It is a confession of fight fans and fighters alike that there may not be amongst them a very high level of knowledge on sports outside of fighting. It can be downright humorous to hear fighters have to read ads on podcasts or try and comment on other sports – Chael Sonnen is a favorite of this writer when football is at bat (see what just happened there?). Remember that time Conor McGregor fearlessly took that near half-court basketball shot at MSG and made it? No, no one was fooled into thinking he had ever played an actual game before. He is just that guy.

As much as UFC President Dana has spoken about MMA rivaling more mainstream sports, you might think there would be more similarities. Not so. Can you say 'Reebok deal' (is debacle too strong a word here)? One area where combat sports is most disparate in comparison to other sports is how the levels of talent are gauged. While it is impossible not to respect the bigger promotions' matchmaking and it is very rare where two fighters are heavily mismatched, there is still an odor or hint of arbitrary in the process for better or worse. Sometimes it is an outright smell – ahem – Ngannou's next opponent, anyone?

Aside from the issues relating to fairness, this brings up questions to be sure. Maybe even more questions than answers. As rare as it is to have two fighters completely lack parity, there are times when that lack of parity is exactly what is expected and there is big surprise. For example, how many fighters can say they lasted with and were not dominated by 29-0 retired champ, Khabib Nurmagomedov? Somehow, a short-notice fight with number 11th ranked Al Iaquinta has aged pretty well over time as he was one of the few who accomplished just that and not many would claim to have been able to gauge Al's ability to do that in advance. In the major sports league drafts, it is pretty clear that the top college athletes are probably capable of competing at the highest level. In baseball, players can be in the minor leagues, move up to the majors, and then back down to the minors in very short periods of time and with frequency.

The somewhat educated fight fan can see the difference in an experienced pro fighter's skillset and maturity and someone who may be just coming up from either the amateurs or a smaller/regional promotion. For the most part things will become evident even within a specific fight. Things such as fighters being overzealous, punching themselves out, relying too heavily on a given technique while the fight gets away from them, hunting for the knockout, etc. can show the level of green a given fighter might be. It remains to be seen if, as the sport of MMA progresses, the levels and skills will be as clear as they can be in other sports. As of now, it is pretty much solely in the hands of matchmakers to determine who gets called up from the proverbial minors or when a number 11 fights for a vacant title like Iaquinta did. Best for us to keep that pesky "M" word (ssshhh, it's meritocracy) out of our mouths and just appreciate that for the most part the oligarchs who deliver great cards have been pretty good at it. But fair warning (if that qualifies as a pun, it was unintended) if MMA is growing on you. The discerning fan will see more and more that all is not always fair in love and MMA. Something crazy like a professional wrestler (or two) might come in and get to fight on main cards in the big leagues or something. Oh, wait...

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Two-Time Black Belt Hall of Famer Hayward Nishioka has been campaigning for judo in the United States to harvest more shodans (1st degree black belts) Shodan literally means student. It's analogous to being a freshman in college. It's not the end but the beginning according to Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo.

A very dear friend and sensei of mine the late Allen Johnson, may he rest in peace made a home at Emerald City Judo. In Redmond, Washington.

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Competitive Edge Karate
Photo Courtesy: Jackson Rudolph

Team Competitive Edge, coached by Jackson Rudolph, Reid Presley, and Cole Presley, has become one of the premier teams in the sport in recent years. The team consistently takes home individual overall grand championships and they are the reigning U.S. Open ISKA Team Demonstration World Champions. Moving into the 2022 tournament season, they have made a huge move to deepen their roster and add seven junior competitors to the team. The new additions range from proven champions bringing their talents to the squad, some skilled workhorses who have previously joined the team for the Team Demo division, and some promising young stars who will be making their debut in the black belt division this year. Keep reading to learn more about each of the new additions (ordered alphabetically).

Gavin Bodiford

Gavin Bodiford

Photo Courtesy: Kellie Austin Bodiford via Facebook

Bodiford is twelve years old and hails from Lebanon, Tennessee, a product of Premier Martial Arts Lebanon (formerly known as Success Martial Arts Center), where the Competitive Edge coaches have all earned black belts. He has five years of martial arts experience and was the 2020-2021 ProMAC Southern Region Champion in four divisions. He also finished the 2021 NASKA season in the top ten for creative, musical, and extreme forms and weapons. Bodiford is one of the competitors who has stepped up for Competitive Edge in the past, joining the demonstration team to help them secure the 2021 U.S. Open ISKA World Championship.

