As the dust settled following January's AKA Warrior Cup in Chicago, the world's best sport karate competitors shifted their focus to the next tournament on the NASKA World Tour: The Compete International Martial Arts Championships in Ontario, California. The event begins on Friday, February 25th with many of the elimination rounds in preparation for the finals on Saturday night. In the finals, some of the most talented martial artists in the world of all age groups will compete for the coveted silver medallion presented by promoter Shihan Mohamad Jahanvash. Catch all the action streamed live on the Black Belt Magazine and SportMartialArts.com Facebook pages, and keep reading for a preview of the event.
Adult Point Fighting
Let's kick off this preview with the point fighters, as the Compete Internationals always attracts high-caliber local talent that we don't always get to see in the east coast tournaments. Headlining the local talent is a competitor of international renown: Black Belt Magazine Hall of Famer Jack Felton. The Team All Stars fighter is unquestionably one of the greatest lightweights of all time and will be a force to be reckoned with if the puts his gloves on this weekend. His teammate Jamal Albini is also a California native that could shake things up on the heavyweight side of the bracket. With so many of the All Stars members being located in California, we could expect to see more of their world class fighters brought in like Kevin Walker, Robbie Lavoie, or maybe even a surprise appearance from Elijah Everill (which is mostly speculation, but it would be pretty exciting).
Don't forget the fighters that had great showings at the AKA Warrior Cup. Darren "Dee Stacks" Payne, now the youngest-ever men's fighting Warrior Cup champion, could roll to the event with Team Next Level to make some waves. Fellow Jessie Wray disciples Tyson Wray and James Pore dominated the lightweight divisions in Chicago, and are a terrifying tandem if they touchdown in Los Angeles. Another team that could be a threat this weekend is Team Dojo Elite, led by the heavyweight trio of Kameren Dawson, Ryan George, and Devon Hopper who each had excellent showings at the Warrior Cup. There are also a number of top-tier fighters that we have not seen yet this season, including Bailey Murphy of Team Straight Up, Avery Plowden of Team Impex, and more.
Speaking of Avery Plowden, we also are yet to see his sister Morgan Plowden this season. She would be an instant favorite to go all the way in the women's division, and any self-respecting sport karate fan would be crossing their fingers to see another matchup between Plowden and newly-crowned Warrior Cup champion Ki'Tana Everett. Drew Beatty, who predominantly competes on the west coast, could make an appearance and attempt to defend her title. She won the last iteration of the Compete Internationals when it took place back in 2020, and her kicks could win it for her again. Based on social media posts, we can confirm that Jimena Janeiro of Team Revolution will be in attendance. Janeiro won the open weight and overall grand championship at two different world tour events last season, proving that she is a bonafide threat as well.
Adult Forms and Weapons
The adult forms and weapons field features a lot of interesting match ups as we head into the Compete Internationals. Team Paul Mitchell's Jake Presley and Top Ten Team USA's Mason Stowell won Warrior Cups in weapons and forms respectively with their traditional performances, and they are the odds-on favorites to win the traditional overall grand championships on the men's side. As for the creative/musical/extreme (CMX) divisions, there are several familiar faces that could take home the title. The overall grand champions from Warrior Cup, Rashad Eugene in weapons and Shaquan Parson in forms, have the potential to begin a win streak this weekend. The previous defending champions of the Compete Internationals from 2020 are myself in weapons and Jacob Pinto of Team AKA in forms. I'll be donning a suit Saturday night to commentate the event, so it is safe to say I won't be repeating as champion. Pinto has bee inactive since the sport returned from the COVID-19 hiatus, but the possibility of a comeback for the La Verne, California native is not out of the question.
Looking down the gauntlet of CMX weapons contenders, Jake Presley is as much of a threat in that division as he is in traditional. There is also a plethora of skilled kama practitioners including Team Dojo Elite's Connor Chasteen, Team Paul Mitchell's Alex Mancillas, Team Infinity's Alex Riggs, and even potentially Tyler Weaver who has been teasing a comeback on social media over the past few months. A Weaver comeback would also be significant in the forms division, where he would join other contenders like Will Nevitt of Team Infinity and Cody Leck of the AmeriKick National Team. Danny Etkin would be favorited to win the title, but he is not expected to be active for this event. Dawson Holt of Team Competitive Edge is another name that must be mentioned, as the expert swordsman could win the traditional and CMX weapons titles, and he boasts a CMX form that could steal that title too.
