At 7:30 PM the lights in the room went down and the show got underway. A very different rendition of the star spangled banner kicked off the night time finals followed by a performance by the 2011 Demo Team Champions, Team Infinity. Over the last two years Team Infinity has perfected their demonstration adding difficulty and a unique set of creative hand and weapons sections. Tonight it was obvious why Team Infinity was the Diamond Nationals winner and a fitting start to an already great weekend. The women’s overall fighting was on stage next. Chelsey Nash and Melanie Ortiz made their way to stage in a rematch from 2010. While Nash was the heavily favored competitor and was in pursuit of her 4th Diamond Ring Ortiz was definitely bringing her A-game as she kept the match close and interesting. There were some exchanges both ways the didn’t get enough votes from the judges but in the end Nash pulled ahead just before the buzzer with a defensive side kick and would win her 4th consecutive Diamond ring and 9th consecutive NASKA overall grand with a score of 4-1. The men’s overall was on stage next with Ross Levine and Jason Tankson Bourellyfighting for the Diamond Ring. If Bourelly won he would be the third person to win 3 Diamond Rings in Men’s fighting. But he would also have to defeat Levine, who was fighting for his first Diamond ring. Levine has been training hard all year long to secure his position among top name fighters. He’s done an exception job tournament after tournament defeating some of the toughest competitors and this event would be no exception. Bourelly came out with his leg moving every which direction but Levine was quick to time the leg and counter strike against Bourelly. After two minutes the match would go to sudden death to break the tie. The first to score would take home the ring and the bragging rights. Both men jumped off the line but the judges saw Levine hit Bourelly first awarding him the point and his first Diamond Fighting Ring.
Next on stage was the youth forms overall grand championships. The 13 and Under division saw Amanda Chen, Dallas Liu and Sammy Smith on stage for a final show down. Smith was on stage first with her CMX forms routine and came out with fire in her eyes. It was perhaps this excitement and extra pressure that gave her just a little to much rotation on one of her extreme moves and caused her to double step out of a trick. It was still to early to tell if this would make a difference as Amanda Chen was up next. Chen was also looking for her first Diamond Ring and with an overall forms win would put herself ahead of the pack for the Overall Forms title for the year. With a well executed form it was up to the last competitor to make or break the division. Dallas Liu only moved up to the Black Belt division earlier this year. His presences was highly anticipated and he has quickly gained a great deal of attention in his first year on the circuit. His performance tonight was indeed a great way to end the year. While still new to the circuit, Dallas has a bright future ahead of him and he proved that tonight out scoring both Chen and Smith and taking home his first Diamond Ring and closing out his first year as a Black Belt on one of the highest notes. The youth 14-17 division followed the younger division. Cole Eckert, Dayna Huor, Micah Karns and Stephanie Figueroa would face off to see who would come out on top. Micah Karns would be representing the junior division for the last time, but Cole was the home town favorite. Without question Dayna’s performance tonight was one of the best we’ve seen from her all year. Cole Eckert to showed us some of his traditional stylings as did Stephanie Figueroa. But in the end Micah Karns was on a mission and it was quite obvious in his performance. Often so much pressure is put on juniors to go out strong and perhaps Karns was feeling some of that pressure. You’d never know that but his performance but he definitely put on a show for the crowd and the judges noticed and awarded him the 14-17 Ring and Forms title.
