Tomorrow night marks the opening of the 2018 Roast Battle Royale – a single-elimination tournament featuring 20 comics, 19 battles, and one eventual winner. We here at VerbalViolence.TV strongly condemn illegal betting, but if you want to participate at your own risk here is a handy guide to get to know the participants and official Final Four predictions from a handful of Roast Battle veterans.
Ramsey Badawi (3-2)
Why He Can Win: He’s well-rested. Like, VERY well-rested. Like, Just Fell Out Of The Rankings Due To Inactivity rested. Ramsey’s most recent fight came all the way back in April. Before that, he hadn’t been in the ring since August 2016. All of that makes him an incredibly interesting sleeper pick. While the majority of the other 19 battlers have been putting in work over the last calendar year, Ramsey has barely made a dent in the roast scene. This might cause some people to forget about how good he is. Don’t do that. This is a guy that holds wins over strong competitors like Jonathan Rowell, Robin Tran, and David Deery. He’s an excellent roast writer, one of the best in the tournament. I wouldn’t say he’s one of the favorites going in, but it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see him make a deep run into the Final 4 or beyond.
Tony Bartolone (6-6)
Why He Can Win: He’s been solid against tournament competition. Tony’s engaged in a lot of self-destructive behavior at the Roast Battle in the form of grandiose entrances that have backfired spectacularly. But he’s a roller coaster of a performer, and he’s got a solid collection of highs to go along with the lows. Those highs include wins over fellow tournament competitors like Joe Eurell and Quentin Thomas, both of whom are ranked higher than Tony. Besides Sarah Keller, his only loss against a fellow tournament participant came against Galina Rivina, a bout in which he arguably outwrote his opponent but lost due to a catastrophically bad pre-battle skit. Tony has a very difficult first-round matchup (more on that in a minute), but if he can pull off a win there and get his confidence up then the sky is the limit.
Nicole Becannon (7-4)
Why She Can Win: She’s the hottest roaster in the game right now. After a 2-4 stretch to start her battling career, Nicole wrapped up a 5-0 year in 2017 with a VERY impressive win over Keith Carey a few weeks ago. In addition to Keith, she also beat up on paid regulars (Jeff Danis), Roast Battle TV stars (Greg Roque), and one potential tournament foe (Quentin Thomas). Her writing has improved by leaps and bounds this year, and her rebuttal game is one of the strongest in the sport. At the time the brackets were made, Nicole fell just outside of the top four seeds. After her battle with Keith, she might have leapfrogged all the way to the overall tournament favorite.
John-Michael Bond (5-2)
Why He Can Win: He’s a battler’s battler. When Keith Carey goes on the Verbal Violence podcast and declares that you’re the next great battler only five months after your first fight, you’re probably doing something right. When you beat Keith five months after THAT, you’re definitely doing something right. After debuting with a loss to Carmen Morales in a classic undercard, Bond went 5-1 over his next six fights with his only loss coming against Danielle Perez – a fight in which he beat himself more than anything. The guy is good. Good writing, good stage presence, very likeable (usually)… that’s a recipe for success in the Roast Battle.
Katrina Davis (3-2)
Why She Can Win: She’s so fun. In a sport that can often be misconstrued as mean, Katrina embodies the true spirit of Roast Battle more than anyone – she’s a great writer and she’s having the time of her life up there. The result is a run of amazing undercard fights to start her battle career. Roast Battle is about likeability as much as any other comedy show, and Katrina is the type of competitor the audience is immediately drawn to. She always rewards that with clever and creative jokes, and I’m excited to potentially see her do that over a long tournament run.
Joe Eurell (8-8-1)
Why He Can Win: He’s quite possibly the best writer in the tournament. In a field filled with brilliant joke writers, Joe stands out as someone who masters smart jokes and economic use of the language. Understandably, much of the focus when Joe battles is on his wheelchair. It’s an easy source of material for his opponents, and usually an easy rebuttal for Joe. But let’s look beyond the chair for a minute and evaluate Joe solely as a writer. He possesses two traits that make him an excellent battler – well-written material, and very quick adaptation skills that allow him to frame most of his jokes as comebacks. He never seems to have a definitive set-list, and instead stays in the moment and responds to most jokes directly. He has to be considered one of the tournament favorites as a result.
Guam Felix (7-4)
Why He Can Win: Experience. Guam doesn’t boast the most extensive fight card in the tournament, but he’s been in attendance every Tuesday for the nearly five-year-long run of the show, sitting in the VIP and studying. After a 6-0 start to his battling career, Guam has struggled in his last five fights. But in those five he did have a truly great performance in a win over Haiti, reminding people what he’s capable of at his peak. Can he harness that level of performance and ride it to a Final Four run? It’s probably not the smart money bet, but on Any Given Tuesday, anything is possible.
