Jackson's Five: The Ocean State Grand Nationals

Ocean State Grand Nationals
Photo Courtesy: Chris Split Photography

Last weekend's 40th annual Ocean State Grand Nationals (OSGN) was a roaring success of a martial arts tournament. Elite competitors from all over the world were in attendance for point fighting and forms alike. The legendary Bill "Superfoot" Wallace even made an appearance and told me in an interview for The CW Network that he would grade sport karate's evolution an "A++" after the action he saw at the tournament. What were the highlights of this incredible event that has everyone talking? Keep reading this edition of Jackson's Five to find out my favorite moments from The Ocean States.

5. Money Talks

Ocean State Grand Nationals SuperFights

Photo Courtesy: Chris Split Photography

In light of the hardships brought about by the pandemic, NASKA cut the prize money for adult forms and fighting grand championships in half last season. At the time this was an appropriate adjustment to help promoters get back on their feet and bring professional sport karate tournaments back. Fast forward to today, events are just as well attended as they were before the pandemic and in many cases are seeing even better turnouts. Promoters Don and Christine Rodrigues sought to give the athletes the rewards they deserve, and they delivered. With the help of sponsors like the Ocean State Collision Center and Female Fighters Matter Too, they amassed more than a whopping $20,000 in total prize money. The SuperFights and SuperForms divisions were specifically designed to attract top competitors with huge individual payouts of $5000 to SuperFights and $2500 to SuperForms.

The money was there, and the athletes answered the call. Top-ranked point fighter Elijah Everill traveled all the way from the United Kingdom to compete in the event among a deep gauntlet of high-caliber North American fighters. Fellow top-ranked fighter Avery Plowden tore his way through the SuperFights bracket, defeating Top Ten Team USA's Enrique Letona in the final to claim the highest honor at the event. SuperForms gave us a marquee matchup in the women's division as seasoned veteran Sammy Smith and rising superstar Haley Glass of Team Paul Mitchell battled it out for the title, with Glass coming out on top. The men's division saw an eclectic showdown between Rashad Eugene's double bo/kama/open forms performance and Jake Presley's hybrid traditional bo and extreme forms showcase. Presley, also the men's overall traditional weapons grand champion at the event, took home the belt when the dust had settled. These exhilarating matchups were a direct result of the increased prize money at the event. As they say in Field of Dreams... build it and they will come.

4. Morgan Plowden Plows Through Competition

Morgan Plowden

Photo Courtesy: Chris Split Photography

As I said on The Jackson Rudolph Podcast earlier this week, Morgan Plowden may be the most dominant point fighter in the sport regardless of gender. Black Belt Magazine's number one-ranked female point fighter in the world steamrolled her way to both the open weight and overall grand championships at OSGN. To put her dominance into perspective, in her three matches for first place or grand champion between the division and the open weight, her combined margin of victory was an astonishing 29-3. She put up TWENTY-NINE points on fighters skilled enough to make it to divisional or grand championship finals, while only allowing those opponents to score THREE points total. There aren't many ways that a point fighter can be more impressive than that.

3. Dominant Debuts

Isabella Nicoli

Photo Courtesy: Chris Split Photography

If you are a fan of sport karate, you probably saw the huge media storm coming out of Team Paul Mitchell Karate following the forms and weapons results at their home tournament. The six newest members of the storied team combined for 16 grand championships over the weekend. Isabella Nicoli (pictured) led the pack statistically with a perfect 4/4 divisional grand championships in the youth girls division, culminating in 2/2 overall grand championships. Esteban Tremblay followed her closely, winning all three divisional grand championships that he competed in and going 2/2 in overall grand championships as well. Tremblay also partnered up with Ben Jones to win the synchronized weapons grand championship. Dawson Holt lived up to his "Mr. Clean" nickname en route to winning his first overall grand championship as an adult in the men's CMX forms division. Averi Presley nailed a no-look release at the end of her routine to secure the junior girls overall weapons grand championship. Last but not least, Samuel Diaz III powered through an excellent traditional kama form to claim the senior men's weapons grand championship.

JPM was not the only squad to have a new competitor have a breakout tournament. Wassim Dridi introduced himself to the sport karate world with an overall grand championship at the AKA Warrior Cup, got picked up by Team Competitive Edge a few weeks ago, and in his debut for the team won double overall grand championships in the youth boys forms and weapons categories. Phillip Brumme also made his debut for Team Competitive Edge, making the runoffs out of a very tough division and nearly winning the junior boys CMX forms runoffs with his creative form.

Team CBR, coached by Christine Bannon-Rodrigues, debuted their athletes for the first time officially at OSGN. They were well-represented with multiple athletes on stage, including Mouse Millner who fought for the women's open weight title, Ashley Sacrey in the women's forms finals, and Kathryn Tian in the women's weapons finals.

2. A New Rivalry is Born

Avery Plowden Elijah Everill

Photo Courtesy: Chris Split Photography

What happens when Black Belt Magazine's #1 lightweight point fighter in the world moves to the heavyweight half of the bracket at a tournament that Black Belt Magazine's #1 heavyweight in the world is also attending? Fireworks.

Fireworks is exactly what we got between Elijah Everill and Avery Plowden all weekend. They first met in the opening round of the SuperFights, where Plowden defended American soil with a 10-6 victory that had everyone at the tournament talking. They wouldn't meet again until the finals on Saturday night, the first rematch coming at the end of the team fighting finals. Plowden's team had a one-point lead going into the final match where he would face Everill of the All Stars, and Everill completed the comeback effort to give his team a four-point victory. The combatants would settle the score in the heavyweight overall grand championship, as Everill struck yet again and recorded a 12-7 win. In every matchup the chess match was evident. Everill's speed, Plowden's defense, Everill adjusting to the American rules and fighting style, Plowden showing off new weapons in addition to his patented fundamentals... all of these things combined have given the sport karate world a brand-new, closely contested rivalry that we can only hope we get to see more of in the near future. It's a friendly rivalry, as these two fighters have a great deal of respect for each other, but it could turn out to be one of the best competitive matchups we have seen in a long time.

1. Gabrielle isn't Dunn

Gabrielle Dunn

Photo Courtesy: Chris Split Photography

Forgive my wordplay here, I couldn't help myself. Gabrielle truly will not be "Dunn" for much longer as our wedding approaches in late June, but in all seriousness she is also not done with the winning ways she put on display in Rhode Island. With the women's overall grand championships still being combined between traditional and CMX while the men's division is split, it is very difficult for a female traditionalist to win an overall grand championship title in forms or weapons. I know personally how hard she trained for this moment and she executed a beautiful rendition of Papuren to earn the coveted title. Am I biased to list her win as my number one moment of the weekend? Absolutely I am, but I don't care. Congratulations Gabrielle, I am so proud of you.

That does it for this round of Jackson's Five! Did you notice all the awesome pictures throughout this article? Those were courtesy of Chris Split, the incredible photographer responsible for Team Paul Mitchell's team pictures and so many great shots from the Ocean States. I encourage you to visit his SmugMug page by clicking here, and consider purchasing some photos of your favorite athletes. Stay tuned for the next Jackson's Five summary article, coming right after the Battle of Atlanta this June!

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