One of the most anticipated divisions of the evening was the Adult Weapons Diamond Ring challenge. For most in attendance it was a known factor that this would be Kalman Csoka’s last competition. It was somewhat of a bittersweet ending. Knowing that before he even arrived onto the stage regardless of what happened tonight there were two certainties; the first he would go out with a bang, the second a legend was moving on. It has been over a decade since one of the greats has publicly announced their retirement from the circuit, Kalman being the first to say so long since Jon Valera in 1999. Even more interesting is Kalman would be the first competitor to hit the stage in the Adult Diamond Ring Challenge. Most, reading where not around when Jon Valera said his final farewell but Kalman was not one of those competitors. After introducing himself one last time he reached into his uniform pulled out a black cloth and turned his back, something Valera did in his last performance. While words cannot express what happened next the crowd screamed, owed and awed as he nailed on trick after the next with a blind fold on and never missed a single beat. He conclude with his signature ending with his hands open and out as though he was thanking so many higher forces for such an opportunity. With a standing ovation he left the stage and there was still five more competitors to go. What happened next was just as magical. Matt Emig had switched his positions with Jarrett Leiker so that he could follow Kalman knowing he would be pumped to get on stage. Well, it was without question the right move. Emig came out and hit the best executed nunchuck form of his career. His tricks were smooth and his manipulations where as close to perfection as we’ve ever seen. With two down it was going to be interesting to see what the rest of the division did to gain recognition. Jarrett Leiker finished things off for the men with his traditional weapons routine. It was time for the women to have their chance at the Adult Ring as Caitlin Dechelle, Olivia Wicker and Becca Ross were on stage as the competitors. Caitlin Dechelle hit her CMX weapons routine while Olivia played to her strengths with a traditional routine. Becca Ross come on stage with her CMX routine and was going full force. She nailed all of her tricks and would close out the division nicely. Time for the scores came and Kalman step forward first. He said after the Open and receiving all but two 9.99’s that had he won the Open with perfect 10’s he would have retired right there. But with one last chance to finish a tremendous twenty year career Kalman hit his pose and waited for the scores. Despite hitting a life changing performance one judge still gave him a 9.99 but the bar was set and unless one of the other competitors was able to hit perfect 10’s Csoka would be declared the winner. Emig’s scores came out and a handful of 10’s were also thrown to Emig but not enough to beat Kalman’s score. The same would happen for the rest of those scoring in the division where a mix of 9.99’s and 9.98’s would be given leaving Kalman as the victor and closing out his career nicely. The crowd gave a standing ovation as he was awarded his trophy and his teammates chanted him off stage with “Thank You, Kalman!”
Men’s super fights was next on stage and would have an already pumped up crowd waiting to watch them compete. As the fighters were introduced and made their way to stage the room just felt full of electricity and the crowd was ready to watch some fighting. The first round would have Hamed Firouzi face Jamie Cravens, Troy Sexton face Jason Tankson Bourelly, Larry Tankson Jr. face Elias Lemon and BJ Carnahan face Raymond Daniels. Firouzi would start off the match with his routine sky high jump prior to bowing in. Firouzi’s routine has been something that has really seemed to work for him at the last few events and it was no different during this match. Cravens got a few good points in but time was called with Firouzi advancing to the next round. Troy Sexton was just a little too excited walking into his match with Bourelly. Walking into three different ax kicks the match was easily won by Bourelly. Tankson Jr vs Lemon had the National Karate fans cheering and once again getting the room into the finals. The judges saw a few calls that were disputed by Coach Rodrigues and the crowd but in the end Tankson Jr. would win but due to an injury Lemon would advance to the final. BJ Carnahan and Raymond Daniels seem to have a thing for super fighting each other as this is the second, potentially even third, year in a row the semi-final came down to these two. Daniels made a stage spectacle of the fight with the crowd cheering on Carnahan. At the end of the two minutes Daniels would advance but the crowd was still heavily supporting Carnahan’s efforts. While the judges made their way off the stage the Men’s and Women’s team sparring champions where announced. Both the Men’s and Women’s teams for Full Circle made their way to stage as this year’s Diamond Nationals team champions.
Team Synchronized competition was on stage next. Three teams made their way to stage to compete for the Paul Mitchell World Synchronized Team Form Championship. Team Infinity, Team Paul Mitchell and the traditional team of Brendan Rasinski and Will Cornell would go up in that order. Infinity was first with Joseph Bein and the 30 and over Diamond Ring winner Mike Welch coming out with an extreme routine. Team Paul Mitchell’s Austin Crain and Matt Emig were up next with the strongest performance we’ve seen from them since their ISKA debut last year at the US Open. But the crowd was really pulling for Brendan Rasinski and Will Cornell. The decision would come down to the judges and by one one-hundredth of a point the title would go to Team Paul Mitchell for their solid performance. The youth weapons competition was on stage next to head into the final stretch of the 34th Diamond Nationals night time Final. Austin Knuth, Amanda Chen, Sammy Smith and Jackson Rudolph would compete for the Diamond Ring. Smith and Rudolph would represent the CMX divisions while Knuth and Chen were representing the traditional divisions. Rudolph was the heavy favorite going into the final but with a small slip on his “table top” spin his chance at a Diamond ring for this year quickly slipped away. But the door was now wide open for the three remaining competitors. Smith and Knuth both put forth a tremendous effort but it was Chen that seem to really stand out tonight. The judges took notice and Amanda Chen was awarded the 13 and Under Weapons Diamond Ring. The 14-17 weapons category would have Shahin Johan-Vash, Micayla Johnson, Stephanie Figueroa and Micah Karns face off. Johan-Vash came out strong with his traditional double sword routine. Johan-Vash executed well and demonstrated a great deal of power, something we will certainly look forward to seeing more of next year. Johnson came to stage looking to triple crown her way into 2012. With a Warrior Cup and ISKA title already in her list of accomplishments the Diamond Ring would round out her collection nicely. In fact, it was obvious that she was going to broke during her form. Johnson’s form had some of the most difficult manipulations and Kama tricks we’ve seen from her to date but she nailed them all. Figueroa was going to have a hard act to follow but came out strong with her traditional sword routine. Last on stage was Micah Karns. While it was still anyone’s ring to win Karns seemed to wait just a little to long before starting his form. It was perhaps this extra time to think that got to him as his bo slipped out of his hand shortly into his routine. In the end the scores would determine the winner and the judges would vote in favor of Micayla Johnson’s beautifully executed Kama routine.
