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Black Belt Magazine Rankings Updated Ahead of U.S. Open World Championships

Team Paul Mitchell at US Open World Championships

Black Belt Magazine has released their final rankings update before the U.S. Open ISKA World Martial Arts Championships, just over one week away at the time of this article. As noted in the introductory header at the top of the rankings, the committee aims to use results as an objective measure but there will always be some subjectivity as they use the “eye test” to make difficult decisions between athletes. This article is to summarize some of the key updates and provide transparency about some of those tough decisions.

Let’s begin with point fighting, as the recent Battle of Atlanta has proven that they are one of the top sparring tournaments in North America. Bailey Murphy took home lightweight grand champion honors at both the Quebec Open and the Battle of Atlanta since the last rankings update, and he sits firmly at number one. His challenger in both of those lightweight finals? Tyson Wray, who has cemented himself at number two.

As for the heavyweights, Avery Plowden clings to the number one spot despite not competing at either of these events following an injury at the Ocean State Grand Nationals. Devon Hopper soared his way into the two-spot with an impressive march to the heavyweight grand championship in Atlanta. Closely behind him is Kevin Walker, the heavyweight grands winner from the Quebec Open.

In men’s open weight, Bailey Murphy holds the top spot for his win in Quebec and his collection of accomplishments in that division this year. However, a serious threat to his #1 position is sitting at number two as Tyreeke Saint defeated Murphy in the open weight finals at the Battle of Atlanta. Another open weight win for Saint could catapult him to the top. Coming in at 3 is a semifinalist in open weight at the Battle of Atlanta and the WAKO open weight winner from the Quebec Open, Devon Hopper.

The lady warriors deserve some major respect because their division made for one of the toughest decisions in the entire sport. Katarina Herman remains in the leading position as the defending Warrior Cup champion with additional big wins at the Compete Internationals and Ocean State Grand Nationals. Right behind her are three women that head have a head-to-head win against Herman in the last two events. Jimena Janeiro defeated Herman in the open weight division at the Battle of Atlanta, which combined with the rest of her résumé earns the second spot. Corina Balan won the overall grand championship in Atlanta to earn the third spot, and the fourth spot belongs to Elyse Gorrell who also defeated Herman for the overall grand championship in Quebec. It is certain that the results at the U.S. Open will have a significant impact on how the women’s point sparring rankings evolve.

Shifting to adult forms and weapons, we’ll keep talking about the phenomenal females dominating the sport right now. Haley Glass made her return to the sport with a divisional win in traditional bladed weapons and overall grand championships with CMX forms and weapons routines that helped her retain the number one ranking for all three of those disciplines. Gabrielle Rudolph remains the top-ranked women’s traditional forms competitor as the winner of Korean Forms, Japanese/Okinawan forms, and Traditional Challenge at the Battle of Atlanta. Melissa Baillargeon, who used her traditional kata to claim an overall in Quebec, jumps to the number two spot after previously being unranked due to inactivity.

In the men’s divisions, Esteban Tremblay won overall grand championships in CMX forms and weapons at the Battle of Atlanta to confirm his first-place ranking in both divisions. A new face appears in the #5 spot for CMX weapons in Brennan Green, who has a couple of finals appearances under his belt including the recent Quebec Open. In traditional weapons, the juggernaut Jake Presley is out with a broken fibula and will be unranked until he is healed and back in action. Esteban Tremblay has the most overall grands in this category aside from Presley and is the new #1. He is followed by Battle of Atlanta overall grand champ Alec Jahanvash. Dominic Lancaster used his eku kata to leap into the rankings by defeated a couple of highly-ranked opponents, now sitting at number four. Traditional forms saw Mason Stowell win grands at both the Quebec Open and Battle of Atlanta, placing him ahead of Caio DaSilva who has been inactive since the Ocean State Grand Nationals. The continued dominance of Jeff Doss in Korean forms has helped him climb the rankings a bit to the number three spot.