As for the lady warriors, Haley Glass will be back in action and is favored to win the CMX divisions in the absence of Sammy Smith, who would typically be Haley's strongest competitor but is out while recovering from a neck injury. The women's CMX weapons divisions have some solid depth however, as competitors like Noell Jellison, Sara Campbell, and Solange Olivier could put out performances worthy of victory as well. The bladed traditional weapons division is led by Haley Glass too, while Sara Campbell will seek to repeat her win in Chicago in the non-bladed division. Kaelyn Kowalski, who won the weapons overall grand championship back at the Pan American Internationals and was on stage in Chicago, will not be in attendance this weekend. In women's traditional forms, Gabrielle Dunn will look to continue her stranglehold of that division with her Japanese kata. The Korean division could see a great battle between Dunn and Jewelianna Ramos-Ortiz, who won that division at Warrior Cup.
Before we move on to the juniors, we simply can't forget the senior competitors! The 30+ year-old divisions are as deep as they have ever been in recent memory. Samuel Diaz III claimed both grand championships in Chicago (and is a threat in some 18+ divisions too), Jeff Doss is back on the scene with his Korean and CMX prowess, Edgar Cordova will attempt to continue his winning ways, Eric Tremblay is making the trip from Canada for a shot at the title, and so many more. There are also a ton of great fighters in this division including Abid Benwali, Anthony Merricks, Yoskar Gamez, and El-Java Abdul-Qadir just to name a few. The most experienced division in the sport deserves some love, so be sure to tune in if you notice them on a livestream.
The 14-17 boys' weapons division is the most highly-anticipated of all the 17 and under categories. Mason Bumba landed an insane webster-release in Chicago that earned him his second Warrior Cup, and he is expected to bring the heat once again in California. Ben Jones of Team Competitive Edge suffered a stumble that took him out of the running in the finals at Warrior Cup, and comes to compete with redemption in mind. Phillip Brumme of Team Gipsy has a kama form that could give these top bo competitors a run for their money, so he is certainly one to watch as well. Esteban Tremblay would be another of these top bo competitors, but he is out for this weekend. On the forms side of this division, Warrior Cup champion Aidan Kennedy announced his retirement from the sport following the big win, leaving it wide open for one of the aforementioned weapons contenders to step in and take a forms title too.
Averi Presley had a dominant showing in the 14-17 girls' division in Chicago, making stage for forms and weapons en route to winning the weapons overall grand championship. Sofia Rodriguez Florez won the forms overall grand championship that weekend, and is a threat in both forms and weapons with her traditional routines. Rylee Rainone is another contender with strong traditional performances, and Anna Beth Hedgepeth packs a punch in CMX that could bring her on overall grand championship too. Maddy Kennaway, who was dominant in the forms division in 2021, is not expected to be active this weekend.
The 13 and under champions from Warrior Cup include Wassim Dridi in boys' weapons, Judah Sagawa in boys' forms, Kodi Molina in girls' weapons, and Isabella Nicoli in girls' forms. Each of these champions has a chance to keep their winning streak alive this weekend. Molina and Nicoli are expected to duke it out in all of the forms and weapons divisions on the ladies' side, while Kodi's brother Michael attempts to exact revenge in the boys' division after making it to the finals in Chicago.
Be on the lookout for junior point fighters as well. Mason Bumba is a very skilled point fighter in addition to his weapons work, and he isn't the only one of these forms champions that are great fighters. The Molina siblings, Sofia Rodriguez Florez, and Anna Beth Hedgepeth could all leave California with some point fighting wins. Much like in the adult division, there will be plenty of local point fighting talent too, likely including some disciples of the All Stars.
Excited to see how it all turns out? Then make sure you are paying attention to the Black Belt Magazine and SportMartialArts.com social media channels over the coming days to catch all of the live streams from the eliminations, and don't forget to tune in Saturday night as yours truly and Mallory Woods commentate the finals!
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