Morgan Plowden and Verona Soliman. However, the tough fighters from Hungary, Anna Kodar and Henrietta Nagy, eliminated Impex and went on to face Americans RaeLynn Perkins and Marissa Mayer for the championships. It was a close and heavy hitting match with the Americans coming out the champions for the 2014 World Title.
Men’s team fighting was a nail biter with top teams from around the world going head-to-head. This was the first time that the top four teams in the world would be in the same ring to face each other. Team Impex of the USA fight was challenged by Team Kiraly of Hungary. The teams were tied after the first two rounds when Ross Levine of New York faced Richard Veres of Budapest in a repeat from the 2013 US Open World Championship men’s fighting match. The larger Levine was able to hold off Veres and Impex advanced.
But there were more obstacles in the way for Impex. In the opposing bracket, Team All Stars was looking very serious as the team, lead by superstar Raymond Daniels, eliminated Team Next Level. Impex faced Team Paul Mitchell’s mix of Hungary’s Zsolt Moradi and Laszlo Gombos combining with Florida’s Justin Ortiz. After the first two rounds, Paul Mitchell was up by 5 points and it was up to Impex’s Avery Plowden of Michigan to bring Impex back. Plowden’s effort was valiant but he could only get within two points and Paul Mitchell advanced to face Team All Stars.
In the final round, Paul Mitchell started strong with Ortiz defeating Canada’s Robbie Lavoie 4-1. Raymond Daniels brought All Stars back with his fight against against Moradi and the score was tied going into the final round where Jack Felton of California faced Gombos of Paul Mitchell. Felton left quite the impression with a strong 8-1 win over Gombos to give All Stars the 2014 Men’s Team Sparring World Title.
The individual fighting matches were beyond exciting as competitors put on amazing performances. For the women, Canada’s Chelsey Nash, representing Team All Stars, advanced to the overall championship match to face Hungary’s Anna Kodar, a 24-year-old police cadet. For the men, Richard Veres managed a repeat of his 2013 performance and advanced to the finals after a close fight with Jack Felton. It looked like Raymond Daniels would also be heading to the finals until he faced teammate Jamal Albani. Albini went to the wire with Daniels and came out ahead in overtime to advance to the Night of Champions.
The first hour of the 2014 Night of Champions was broadcast live on ESPN2 with the following two hours broadcast live online at ESPN3. During the three hours of broadcast, the crowd and home audience was treated to some amazing performances.
The littlest performers opened the evening with the pre-show. Kieran Tamondong and his clean traditional performance was the winner for the 13 & Under Overall Forms World Title. In the 13 & under girls weapons championships, Haley Glass of Florida, representing Team Infinity, defeated Jae Sweeny’s traditional sword routine for Glass’ first World Title. The 13 & Under boys weapons competition introduced the crowd to the littlest of the Presley boys – Jake. 10-year-old Jake had the crowd on its feet with his incredible bo routine as Presley won his first World Title on the Night of Champions stage.
The live ESPN2 show opened with the women’s Creative/Musical/Extreme (CMX) Weapons competition as defending champion Caitlin Dechelle faced Jennifer Espina. Espina opened and was looking strong but a dropped bo opened the door for Dechelle’s clean sword performance and the women’s CMX Weapons World Title for Dechelle, her first of the night.
But Dechelle was not done. She was back in the ESPN3 portion of the show in women’s traditional weapons and women’s forms. In traditional weapons, she faced Becca Ross of Team Amerikick. Again, it was Dechelle with the judge’s decision and a second World Title for the evening. In the women’s forms competition, it was Dechelle against Becca Ross again as Ross challenged Dechelle’s acrobatic performance with a traditional routine. Dechelle made history with a third World Championship Title at the 2014 US Open.
Weapons competition is some of the most exciting and risk taking as competitors must not only control their bodies but also manipulate a weapon without mistakes. The crowd was in awe at the performances of the boys in the 14-17 weapons competition. Jackson Rudolph, the defending champion, dazzled the crowd with his green hulk bo and unbelievable spins and throws. His challenger, Jacob Pinto, followed in the footsteps of World Champion Kalman Csoka with a double sword performance. Pinto’s skill with the swords and his outstanding acrobatic performance was declared the winner this evening as Pinto walked off with his first ISKA World Championship title.
The evening would be historic for Pinto, like Dechelle, as Pinto returned to the stage in the ESPN3 portion of the Night of Champions. This time Pinto faced Derek Meegan and Mackensi Emory in 14-17 forms. Pinto’s high flying tricks were the favorite of the judges as Pinto took an unprecedented second World Championship title.
Mackensi Emory did not go home empty-handed however. She faced Sammy Smith in the girls 14-17 weapons championship. Smith was the reigning girls’ champion based on her performance in prior events around the world. This would not be Smith’s night as she dropped a weapon in her performance and Emory was spot on. It was Emory who won her first ISKA World Title.
James Sang Lee is a Night of Champions’ institution in self-defense but he gave his ukes a rest in 2014 as he moved into an announcer position for the Night of Champions. This opened the door for some new self-defense competitors and in 2014, it was Katherine Brooker of Australia who took the honors. The ITF continuous sparring featured Hong Keat Looi and Adrian Moore with Looi fighting his way to the championship title.
