Black Belt Magazine Rankings Update: Summary of the Number Ones
The Black Belt Magazine World Sport Karate Rankings have been updated yet again, this time immediately following the Ocean State Grand Nationals (OSGN). This event in particular is a NASKA World Tour tournament that attracted much of the top talent in sport karate thanks to increased prize money and the generosity of promoters Don and Christine Rodrigues. The Cowboy Up Martial Arts Championships has also taken place since the last rankings update, the event’s first year on the NASKA World Tour. The committee used results from the Cowboy Up as a differentiating factor when decisions were very close based on the results from Rhode Island. As mentioned in the preface to the rankings update on Black Belt’s official rankings page, this is a subjective ranking system that weighs grand championships and head-to-head matchups at the most well-attended events to make decisions. There is no official bearing on these rankings other that the prestige of being recognized by Black Belt Magazine. In the interest of transparency, this article aims to summarize how decisions were made about the top-ranked competitors. Click here to view the rankings before reading this breakdown.
Beginning with the men’s forms and weapons divisions, Dawson Holt made a strong run at the number one spot in the Men’s CMX Weapons division with his overall grand championship at OSGN. However, Esteban Tremblay’s two overall grands in this category at the AKA Warrior Cup and the Compete Internationals helped him maintain the number one spot. In traditional weapons, Jake Presley was absent from OSGN due to a Hollywood opportunity but remains the top-ranked man for his other performances this year still riding an undefeated streak when he is in attendance. In forms, Esteban Tremblay’s win at OSGN combined with the Warrior Cup back in January has him ahead of Compete Internationals champ Salef Celiz. As for traditional, Caio DaSilva made his return to NASKA at OSGN and faced the deepest field of the season. His dominance in winning the traditional challenge, Japanese/Okinawan division, and the overall grand championship have catapulted him to number one.
Regarding women’s forms and weapons, Haley Glass has been inactive in the CMX divisions due to an injury at the AKA Warrior Cup followed by a temporary absence to perform for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. She has been removed from the CMX rankings for that reason, but she did make it to the finals for her traditional sword form at the Warrior Cup which is maintaining her top rank in that category for the time being. As for CMX weapons, the return of Sammy Smith and her overall grand championship at the Ocean States lands her in the number one spot. Sammy Smith was also the highest-finishing women’s CMX forms competitor in Rhode Island, earning her the top spot in that division as well. The women’s forms overall grand champion from OSGN, as well as at the Warrior Cup and Competes, is Gabrielle Rudolph who remains the woman to beat in women’s traditional forms.
Now for the fighting divisions, where some of the most difficult decisions of the entire ratings were made because of how much excellent talent is active right now. The men’s lightweight grand champions of the three largest NASKA events this season hold the top three ranks in the order of Bailey Murphy, Enrique Letona, and Jack Felton. Murphy clings to number one based off his performance in Chicago and overall having the highest level of activity on the national scale with the best consistent results in recent memory. Murphy did not compete in the lightweight division at OSGN as he focused on open weight and SuperFights, so Letona sits at two for making it out of a still-deep field. You know the gap between number one and number three is rather small, when the man sitting at number three is the great Jack Felton. The heavyweights didn’t make the committee’s job any easier. Keep in mind that the heavyweight rankings only consider the outcome of the divisions and subsequent grand championships, the open weight and SuperFights only count towards the open weight rankings. This being said, Avery Plowden sits atop the heavyweights after a one-point overtime victory against Kameren Dawson in the division, combined with his Warrior Cup win back in January. Alex Mancillas sits at three following back-to-back heavyweight overall grands, but is missing head-to-head wins against Dawson or Plowden that he would likely need to jump them in the rankings (Plowden was forced to bow out of the heavyweight final at OSGN due to injury). Open weight is where Kameren Dawson holds the crown as SuperFights were given more weight than the regular open weight division because of the higher stakes including increased prize money and substantially more promotion by the event. It was shaping up to be a great final between Dawson and Murphy, but that story ended quickly when Dawson landed the side kick heard around the world. Murphy, the open weight winner from the event and obviously the SuperFights runner-up, is an extremely strong contender sitting at number two.
Women’s fighting was also a tough division for the committee. Morgan Plowden, the well-established champion who was this year’s Warrior Cup runner-up, was not active in Rhode Island and slips to number three. KiTana Everett fought very well at Ocean States, bringing her fight in the finals against Katarina Herman all the way to the wire, earning the number two spot. Herman holds the number one ranking with a ridiculous résumé this year including a Warrior Cup, Compete Internationals grand championship and open weight, and now OSGN grand championship and open weight, defeating both Plowden and Everett in head-to-head matchups along the way.
Let’s show some love to those stellar senior competitors now. Samuel Diaz III and Casey Marks-Nash of Team Paul Mitchell both won double grand championships for forms and weapons at OSGN and each sit atop of their rankings for those reasons. On the men’s side of both forms and weapons, Kevin Kowalczik of Team Revolution and Jeff Doss are dangerous contenders. In women’s fighting Morgan Plowden came out on top of the senior division in Chicago and holds the number one spot, as Mouse Millner won the overall grand championship in that category at OSGN and is firmly at number two. As for the men, Santiago Aversso had an incredible run through a very deep field at Ocean States and sits at number one.
