The 2023 Battle of Atlanta was one for the ages, with record attendance, innovative changes to move the sport forward, and world class martial artists. The eliminations were exciting, followed by thrilling divisions in the night show. There were so many amazing performances that I couldn’t possibly fit them into a top five, so honorable mentions include Bailey Murphy’s clutch performance warding off the comeback attempt by Enrique Letona and giving Straight Up the team fighting win, his teammate Corina Balan completing an impressive comeback to win the women’s sparring title, Phillip Brumme slicing and dicing his way to another 14-17 weapons overall grand, Michael Molina winning both divisional weapons grands to automatically take home the overall, Haley Glass returning from 6 months away from the sport to win double overall grands, and so much more. These are the five themes and performances that stood out above the rest.
5. Junior Rivalries
I can’t write a top five without giving some love to the junior competitors, especially when we are seeing some of them on stage against each other so consistently. We saw two showdowns on stage between Averi Presley and Sofia Rodriguez Florez for the 14-17 girls’ forms and weapons titles. In the classic battle between the traditional of Rodrigues Florez and the extreme of Presley, tradition won this round as Sofia claimed two overall grand championships. There are also a couple of budding rivalries between even-younger ladies in 13 and under. Olivia Cano and Adelynn Lau had a rematch of their weapons championship from the Compete Internationals where Cano’s creative bo took the win. This time, it was the traditional double sword of Lau that came out on top. In forms, Savannah Agosto and Amanda Duarte faced off yet again. Both these girls have turned themselves into mainstays in NASKA night shows this season. This time, it was the extreme form of Savannah Agosto who impressed the judges most and came out victorious.
4. The Kitchen Sync
“The Kitchen Sink” is a term my coach and I used to describe the version of my form in which I had to throw EVERYTHING in order to win. The team synchronized division in Atlanta certainly looked like whichever team was going to come out on top would need to throw in the kitchen sink to pull it off. There was an astounding TWENTY-SEVEN teams between forms and weapons. Ben Jones and Esteban Tremblay continued their winning ways in weapons for Team Paul Mitchell. The forms division saw a thriller between the speed and style of Team AKA by Colin OBrien and Joe Troia, the stellar traditional of DG & Pia from Team Infinity, and the consistently clean duo of JPM’s Ben Jones and Dawson Holt. Much to the delight of a huge crowd of Team AKA members, OBrien and Troia were very impressive in their win. The forms and weapons winners faced off in the Battle Zone finals. It was evident that JPM wanted revenge as the normally-smiling duo of Tremblay and Jones had a different look in their eyes as they took the stage against AKA. Troia and OBrien deserve a lot of respect for the performances they put on, but ultimately Team Paul Mitchell took home the overall title.
3. Sushi’s Revolution
Just days before the event, it was announced that Jeff Doss would debut on Team Revolution in Atlanta. The multi-league legend has ironically been leading a revolution of his own recently, as he was heavily involved in the Battle of Atlanta introducing the first Korean Traditional Challenge. The division was very well-attended and introduced a new, exciting style of competition to the finals as both finalists performed their poomsae at the same time. It was awesome for the fans, and I actually think it could be an effective format for the Japanese Traditional Challenge that already exists as a NASKA division. Jeff Doss put his world-class kicking skills on display to secure the win in the men’s division, while Kaitlyn Vong of Team CBR took home the female title.
2. The People’s Champ
Tyreeke Saint probably gained more new fans than anybody else at the Battle of Atlanta. On Inside Sport Karate, a special live episode of my podcast, he spoke highly of all of his opponents and gave an all-around great interview. He was even better on the mat than he was on the mic. He defeated the red-hot Devon Hopper in the open weight semifinals and had a date with familiar foe Bailey Murphy in the finals on Saturday night. Another episode in the Murphy-Saint saga between best friends was a thriller, coming down to the final seconds. Saint was consistently able to explode with his blitz and had some clutch moments late in the match to secure the victory. The pure joy he expressed as he walked to the front of the stage was so fun to watch. During the celebration, you’ve got to tip your cap to Murphy, the winner of the lightweight grands, who stood in defeat with a smile as his good friend celebrated the moment. Remember what I said about Tyreeke being good on the mic? He continued that trend in his post-fight interview in which he mixed in respect for his competitors with some Gen Z catch phrases like “Sheeeee”, and of course got a great reaction from the kids in the crowd. I predict he will have quite the cheering section next time we see him on stage.
1. The Next Triumvirate?
Who would have guessed that Jackson Rudolph would write about the men’s weapons division in his top five? Those boys earned it this weekend. Esteban Tremblay, Dawson Holt, and Ben Jones all hit remarkable forms in a men’s weapons final for the ages. I have to give a shout out to Rashad Eugene, who was also in the finals but suffered a painful drop in which his bo simply slipped out of his hand while posing. It wasn’t even his fault, it was just one of those crazy things that happens. Anyway, the three Paul Mitchell teammates were spectacular. Tremblay, unable to use his “Air Canada” tricking since he won the creative division, used his speed and difficult releases to set the bar high. Then Holt took the stage in front of Kalman Csoka himself and landed a very difficult double sword form complete with two different variations of the insane double-boxcutter release. Don’t know what that means? Subscribe to the Battle of Atlanta YouTube channel and watch the finals yourself. Closing out the division was Ben Jones, who was in his bag with a wide variety of crazy bo releases combined with clean striking. When he landed his signature “freeze frame” catch behind his back after a double spin, all the sparring judges sitting stage-side jumped out of their seats. I will never forget the image as the scores came out, as all the sparring judges practically climbed over one another to get a view of the monitor. Judging divisions this strong is difficult and the scores were all over the place as Ben Jones secured a 10, but it would be Esteban Tremblay’s three 10s that earned him his third CMX weapons overall grand championship of the season. All I have left to say is this… we are in for a WILD men’s weapons final in the Night of Champions at the U.S. Open next week.
Special thanks to Lindsey Little Photography for the images used in this article.
Forms and weapons, Point fighting, Naska, Battle of atlanta, Sport karate
Black Belt Magazine
[crypto-donation-box type=”tabular” show-coin=”all”]