Lots of divisions down and three more to go Women’s forms was on stage. Becca Ross was looking to repeat her success from last year winning another Diamond Ring. While Caitlin Dechelle was looking to collect her third Diamond Ring and Olivia Wicker the hometown favorite was looking for her first Diamond. Caitlin Dechelle would go first setting the bar with her CMX form. Ross was on stage next also performing her CMX form. Wicker was up last as the only competitor to run a traditional form. It would be the difference in comparison that would potentially set the group apart and give the judges yet another element to consider as all three competitors looked incredible. The scores would be read and it would be a super close call for the winner who would take the division by one one-hundredth of a point and award Caitlin Dechelle her third Diamond Ring. The men’s forms competition was on stage next Austin Jorgenson, Kyle Montagna, Jarrett Leiker, and Matt Emig would face off for the Men’s title. Jorgenson set the bar with his drunken monkey form. While most don’t truly understand the soft style routines its not hard to see that Jorgenson has truly mastered his craft. With incredible flexibility and high flying acrobatics mixed with his occasion pretend shot, Jorgenson’s form was a great way to start off the last forms division. Next up was Kyle Montagna who has been a surprise contender in the adult division in his first year of competition. Montagna was the Japanese representative for the men and certainly proved he deserved to be up their with the veteran competitors. Next up was Leiker whose musical traditional form earlier in the weekend had gotten him a CMX win. Announcing himself as the representative of all Traditional Karate Leiker stepped back to perform his musical routine and hit all his choreography. Emig was the last to make his way to stage and was going for broke in his form. Throwing some of the hardest combinations of tricks and creative hand-combination’s Emig had it made until suddenly he was unable to pull a trick around and fell to his knee. He continued his form despite the mess up and would leave the door open for the other three competitors. The scores would come out and it would once again be close between Jorgenson and Leiker . With a tie breaker to decide the winner it was an elated Leiker who was award the Diamond Ring.
The final division was the Men’s Super Fight Finals. The heavy weight contenders were up first with Elias Lemon facing off against Raymond Daniels. Lemon was ready to fight and was looking for another Super Fight title. Daniels was looking to repeat his success from 2010 and the two were throwing blows back and forth. Daniels would finish the two minutes with a score of 5-3 and be awarded the heavy weight Super Fight Title. The final round was yet another great re-match between Firouzi and Tankson-Bourelly. In previous matches this match has been known to go back and forth well after the official two minutes round. Nothing about this fight was going to be any different except maybe the length. The points scored went back and forth in favor of both contenders. Perhaps fourth time is a charm though as Firouzi seemed to know what Bourelly was going to come out with next. Time was called but within a few clashes after the time was called Firouzi had racked up a two point lead and was award another victory of Tankson-Bourelly and the Light Weight Super Fight title.
The event had come to an end and although not officially the last event of the year with so many conclusions happening at this event it certainly was a nice place for so many to finish out the season. The event finals even finished early enough for those attending the after party to enjoy a few hours of hanging out before heading to bed to catch early flights the next morning. The 34th Diamond Nationals was finally over but with so much excitement still in the air and such a great event to look back on, even bigger and more exciting things were already being talked about for the 35th anniversary which will certainly be one tournament you don’t want to miss in 2012.