On July 4th, 2017, fireworks erupted at midday on the center ring of the USAT Nationals. The women’s -49 kilo senior division’s final fight pitted Trinity TKD’s Monique Rodriguez against Quest team captain, Chloe Towns. To call this a nail-biter would have been both trite and inaccurate. By the end of the showdown, the spectators had no fingernails left to bite. Teammates, coaches and bystanders were awash in anguish, awe, and exhilaration as the tit-for-tat action unfolded in spectacular Fourth of July fashion.

The match began with Chloe pressing and pushing her opponent to the perimeter, establishing the rhythm. Chloe: laser-like, pursuing her prey with a direct and tenacious attack; Monique flitting in and out, resetting, and marking out what was, more often than not, a clockwise path.

The first firecracker went off. Bang, an abrupt body shot gave Chloe a 2-0 lead. The advantage would be brief as Rodriguez fired back with an out-to-in axe kick and body shot combo. The score was now 2-5, Rodriguez. At the close of round 1, tension continues to build, as Chloe pursues and Monique continues her precarious dance at the edge of the ring. Somehow, Rodriguez manages not to incur Gam-jeoms for stepping out, even with Chloe’s axe kicks just inches from her nose.

Round two starts with both players in lockstep. Chloe continues to pursue but falls back 6-9 following an axe kick and Gam-jeom. At the 1 minute mark, Chloe launches a flurry of crescent kicks and appears to land. The kick doesn’t register. She then follows with a well-timed back kick that registers but doesn’t score. The backward force causes Chloe to stumble back 10 feet and fall for a Gam-jeom. Then, perhaps sensing a momentum change, Monique comes in for a wide, looping axe kick that hovers for a timeless moment before it connects and widens the gap to 13-7.

Team Quest appears a bit distraught. Their mouths are dry from fight chants and yelling. But Chloe Towns begins the final round with a calm demeanor, intent on executing her techniques, deftly managing the ring, probing diligently for openings. Still Monique remains elusive, a hummingbird that refuses to be pinned down and examined. She flirts with the edges of the mat again but continues to amass points. At the 1:33 mark, the score is 17-7, Rodriguez.

Finally, Chloe manages to pressure her crafty opponent out of the ring for a Gam-jeom. With her hoarse comrades cheering her on, Chloe then turns her flurries into a blizzard of kicks, asserting herself to the very edge of the mat. She throws a series of checks, then a double, then a back kick. She falls. Gam-jeom. The clock runs toward zero seemingly faster than Chloe can attack. Monique commands the largest lead of the match 18-9. Only 40 secs remain.

It was then that Chloe appears to channel her inner Joe Louis, the great boxer whose statue stands like a sentinel just outside the arena. Master Vargas is yelling instructions and gesticulating violently, as Chloe begins a barrage of head kicks, connecting twice to get to 18-15. Gam-jeom, Chloe inches closer, 18-16. Chloe gets the round house but the crafty Rodriguez sneaks in a shot of her own. Then, Towns goes over the top of Rodriguez who collapses to the floor. With 9.75 secs remaining, the score is 20-19, Rodriguez.

In the end, still indefatigable, with dogged grit, and indomitable spirit, Chloe moves forward. Her axe kick misses, her back kick misses…There is no time for thought, analysis, or strategy. It had come down to a moment of instinct and intuition. With just 1 sec left, her teammates barely breathing, her coach out of his chair, Chloe’s round house scores. The crowd erupts.

As far as a kick goes, a round house is like a Corolla. Basic. Reliable. But for Chloe, it proved to be golden—the kick heard around the arena. Monique Rodriguez had finally succumbed to the onslaught that was Chloe Towns. Final score: 20-21. The midday fireworks show and finale had come to an end.

Watch the thrilling fight and stay for the exclusive interview afterwards!

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