Top Stories from Venice Finals

A few days late I just finished watching the Venice Finals, and wanted to share what were the top stories for me from the Venice City Finals of American Ninja Warrior.  As always, this is just one man’s take of what jumped out to him from watching the show.  As a competitor, and a competitor with friendships with other competitors, my view is obviously somewhat biased by my experiences, so take it all with that grain of salt!

Biggest Obstacle Downgrade Ever – The Flying Nunchucks in the qualifying round of Venice was the single hardest obstacle in any of the qualifying rounds in American Ninja Warrior 5, and they massively downgraded it by changing it out and putting in the weak lame Trapeze Swing for the Venice Finals.  Nobody fell on it, nor came close to falling on it.  It was a blatant move to ensure more competitors went deeper into the course.  I can understand it though, as we’d be bummed if only a few competitors got to try the cool obstacles like the Rope Maze and the Cliffhanger in the latter part of the course, but it was still the biggest obstacle downgrade ever in American Ninja Warrior history.

The Beast Means Business – James “The Beast” McGrath dropped the hammer and got the fastest time of the Venice Finals as he blazed through the course, only one of four competitors to finish the tough course (yes, it was still very tough despite the Biggest Obstacle Downgrade Ever!).  James is consistently one of the top ninjas, and a legitimate threat to be the first American Ninja Warrior.  I call James “The Patron Saint of Walkons” because in American Ninja Warrior 3 he walked on and made it all the way to the Ultimate Cliffhanger in Stage 3 in Japan.  Everybody who has ever walked on to American Ninja Warrior (including me) wants to be James “The Beast” McGrath when they grow up.

Jessie Graff Fails at Warped Wall – The 28 year old stuntwoman from Santa Monica was the first woman to have ever advance to the city/regional final round, and demonstrated that was no fluke with a strong run in the Venice Finals making it all the way to the Warped Wall.  She didn’t really come close to completing the Wall, but my sense is that with some focused training on it this amazing athlete will get it the next time she confronts it on the course.

Dustin Rocho Bounces Back from Injury, Gets 2nd Fastest Time – In American Ninja Warrior 4 this dedicated dad, humble guy, and generous soul (did he really give away his house to a family in need?) went out on a nasty fall on the Jump Hang that ruptured his ear drum.  This season he delivered an inspired run finishing the course in the 2nd fastest time and advancing to the National Finals in his hometown of Las Vegas.

David Campbell Secures 5th Mt Midoriyama Visit – Upfront I have to say that as a long-time Sasuke (Ninja Warrior Japan) fan, I have mixed emotions with American Ninja Warrior branding the National Finals in Las Vegas as Mt Midoriyama.  But it is clear they are, so no point battling against it.  That point aside, David Campbell further cemented his status as one of the true superstars of American Ninja Warrior by competing the Venice Finals course and advancing to Mt Midoriyama (there, I said it) in Las Vegas for a record 5th time.

Jesse La Flair Fails on Cliffhanger – Like I said before, I love watching Jesse La Flair run, you should check out his videos on YouTube.  I was interested to learn that he’s been with his wife for 13 years since the 9th grade, so much respect there.  He fell in the Venice Finals on the Cliffhanger, which was really no surprise since they’ve been showing that fall in TV promos for the last month!   Many people didn’t realize the guy falling in the promos was him, and NBC had a fail when it showed that promo ad immediately before his run, and many people recognized that it was him for the first time.  Social media blew up about that mistake #NBCfail.

Mario Mendoza and Daniel Dick Represent the 40 Year Olds – Last season in American Ninja Warrior 4 I was proud to be the oldest guy who advanced to the Midwest Finals when I was 40.  Here in Venice in American Ninja Warrior 5 there were two strong 40 year old competitors who advanced to the city finals:  Mario Mendoza and Daniel Dick.  Both of them had fantastic runs, with Mario Mendoza advancing to the National Finals in Las Vegas.  Congrats to both guys for holding it down for we middle-aged guys 😉

Team Douglas Represents – The Douglas brothers did fantastic in Venice with both Andrew and JB advancing to the city finals.  Andrew Douglas, who finished the qualifying course, caught a tough break and clearly slipped on the Quintuple Steps and went out early.  JB, the big brother who fell in his qualifying run but still advanced to the city finals, had an amazing run and was one of four competitors to hit the buzzer on a very difficult course.  There was a heartwarming story about JB helping a young boy who had selective mutism find his voice through their friendship, which made me root hard for him.  I’m a sucker for anybody who helps kids, so count me a JB fan.

Brent Steffensen Fails on the Salmon Ladder – Brent, one of the top consistent competitors in American Ninja Warrior and the guy who went the farthest in American Ninja Warrior 4, came to a shocking end when he slipped on the Salmon Ladder ending his season.  You could see he fell out of his rhythm, and his fall reminds us all how difficult each and every obstacle is, and any one can end our season at any moment on the course.  Brent is a great guy, and a fierce competitor, and he’ll be back strong in American Ninja Warrior 6, no doubt.

Here are the Venice competitors who advanced to the National Finals in Las Vegas…er…Mt Midoriyama:

  1. James McGrath – Clear
  2. Dustin Rocho – Clear
  3. JB Douglas – Clear
  4. David Campbell – Clear
  5. James Eggiman – Failed Spider Climb
  6. James Sclar – Failed Spider Climb
  7. Jesse La Flair – Failed Cliffhanger
  8. Dan Mast – Failed Cliffhanger
  9. Brian Krestch – Failed Cliffhanger
  10. Luke Carson – Failed Cliffhanger
  11. Lance Pekus – Failed Cliffhanger
  12. Justin Walcker – Failed Cliffhanger
  13. Levi Keller – Failed Rope Maze
  14. Mario Mendoza – Failed Rope Maze
  15. Will Roberts – Failed Rope Maze

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  • JR

    Good article as always Matt. One thing I would have mentioned is that if you looked closely during this finals, you may have noticed that they increased the gap between the salmon ladder rungs, which would explain why less competitors completed it, as well as why Brent failed on it. I watched videos from season 4 just to be sure but it becomes apparent upon comparison. Otherwise I think you said eerything that needed to be covered :)

  • Anonymous

    Thanks JR. Yeah, they seem to change the distance between the pegs in every season. There have been some seasons where you only had to go up three short rungs, and this one there were 5 rungs, with the last jump being extra-long. In Venice they enforced you going up all 5 rungs, but in Baltimore this season and Dallas last season you could transition off the Salmon Ladder one rung “early” as long as you could grab hold of the next obstacle! They treat the obstacles pretty inconsistently from season to season, and region to region. Another example…in Venice you see in the city finals some people jumping along the Quintuple Steps along just one side and not touching all 5 steps, but in Baltimore (the next city) it was expressly forbidden.

  • JR

    Interesting, I actually didn’t know that rule was imposed only in Baltimore. The rung distance actually seemed pretty consistent in each area but not every season. I understand the change in rung gaps in this case though since the added difficulty makes sense given their obvious desire to make the qualifying courses more difficult than ever before.

  • RC

    Hey good article! Quick question, What happened on Shane Daniels’ run? I know he had a killer time on qualifying but I can’t recall his run being mentioned on the finals. Did he fall on the salmon ladder again?

  • Anonymous

    Good question, I actually don’t know. I’ll see if I can find out.