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Aspiring Olympians – WAKO USA National Team

The USA Kickboxing Team Trials were held February 8-11th 2024 in Orlando, Florida at the Wyndham Resort Convention Center.  For the first time in history, Pittsburgh will be represented at the WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organizations) Junior World Championships in Budapest, Hungary this fall.

USA Kickboxing sanctions combat sports in two disciplines Tatami and Ring Sports. Their coach, Bill Viola Jr., was recently appointed Chairman and Director of Tatami Sports in the United States.  His role is to spearhead USA Kickboxing towards the 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane, Australia. Viola said, “This was our most competitive and largest nationals to date.  We are confident in our junior athletes headed to Budapest in August and our senior athletes competing in Chile [Vina del Mar] in October. Tatami champions from Chile will earn a slot in the prestigious World Games in Chengdu, China [August 2025].”  Viola explains, “Xander is a highly decorated Kick Boxer who won the Pan American Championships in Cancun Mexico in 2018.” Eddy was the youngest ever to win Pan American gold for the United States.  Gabby is fresh off  WKC (World Kickboxing Commission) Titles in Killarney, Ireland (2022) and triple gold medal performance at the WKC Worlds in 2023.”  Coach Viola says, “Gabby flew into the team trials straight from an infusion at UPMC Children’s hospital.  Trying to make weight, fight, and win under those conditions is amazing.”  Gabby was diagnosed with incurable bowel disease at age seven.  She’s battled severe bleeding, dehydration, abdominal pain, cramping and joint and skin inflammation over her career.

Gabby Viola (13-year-old) and Xander Eddy (15-year-old) earned sports on the US Kickboxing Team by winning the National Championships this past weekend.  It is the first time any black belt from Western Pennsylvania has earned WAKO USA titles and Jr. World Championship selection.

Viola won the -50 KG Female fighting division, while Eddy captured the -57 KG.  Viola defeated the top athletes from New York and Texas in the semi-finals and finals to secure a gold medal, while Eddy defeated foes from Texas and Florida in the semi-finals and finals. The two young champions have positioned themselves as the top female and male competitors from the region.

In his first national championship, 12-year old Carter Griffin was able to secure a gold medal in -37 kg cadet division, 11-year-old Max Jurkiewicz silver medal in the -47 kg cadet division, 16-year-old Riley Evans gold medal -50 KG, and 19-year-old Daniel Barrett won gold in the -69 KG division. The top two athletes (Gold/Silver) earn a spot on the national team.  Falling just shy of a berth was 13-year-old Dryce Davis who earned a bronze medal in the older cadet -57 KG division.  In addition to WAKO Worlds, these athletes are also preparing to compete in Albufeira, Portugal in October.  Viola explains, “This is a 365 days of the year type of sport. There is no off season, no breaks.  We train six days a week and sacrifice a lot to travel and represent Pittsburgh and America on the largest platform for kick boxing and sport karate.”  Currently, the US government does not financially support these athletes, like the other nations.  They must fundraise independently, and have set up a 501.c3 charitable organization to help support their dreams. Viola says, “We hope Pittsburgh corporations will get behind these kids to help and sponsor them towards Gold. These are honor students, role models, and the type of respectful examples we need.”  Karate and kick boxing (formerly called full-contact karate) is rooted in tradition, honor, discipline, and respect.

Viola says, “I always get asked, what does this all mean? The answer is simple, we inch one step closer to an Olympic berth.”  USA Kickboxing is the only U.S. organization in the sport of kickboxing to have IOC (International Olympic Committee) & AOC (American Olympic Committee) recognition. The athletes compete at the highest of levels, qualifying in our National Championship Tournaments to earn their spots on the team to compete internationally at the Pan-American Championships, World Games and the World Combat Games. WAKO USA serves as the gateway to the Olympics. The World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) the National Governing Body for the sport under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee.

The champions train out of Allegheny Shotokan Viola Karate Dojo as members of Team Kumite.  The Pittsburgh area dojo has been building “Black Belts in Life” since 1969 and is the only member of WAKO USA in Western PA.  To learn more about these tremendous athletes can be found at (724-640-2111)


Team Kumite - Professional Sport Karate Team

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