Team competition is always a favorite with the audience and the teams at the 2014 US Open did not disappoint. Team Infinity of Wisconsin is led by Michael Welch, a competitor in his own right who has created one of the most dynamic demo teams in sport karate history. The performers range in age from young child to adult and they are precise and on-point. This skill led Team Infinity to its third demo team World Title in three years.
The 2013 challenge was repeated in the synchronized weapons competition as the Team AKA brothers – Cole and Reid Presley – faced Team Paul Mitchell’s Jackson Rudolph and Kyle Montagna. The Presley boys put on a show that the judges favored with their quadruple bo performance and it was a second World Title for the defending champions.
Derek Meegan was back and partnered with Jarrett Leiker for the synchronized team form challenge. Meegan and Leiker’s traditional performance faced Paul Mitchell’s Tyler Weaver Jr and Mackensi Emory. Weaver and Emory were the defending champions and have gone through a lot of changes since 2013. The first change is that Weaver moved from the junior divisions to the adult divisions. The second – both had been picked up by sport karate’s longest running and most prolific team – Team Paul Mitchell. The two earned their new status with a World Title in synchronized forms for the second year in a row.
For fighting, the 2014 US Open introduced Team CLASH Sparring in the finals. Team Paul Mitchell’s Zsolt Moradi and Laszlo Gombos faced Team All Stars’ Raymond Daniels and Jack Felton for the Team CLASH Sparring World Title. In the first match up, Gombos and Felton took to the stage with some quick moves and lots of action. Felton was straight on serious and determined to put on a show with Gombos using his legs to try and attack Felton to get the points. The crowd was primed after the Felton/Gombos match and when Daniels and Moradi took the floor the crowd went wild.
Daniels was throwing some amazing, yet controlled techniques while Moradi was working his great kicks to score on Daniels. Daniels dropped Moradi at one point with a nice hand technique but Moradi shook it off and was back on his feet. The two battled until time ran out and then it was up to the judges. It was Team All Stars who were declared the Team CLASH Sparring World Champions for 2014.
Two breaking world records were set during the 2014 Night of Champions. Drew Serrano set out to break the most concrete blocks with three separate strikes (hand, elbow and foot) in 10 seconds. The world record had been 33 blocks and Serrano was going for 38. When the dust cleared, Serrano managed 34 blocks and a new world record. Defending Ultimate Breaker John Zurisk also went for a new world record. He had already won the 2014 Ultimate Breaker World Title and wanted more on his list of accomplishments. His goal was to break more than 7 two-by-fours in 10 seconds or less. The stage was set and Zurisk went to work. After the splinters flew, it would be a new world record with Zurisk breaking 8 boards within the time limit.
Individual point sparring world titles were serious business and very international. The Hungarians of Team Kiraly showed that they have what it takes with two competitors in the finals. In the women’s fight, Chelsey Nash of Canada faced Anna Kondar of Hungary. In the two-round fight, Nash, representing Team All Stars was up 5-0 at the end of the second round and brought home the World Title to Canada and All Stars.
For the men, it was All Stars against Kiraly again as Jamal Albini from California faced Richard Veres of Hungary. Veres was looking for his first World Title while Albini was on stage for the first time ever in a major event. The fight was exciting with Veres and Albini evenly matched and going point-for-point. The two were tied at the end of the final round and went into sudden victory overtime. Needing to win by two points, Albini took it to the pinnacle of excitement by scoring two-points with a jump kick to the head to defeat Veres and win the World Title.
Men’s forms and weapons competition are always two of the most exciting events during the Night of Champions. The men’s Creative/Musical/Extreme (CMX) Weapons competition took place during the live ESPN2 show. Reid Presley’s double bo routine has been a winner all year since he moved into the adult divisions in January. Presley faced Tyler Weaver, Jr, another new adult. The two put on fabulous performances but Presley slightly mishandled his bo – enough to allow Weaver to leap right into the forefront with his first adult World Title in men’s weapons.
Sen Gao was a double winner in 2013 with titles in men’s weapons and men’s forms. The flamboyant Sen Gao always tries to tell a story with his soft style performances. In the traditional weapons competition, Gao faced Stephen Grasz of Team Amerikick. With Grasz’ long, flowing hair and strong performances, he has earned the nickname of Thor. Thor’s traditional sword performance was strong this evening but Gao decided to spice it up with a combination of broadsword and whip chain as his weapons of choice. The judges decided in favor of Sen Gao and Gao was able to leave with a World Title for 2014.
In men’s forms, it was an incredible line up and mix of styles: Sen Gao (Wushu), Jarrett Leiker (Japanese/Okinawan), Vincent Scarduzio (Korean), Tyler Weaver, Jr (Creative) and Michael Guthrie (Extreme). Sen Gao did a combination of different animal routines, including putting on make-up midway through to impersonate a panda. Leiker and Scarduzio were strong in traditional and Weaver’s clean creative routine caught the eye of the judges. However, tonight would be Guthrie’s night as the young man had the crowd on its feet and the judges giving the highest scores. Guthrie, who has been competing since age nine, won his first World Championship title and reached a pinnacle in his competition career.
World Champions were crowned and history was made at the 2014 US Open ISKA World Martial Arts Championships. In 2015, the event will be even bigger and better with live ESPN2 and ESPN3 broadcasts once again. In addition, the 2015 US Open will be the final event on the new Open World Tour – the premiere sport karate league for open martial arts competitors around the world.