The rest of the adult divisions are maintained by the stellar seniors that continue to impress the sport karate world. Back-to-back weapons grand by Eric Tremblay have earned him the number one spot in that division, while Kevin Kowalczik’s forms grand at the Battle of Atlanta earns him top honors for that category. He is trailed by Andrew Cabilan who won the forms title at the Quebec Open, and number three is occupied by Samuel Diaz III for his prior accomplishments this season. Santiago Aversso secured another senior sparring win at the Battle of Atlanta and is ranked as the top dog, trailed by Quebec Open grand champion Jonathan Doucet. As for the women, Casey Marks-Nash was back in action at the Quebec Open and confirmed her top rank with fantastic performances. Morgan Plowden clings to the one spot in sparring much like her younger brother, with Mouse Millner coming in hot at number two after winning the grand championship at the Battle of Atlanta. Quebec Open champ Michelle Jones sits at number three.

Moving down the age bracket to the 14-17 junior categories, the CMX weapons division saw the return of Mason Bumba as he won a couple of divisions in Atlanta to return to the rankings in the 2 slot. Phillip Brumme was victorious in Atlanta as the overall grand champion as reigns at number one. His accomplishments in forms for the season helped him retain the top spot in CMX forms as well, but Atlanta’s divisional grand champ Colin OBrien and multi-division winner Joe Troia are in pursuit at two and three. Matthew Gruitia soars to the top spot in traditional forms and the overall grand champion in Atlanta. Sterling Keefe has been the most consistent in traditional weapons for the season, but he is trailed closely by Nolan Grunwald who took his talents to the stage in Atlanta. Notably, Shane Billow used to be present in all of these divisions but has been removed from the rankings for the time being since he has aged out of the division. The teenage ladies are headlined by Sofia Rodriguez Florez staying on top of both traditional categories. Warrior Cup Champion Averi Presley took the divisional grand in Atlanta to remain atop CMX forms. New faces in that division include Jessica Albu, the divisional grand champion from the Quebec Open, and Neve Harvey who was brought to the committee’s attention as the WAKO national champion and Dutch Open Champion in 2023 for this division. The girls’ CMX weapons division is still very closely contested with multiple athletes having one divisional grand championship on the season. Samantha Mitling taking her CMX bo form to the overall grand in Quebec is the leader, with Averi Presley winning the divisional grand but coming up short of the overall in Atlanta to be placed at number two. Also of note, the junior fighters for both boys and girls are still featured in the rankings by highlighting the grand champions and open weight winners from the most recent event, in this case the Battle of Atlanta.

On to the 13 & under youth divisions, Judah Sagawa maintains his top ranks in CMX forms and weapons for his accomplishments this season including double overall grands in Quebec and a forms overall grand at the Battle of Atlanta. Michael Molina won the divisional grand championships for traditional and CMX weapons in Atlanta, close behind Sagawa in CMX and now holding the top honors in traditional. Henry Hawkinson was the traditional kata competitor in the finals at the Battle of Atlanta, continuing his strong season and moving up to number one. As for the girls, Olivia Cano returned to the top spot in CMX weapons for winning the divisional grand at Battle of Atlanta, while Adelynn Lau won the overall at that event with her traditional double sword form and remains the number won traditional weapons competitor. Savannah Agosto and Amanda Duarte met in the finals for forms at both the Quebec Open and Battle of Atlanta, and they hold the top spots in CMX and traditional forms respectively.

Closing these highlights out with the team events, team demonstration saw the return of Team Competitive Edge at the Battle of Atlanta as they took home the title. Team Freestyle has been the consistent team all year and holds the number one spot, with Competitive Edge now sliding into number two. Team Infinity is just behind them after being the runner-up in Atlanta. The synchronized forms category has a new number one as Colin OBrien and Joe Troia of Team AKA secured a big win at the Battle of Atlanta. U.S. Open will present an opportunity for DG & Pia of Team Infinity or Ben Jones and Dawson Holt of Team Paul Mitchell to claim the number one spot again (as they have each held it in the past), or for Team AKA to prove they can repeat their success from Atlanta. Synchronized weapons has no surprise at number one as Ben Jones and Esteban Tremblay of JPM have been taking that division home all year. Team Leclerc had a good showing in Atlanta to earn the second position, and the “eye test” grants the newly-formed duo of Haley Glass and Alex Mancillas for JPM the third place despite a drop in Atlanta. Last, but certainly not least, is the wildness that exists in men’s team sparring. Team Straight Up won the Quebec Open then the Battle of Atlanta in a thriller over Top Ten Team USA, so Joe Greenhalgh’s squad sits atop the list with Bob Leiker’s team threatening at number two. Team DMND G3 was the runner-up in Canada and sits at three, with strong teams like Team Dojo Elite and Team Legend rounding out the top five.

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