Riley Claire Carlisle

RC Carlisle

Photo Courtesy: Mallory Parker Carlisle

Carlisle (pictured with coach Sammy Smith) is a 10-year-old rising star from Starkville, Mississippi who has been training for four years. In the underbelt division, she has won grand championships at the Battle of Atlanta and numerous regional events. She holds multiple divisional and grand championship titles from the ProMAC circuit, and has amassed over ninety divisional wins in recent years. She is moving into the black belt division in 2022 and looks to continue her winning ways.

Kodi Molina

Kodi Molina

Photo Courtesy: Priscilla Molina via Facebook

Molina is a 13-year-old world champion from San Antonio, Texas with 10 years of martial arts training under her belt. She has won many grand championship titles on the NASKA circuit, and has claimed world championships from NASKA, ISKA, ATA, and WKC. At the 2021 U.S. Open, she became the reigning ISKA world champion in 13 and under girls creative/musical/extreme weapons. She is a versatile competitor who can win with extreme bo or kama routines, performs beautiful traditional forms, and is a solid point fighter as well. She is an active member of her community and participates in a variety of leadership programs, making her a great role model for younger members of the team.

Michael Molina

Michael Molina

Photo Courtesy: Michael Molina via Instagram

"Super Bomb" is the 9-year-old brother of Kodi, who is a world champion in his own right. In his seven years of experience, he has already won a variety of titles across multiple leagues, including NASKA overall grand championships at the 2021 Battle of Atlanta and AmeriKick Internationals. Since he began training at the age of two, his regimen has included strength, speed, agility, and conditioning training at "Rojo Dojo", where a number of world champions and national contenders gather to train. He is known for his incredible performance ability, always putting on a show when he graces the stage.

Gavin Richmond

Gavin Richmond

Photo Courtesy: Bobby Benavides

Richmond is yet another world champion being added to the Competitive Edge roster. The 13-year-old from San Antonio has been training for five years and has accumulated several grand championship titles, including wins at prestigious events like the Diamond Nationals and U.S. Open. The young star is a well-rounded athlete, not only because he competes in a variety of divisions at sport karate tournaments, but he also finished in 7th place in the pentathlon at the 2021 AAU Junior Olympics which included the high jump, long jump, 100m hurdles, 1500m run, and shot put, resulting in him being named an All-American. He is currently recovering from a knee injury, but his high-flying routines will be back on the mat soon.

Madalynn Wiersma

Madalynn Wiersma

Photo Courtesy: Gabrielle Dunn

Wiersma (pictured with coach Gabrielle Dunn) is another rising star moving up from the underbelt division who is expected to make waves in the black belt division. She first moved up into the black belt ring at the WKC world championships, where she won her first world title. The 9-year-old Georgia native was the 2021 Underbelt Competitor of the Year for ProMAC and she secured underbelt grand championships at the Battle of Atlanta and U.S. Open this past year.

Elijah Williams

Williams is a 16 year old from Lebanon, Tennessee who trains at Premier Martial Arts Lebanon. His eight years of martial arts training has culminated in black belts in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do. He is on an upward trend as a competitor as he has started breaking into the top four in his divisions, which are some of the most stacked on the NASKA circuit. Williams has been a great asset to Competitive Edge in the past, stepping up to fill in for team demonstration, such as in the world championship effort at the 2021 U.S. Open.

The Competitive Edge coaching staff told Black Belt that they are thrilled to take their roster to another level with these moves. They believe that these new players will create the perfect storm to win more overall grand championships now, strengthen the team demo, and build a great foundation for the future of the program.

Jose Also
cdn.vox-cdn.com Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
The seemingly ageless Jose Aldo won his third straight fight at bantamweight Saturday claiming unanimous decision over Rob Font in the main event of UFC on ESPN 31. Font started well against the former featherweight champion working behind a strong jab that kept Aldo on his back foot and allowed Font to consistently land sharp punches. But with 30 seconds left in the first round, Aldo threw a stiff left jab and immediately followed with a powerful straight right hand that dropped Font though time ran out before he could do more damage.
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