Jackson's Five: The U.S. Capitol Classics

US Capitol Classics

I’ll begin this edition of Jackson’s Five with an apology for the delay. Returning to medical school the Monday after the event following a brief summer break had an impact on my writing schedule, but here we are nonetheless. I also want to take a moment to shout out those competitors who attended the AmeriKick Internationals in Atlantic City, New Jersey over the weekend. I will not be doing a top five breakdown for that event since I was not there to see the action, but I still want to congratulate the champions from that NASKA world tour event. Now let’s shift our focus back to the U.S. Capitol Classics just a few short weeks ago and jump into my top five from National Harbor.

5. Demo Depth

Team Demo Karate

Photo Courtesy: Lindsey Little Photography

The team demonstration division saw a clash of titans in the finals as three-time defending ISKA world champion Team Competitive Edge took on one of the great programs in the history of team demo in Team Infinity. Infinity, under the leadership of Joseph Bein, brought back several of their star competitors such as Noell Jellison, Will Nevitt, and Alex Riggs. With these seasoned veterans leading the charge, Infinity pulled off one of their trademark demonstrations featuring smooth transitions between segments, high levels of difficulty in teamwork-based weapons releases, and plenty of entertainment value for the crowd. Team Competitive Edge looked solid as well, landing the vast majority of their incredibly difficult weapons tricks. However, some of the mistakes made by Competitive Edge would turn out costly and Team Infinity would take the well-deserved win by one one-hundredth of a point. Not only is this part of the countdown to give Infinity their flowers for the win, but it is also to highlight the incredible depth of the team demonstration division this season. Team Freestyle out of San Diego is in that same tier as the two teams who clashed in the finals in D.C., and other teams have been impressive lately such as Florida Sport Martial Arts Academy winning the daytime eliminations to earn a spot in the Night of Champions back at the U.S. Open. Most of the time, the demo division has one dominant team and if we are lucky there are two powerhouses that trade back-and-forth. It is special to see three or more high-quality team demos on the circuit at once and I hope that it is a sign that this division will grow more in the near future.

4. Close Contests

Speaking of that closely-contested team demonstration final, there was one point in the night show that several divisions in a row were determined by a 4-3 split decision amongst the judges. This made the results exciting for the crowd, but more importantly it is a testament to the incredibly high level of competition on stage. Three of these tight matchups that stood out to me were all in the junior divisions. The traditional kata of Shane Billow and the extreme form of Esteban Tremblay met in the finals in a pseudo-rematch of their traditional versus extreme showdown in the weapons division at the Battle of Atlanta in June (not to mention plenty of other great matchups between these two). Two solid performances resulted in a narrow victory for Tremblay, who was won a ridiculous SEVEN overall grand championships in his first four tournament appearances as a member of Team Paul Mitchell. The younger boys’ forms division also saw a close contest between Judah Sagawa’s extreme and Wassim Dridi’s traditional. Dridi, training out of the Tremblay family’s school in Blainville, Quebec, added just enough extra intensity and showmanship to his kata to earn victory. I thought he did a beautiful job of balancing the WKF-style expectations of the current traditional forms division, with the subtle addition of emotion and performance to his form that was reminiscent of NASKA traditional forms in the mid-2000’s. Sagawa, on the other hand, in my opinion is an underrated competitor who has been on the wrong side of 4-3 splits several times in the finals this season. His elite tricking ability for his age and strong basics make him a unique talent who is always a serious threat to win the forms and weapons grand championships. Finally, I want to shout out a couple of young ladies, Kodi Molina and Isabella Nicoli, who had an awesome competition in the 13 & under girls’ weapons grand championship. Molina executed a beautiful traditional bo form with a combination of speed, power, and intensity that made the scoring very close. Nicoli nailed her signature nunchaku form complete with a balanced array of weapons tricks, tricking, and solid fundamentals that led her to the win. Nicoli is another competitor who has been on a red-hot streak since April, winning all EIGHT overall grand championships in her first four events on Team Paul Mitchell.