Now for the junior (14-17) divisions, we will start with CMX forms. I mentioned how difficult it was to establish the rankings for the fighters, but this may have been the single most difficult division for the committee to debate. Phillip Brumme won the overall grand championship at the Warrior Cup, as well as at the Competes and Cowboy Up. He is the number one athlete right now. The tough decision came between Wassim Dridi and Shane Billow for the 2 and 3 spots. Shane Billow won head-to-head matchups against the top-ranked competitor in the eliminations at Ocean States, then Wassim Dridi defeated him in the divisional grand championship and went on to win the overall. Do you take the guy who has multiple head-to-head wins against the number one, or do you take the guy that beat him in the runoff and won the biggest title at the tournament? After much deliberation, weight was granted to the grand championships and Dridi was ranked at two. Keep a close eye on this division as we move into the summer events! Billow does come out on top in the traditional weapons division, where his lightning-fast traditional bo work earned him an overall grand championship at OSGN. In CMX weapons, Brumme remains the top man there as well. In traditional forms, Noah Sansait of Team Revolution now has multiple traditional challenge wins, divisional grand championship wins, and stage appearances that have earned him the number one rank. As for the lady warriors, Sofia Rodriguez-Florez has been very impressive in the traditional divisions. Her double overall grand championships at back-to-back tournaments using traditional performances have solidified her as the number one for both forms and weapons. Rodriguez-Florez also sits atop the CMX weapons division with her musical traditional bo form earning her divisional grands at the Warrior Cup and Cowboy Up. Isabella Nicoli’s divisional grand championship in Rhode Island has her at two, and Maria Routel-Ferguson’s divisional grand from California has her at three. In CMX forms, Averi Presley’s Warrior Cup and Compete Internationals wins have her atop the division with her teammate and OSGN divisional grand champion Isabella Nicoli at number two.
In the youth (13 & under) divisions, Judah Sagawa and Adomas Rackauskas have been the most consistent competitors in the CMX and traditional divisions respectively, earning Sagawa the top rank in CMX forms and weapons while Rackauskas holds the top rank in traditional forms and weapons. Sagawa won both overall grand championships at OSGN, while Rackauskas made the finals as his opponent with traditional forms. Henry Hawkinson was a new face coming to the stage at OSGN, and his breakout performance earns him a spot in traditional weapons at number three. For the girls, Riley Claire Carlisle won the weapons overall grand championship in Rhode Island and earned the top rank with her Competitive Edge teammate and Compete Internationals champion Olivia Cano just behind her at two. Her opponent on stage was Demi Rodriguez of Team All Out, who settles at number two in the rankings for traditional weapons behind the consistent double sword form of Adelynn Lau. The two competitors on stage for forms at OSGN hold the top rankings in their respective disciplines, as overall grand champion traditionalist Amanda Duarte reigns over traditional forms and Madalynn Wiersma won the divisional grand championship to make it on stage and become the number one girl. The committee recognizes a ton of talent in these youth divisions, a promising sign for the future of the sport.
Due to the lack of consistent opponents who travel the circuit in the junior fighting divisions, as well as the splits between short and tall and different age groups for divisions versus open weight, it is much fairer for Black Belt Magazine to just highlight the winners of the most recent NASKA tournament than to attempt to make subjective comparisons with insufficient data. At Ocean States, the 10-11 grand championships were won by Malachi Randalle and Aria Martin, 12-13 went to Edwin Rivera and Collins Howard, 14-15 was taken by Jayson Perez and Sofia Rodriguez-Florez, and last but not least 16-17 grands went to Diego Gomez and Briana Ballou. For the open weight, 11 & under went to Malachi Randalle and Aria Martin once again, 12-14 was won by Luis Rivera and Audy Sandrine, and finally 15-17 titles were taken home by Sebastian Villanueva and Sofia Rodriguez-Florez.
We will close out this overview with the team events. Team Freestyle out of San Diego has been the most consistent demonstration team this season and is deserving of the number one spot. In the synchronized divisions, Ben Jones and Esteban Tremblay of Team Paul Mitchell have been dominant and sit firmly atop the weapons rankings, while a back-and-forth battle has been going down between Team Paul Mitchell and Team Infinity on the forms side. Dawson Holt and Ben Jones currently hold the top spot for their win the Ocean States, with Sofia and Diego Rodriguez-Florez threatening at two. Men’s team fighting was as stacked as it has been all year at OSGN. Team Dojo Elite came out on top after a thriller against Top Ten Team USA that came down to a buzzer-beating backfist by Kameren Dawson. TDE is the number one men’s fighting team in the world right now with Top Ten Team USA right behind them.
Black Belt Magazine hopes that this sneak-peek into the committee’s decision-making process increases the level of transparency about the rankings. My interest, and the interest of Black Belt Magazine as a whole, is always to help spread the word about sport karate and generate discussion through publications such as these rankings. Congratulations to the athletes that have been recognized, we look forward to seeing more from all of you this season!