As college basketball heats up, it’s hard not to get swept up in that March Madness fever. Ninja Ethan Swanson pioneered the Ninja bracket, a fun play on bracket-mania with some epic all-time ninja match-ups. But what if, instead of Ninjas, we were putting together a bracket for ANW’s best obstacles? What might that look like? In honor of college basketball’s recently completed Sweet Sixteen, we organized 16 of our favorites below.
(1) Warped Wall vs. (8) Floating Steps
The Warped Wall may be the most iconic obstacle American Ninja Warrior has to offer. In City Qualifying, the Warped Wall is the last thing standing between you and the buzzer. It’s a difficult obstacle that takes strength and technique. Plus, it gives the Ninja’s a chance to showcase some style. Meanwhile, the Floating Steps are the opening obstacle and require good balance and coordination. Some Ninjas bound through these steps with no issues and often times this particular challenge is overlooked. But you can be sure that at least once an episode, the Floating Steps will surprise and knock out an unsuspecting competitor.
(4) Circuit Board vs. (5) The Wedge
The Circuit Board is one of the most grueling obstacles in the Ninja Universe. As you are forced to dead hang, alternating one arm at a time, you need to also look up at a complex map of spaces that must be efficiently navigated if you are going to complete the obstacle. If that’s not hard enough, it’s typically located on the back half of a City Finals course when your arms are already pumped out. On the other hand, the Wedge has proven to be a near unbeatable obstacle. Only a handful of Ninjas, including Jessie Graff and Josh Levin in Season 8’s City Finals, have managed to keep control of the bar as they meticulously advance it through the two slanted glass panes.
(2) Salmon Ladder vs. (7) Rolling Thunder
If the Warped Wall is the most iconic Ninja obstacle, then the Salmon Ladder is a close second. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching a well done trip up the ladder as the bar clicks smoothly into each rung. Just ask Mike Bernardo and Karsten Williams. However, Rolling Thunder is a fun obstacle in its own right. It requires a good amount of body control like the Salmon Ladder, but also requires a ton of brute strength to keep the momentum moving on this massive wheel. And believe it or not, it’s been featured on the city qualifying course the past two years.
(3) Elevator Climb vs. (6) Hourglass Drop
As if the Invisible Ladder wasn’t hard enough, the Ninja executives cranked it up a notch with the Elevator Climb. When competitors are running out of gas, they need to find a rhythm on this brutal final obstacle of the City Finals courses and pull themselves to the top for the buzzer. Although the stakes aren’t typically as high when competitors face the Hourglass Drop, it may be even more difficult to complete. Ninjas need to perfectly line themselves up for a proper trampoline dismount and then use their grip strength to grab on to the next board in mid-air. It’s about more than just strength-you need body control and athleticism to defeat this drop.
(1) Jumping Spider vs. (8) Propeller Bar
The Jumping Spider is always a unique challenge in Vegas. It’s unlike almost any other obstacle and requires an element of flexibility and timing that Ninjas don’t often need to use on the course. We’ve seen many Ninjas create their own version of this obstacle to simulate its distinctive style including a very memorable version from Cowboy Ninja Lance Pekus. Although the Propeller Bar is an early obstacle on Stage One of Vegas, it’s another one-of-a-kind challenge. It may seem straightforward, but we’ve seen some of the all-time greats bested by this one.
(4) Wingnut Alley vs. (5) Wave Runner
Ninja’s all over the country have Kevin Carbone to thank for creating perhaps the most difficult Stage Two obstacle we’ve ever seen. Although a variety of top competitors reached the final obstacle of Stage Two this past year, only three could defeat Wingnut Alley. It was so tricky the show even made some changes to the obstacle before USA vs. the World. It takes strength and body control which may be why Najee Richardson and Sean Bryan (who have gymnast backgrounds) were able to conquer it. The Wave Runner takes similar skills, including perhaps more of an emphasis on grip strength. It’s knocked out some all-time greats hoping to compete for the million dollar prize as well.
(2) Ultimate Cliff Hanger vs. (7) Rope Climb
The Ultimate Cliff Hanger is arguably Stage Three of Vegas’s signature obstacle. It’s received a variety of renovations over the years, but it’s always required gasp-worthy swings and finger-tip saves to navigate it’s path. Conversely, the Rope Climb is a fairly straightforward obstacle. However, there are no bigger stakes than Stage Four of Vegas as we’ve seen with Isaac and Geoff in Season 7.
(3) Flying Bar vs. (6) Flying Squirrel
It’s Flying vs. Flying in this final obstacle battle. Both challenges require carefully swings, difficult grabs and poised ninjas. The Flying Bar is the final obstacle of Stage Three and is the last thing standing between you and a trip to the Rope Climb for your shot at the grand prize. The Flying Squirrel is the final obstacle of Stage One and, unlike Stage Three, Ninjas have to worry about the clock in addition to the obstacle itself. Either way, you need to keep your cool under the pressure of the moment and swing to safety above the water.
That’s how we think a bracket could look. What are your favorite obstacles that didn’t make the cut? Which obstacle do you think would come out on top? Share your thoughts with us!