3. Rivas Revitalized

Kristhian Rivas

Photo Courtesy: Kristhian Rivas via Facebook

The first two categories were broad and intended to highlight a variety of competitors and teams, but coming in at number three I want to highlight one individual who deserves some respect for a huge in in the heavyweight overall grand championship. Kristhian Rivas of Team Legend completed an amazing comeback story with this win as the icing on the cake. I remember being on the microphone at the 2021 Battle of Atlanta for the Friday Night Fights broadcast that featured a special Pro Point promotion. The Pro Point format allowed for some additional contact compared to what is normally seen in point fighting, and ultimately Rivas was on the receiving end of a hard shot that caused a rather scary knockout. In a recent interview that I did with his coach Tony Homsani for The Jackson Rudolph Podcast, he spoke about how difficult this comeback was for Kristhian. The injuries from that fight took a long time to heal, to the extent that Rivas is still wearing a face mask when he steps into the ring today. It took a while to Rivas to get back to training and even longer to get to where he was feeling like himself as an athlete once again. All of the training and perseverance paid off in poetic fashion at the Capitol Classics. Early in the second round against Brayan Rodriguez, a formidable opponent who we also just saw in the open weight final at the U.S. Open, Rivas found himself in a tie knotted at 5 points apiece. He knew he would need to turn on the gas and push through the adversity, just as he did in his recovery, if he wanted to take home the title. The rest of the final round was an onslaught of his patented blitz, a crisp fadeaway backfist, beautiful defensive reverse punching, and more to close the match on a 9-3 run and win by a final score of 14-8. It was exciting, it was inspiring, it was awesome.

2. Murphy's Matchups

Kameren Dawson Bailey Murphy

We can’t talk about the point fighting in D.C. without mentioning Bailey Murphy, who went undefeated on the weekend en route to both the lightweight overall grand championship and the open weight title. Anyone who watches sport karate recognizes that Murphy is a generational talent, so I’m not going to spend this paragraph talking about all the things that make him great. Instead, I’m going to speak about the matchups that made his fights must-see TV, and how those matchups make his sweep of the event that much more impressive. In the open weight final, he faced Black Belt Magazine’s number one ranked heavyweight in the world Kameren Dawson. Dawson is one of the great fighters of the last decade who has recently enhanced his game with agile lead-leg kicking that makes his follow-up backfist and reverse punch even more terrifying. Much like I said about Murphy, if you watch sport karate you understand how good Kameren Dawson is. It was truly a superfight in the finals and Murphy was able to pull off a 5-2 win.

Point fighting fans would have been satisfied by just getting that amazing fight, but Murphy had more in store for us that evening. The lightweight final saw him taking on friendly foe Tyreeke Saint of Top Ten Team USA. These combatants have a long history with each other, dating back to Bailey beating Tyreeke and Tyreeke telling him after the fight, “I can beat you.” What happened the next time they fought? Tyreeke came out on top. The storyline even extended to earlier that weekend, when these two met in the open weight bracket and an early 4-0 lead for Saint evaporated into a win for Murphy. Their showdown for the lightweight throne was closely contested throughout the first round as both intelligent fighters analyzed the strategy their opponent had selected for this particular fight. Adjustments, counter-adjustments, and adjustments to the counter-adjustments were made and Murphy once again found a way to pull away and secure victory by an 11-6 margin. Murphy winning the lightweight grand and open weight title has become par for the course for him, what makes it more impressive this time around is the quality of his opponents and the storylines surrounding them. This is what generates fans for the sport.

1. Female Fighters Matter Too

Isabella Nicoli Averi Presley

Maggie Messina and Female Fighters Matter Too partnered with the U.S. Capitol Classics to celebrate women and girls in martial arts. This tournament showed us just how entertaining the female divisions are by featuring many of them in the night show. The youth forms and weapons overall grand championships were won by Isabella Nicoli as mentioned above. In the juniors Maddy Kennaway and Sofia Rodriguez-Florez had an excellent battle for the forms title, Rodriguez-Florez went on to win the 14-15 point fighting grand championship, and Averi Presley won yet another weapons overall grand. The 16-17 girls’ point fighting division was also represented, where Maeve McColgan of Canada scored an impressive win. As for the adults, the most impressive showing was from Anne-Sara Cayer of Team Diamond G3 who won both the open weight title and overall grand championship during the night show. Her opponent Dani Auberger also deserves a shout-out for making it to the finals in both of those divisions and having an impressive season in general. The women’s forms and weapons capped it off with Team AKA’s Sara Campbell and Gabrielle Rudolph each recording their second overall grand championship of the year in weapons and forms respectively. All of these competitors received special bonus prize money at some point during the competition thanks to the generosity and activism of Maggie Messina and Female Fighters Matter Too. The celebration of women in martial arts was not limited to the competitors either, as one of the women’s point fighting finals featured an all-female judging panel of Christine Bannon-Rodrigues, Hollie Hamm, and Maggie Messina herself. It was a fantastic way to showcase these amazing lady warriors, as promoter Dennis Brown would always call them affectionately when he was on the mic.

That does it for this edition of Jackson’s Five. Stay tuned to BlackBeltMagazine.com and the Black Belt Magazine social media outlets for more news and updates from the world of sport karate. Also, be sure to tune in to The Jackson Rudolph Podcast weekly on the Black Belt Facebook page for more discussions with sport martial arts competitors of yesterday and today.

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