It’s FINALLY here! American Ninja Warrior season nine kicked off with a return to the Universal Studios Hollywood back lot for the Los Angeles City Qualifiers. We were first introduced to two new obstacles: Cannonball Drop and the Battering Ram.
Turns out, the Battering Ram was inspired by a submission to last year’s obstacle design contest! We knew you fans were going to come up with some evil ideas!
Before we get into the action, there’s one important difference to note this season. A new rule has been put into place that the top five female Ninjas will move on to the City Finals. This means that if two women place in the top 30 competitors, the next three top females will join them in the City Finals.
Here’s what you missed:
Course completions: 22! Go Ninjas!
Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Cannonball Drop: 6
Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Battering Ram: 10
Ninjas bleeding: 2 (Look out for that vicious first Fly Wheel!)
- Floating Steps
- Cannonball Drop
- Fly Wheels
- Block Run
- Battering Ram
- Warped Wall
- Paige Champman made an awesome save on Block Run, but wouldn’t get past the Battering Ram.
- Daniel Moreno was the first to gash his head on the Fly Wheel, but didn’t let it distract him from making it all the way to the Warped Wall.
- Anthony Trucks put an end to that pesky rumor NFL players don’t do well on the course when he hit the buzzer.
- April Steiner Bennett actually competed with Jessie Graff in Pole Vaulting previously. Now she’s also making a name on American Ninja Warrior by moving on to the City Finals.
- Riles Nganga was the hit the buzzer with his adorable family looking on.
- Kevin Bull brought his friends from C.A.P. out to watch him hit another buzzer.
- Josh Levin set himself up for a great sophomore season by completing the course.
- Adam Rayl also came back strong for his second season. He actually held the fastest time of the night for awhile, with a finish of 1:29.79.
- Flip Rodriguez slowed down his usual speed, but still put up a great course completion.
- You might remember Charlie Andrews from M.I.T’s team on the College Edition of Team Ninja Warrior. He’s just as skilled on the American Ninja Warrior course.
- The Ninja all the way from Alaska, Nick Hanson, returned and claimed another buzzer.
- Tiana Webberley made sure we knew she was back with serious dedication!
- Island Ninja Grant McCartney has been training hard in the off season. It showed when he scored the fastest run of the night to close out the episode. He hit the buzzer at 1:26.37. It was actually the first time he’d ever finished in the top five.
Our first heart-pounding moment of season nine belongs to Zhanique Lovett. The mom of three shared her powerful backstory of growing up with a mom who was on drugs.
But she’s now a personal trainer who’s focused on showing her kids just how strong mom can be. And yeah. She’s strong. Zhanique tore up the Qualifying course. She’s the only woman who defeated the Battering Ram.
At the Warped Wall, we were screaming for her as she failed her first two attempts. We wanted the third time to be the charm so badly, but it just wasn’t going to happen tonight. That’s okay though. Zhanique ranked 24th overall for the night, meaning she’ll get another shot at the Wall in the City Finals.
If there’s one thing that can be expected from American Ninja Warrior, it’s that the show will introduce us to amazing people who are going to grab our hearts.
That certainly goes for Joe Heiden. The husband and father started training for American Ninja Warrior when he wanted to build muscle mass back up after enduring treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Things started looking up health-wise, but then Joe and his family had to hear the crushing news that the cancer was back and in his lungs, and it was stage four. That information is enough to weigh down any human. But Joe is the Hopeful Ninja. He’s stayed positive and kept up with his training.
We want to see so much more of Joe. Which is why it was hard to see him go out at the Cannonball Drop. But Joe says he’ll be back next season, and we’ll be waiting for him!
Lesson of the night:
A Ninja’s biggest strength might be standing on the sidelines.
These competitors train so hard to build up their bodies and their mental strength. Sometimes we can forget the love and support from their community that’s helped get them to the Ninja Warrior course.
Tonight was a beautiful reminder of that. Zhanique’s son was literally doing backflips while cheering his mom on. Riles Nganga’s children were overly eager to tell all of America that “daddy can’t swim!” Benjamin Humphrey’s younger brother wept with pride when he hit the buzzer.
None of these Ninjas would be the same without the extra motivation their loved ones provide.
On June 19, we’ll get to see the San Antonio City Qualifiers. Fan favorites like Daniel Gil, Brent Steffensen and Kacy Catanzaro will return to the course!