Rena Hundert (5-1)
Why She Can Win: She’s got some high-profile knockouts. A 5-1 record is impressive regardless of opponents, but factor in that Rena holds three-round wins over current number 3 ranked battler Jeanne Whitney and Season 2 Tournament participant Anna Valenzuela and you get a particularly noteworthy resume. After a somewhat lengthy layoff and a couple of substandard fights recently, it’s easy to lose sight of how dominant Rena was for her first four fights. If she can recapture that level of performance, we could still be seeing Rena in tournament battles six weeks from now.
Sarah Keller (6-1-2)
Why She Can Win: Just look at that win-loss record. In a sport where the object is winning, it’s hard not to favor someone who’s only lost once in nine battles. Sarah is remarkably consistent, likeable, and relatively hard to roast. She never really has a bad performance, and that level of consistency will go a long way in a marathon-style event like this. She also has the luxury of sitting back and facing the winner of a play-in game, which will give her a chance to be well-rested against either John-Michael Bond or Jonathan Rowell. If Vegas were laying down gambling odds for this tourney, Sarah Keller might have the shortest ones of all.
Caesar Lizardo (8-3)
Why He Can Win: He’s got the most under-the-radar hot streak of all-time going. 8-3 is a sterling battle record no matter what, but when you consider that he started 0-2 it makes his mark truly special. In his last nine fights his only loss was to Hall of Famer Leah Kayajanian in a highly debatable decision. A combination of goofy outfits, accents, and antics might make Caesar seem like more of a novelty than a skilled joke writer, but the results are undeniable. Beneath the theatrics he brings to the table, he always manages to have a couple of truly great knockout punches ready to go. It’s going to be a busy few months for Caesar as he becomes a new father – a shiny tournament trophy would go nicely with a shiny new baby. Let’s see if he can pull it off.
David Lucas (4-3)
Why He Can Win: His ceiling might be the highest in the tournament. David Lucas is the X-factor here. In a sport dominated by clever writing, David brings a level of freestyle improvisation that absolutely nobody else can match. The question, as always, is whether or not that will be enough to beat out a prepared opponent. In his first four battles, David went against lower level foes and looked absolutely unbeatable. He was funny, quick, sharp, and doing something we’d never seen before. His level of dominance was remarkable. But then he took a step up and went against Alfred Konuwa, Jacob Trimmer, and Eric Abbenante… and got beat up pretty badly. This tournament will feature competition at or above that level – can David step up his writing game to go along with the skillset that made him special in the first place? If he can, he might be the most dangerous battler in the tournament.
Galina Rivina (6-3)
Why She Can Win: Consistency. Much like Sarah Keller above, Galina never really turns in a bad battle. While the headlines are typically grabbed by flashier battlers, Galina just quietly gets the job done. Galina is the battler who always posts somewhere between a 6 and an 8 out of 10… or at least she did until her most recent battle with Joe Eurell, when she was absolutely on fire and had her best battle performance yet. She’s a dangerous competitor regardless, but if she truly turned a corner in the last fight she could definitely be a dark horse pick to do some real damage in the later rounds. In addition to being a solid writer and performer, Galina is also pretty difficult to roast. There’s not a lot of surface-level things you can target (unless you love a bunch of “you’re kinda short!” jokes) so her opponents will have to dig a little deeper.
Jonathan Rowell (1-4-1)
Why He Can Win: He’s spent his entire battle tenure going against monsters, to the point where the tournament might actually be a step down for him competition-wise. The only battler in the tournament with a losing record, Jonathan punched his ticket to the dance with a series of close competitive fights against battle legends like Omid Singh, Connor McSpadden, and Leah Kayajanian. There’s something to be said for spending your life sparring against Mike Tyson and then stepping in the ring with guys who have much lesser resumes. Don’t get me wrong, there are no slouches in this tournament and he can’t coast by, but I fully expect Jonathan to come out swinging. He’s a fantastic roast writer who’s gone toe-to-toe with the best, to the point where he has to be considered one of the top dark horse candidates despite being the only battler here with a losing record.
Mike Schmidt (6-1)
Why He Can Win: Stage presence. In a sport where so many of the new battlers follow the exact same cadence and formulas, Mike possesses one of the truly unique voices on the show. When he’s on, his deliberate hushed delivery allows the crowd to hang on his every word. While we’ve praised some battlers for their consistency here, Mike represents the other end of the spectrum – some rough performances and some absolutely legendary ones. Like David Lucas, his ceiling is at a level that few other roasters can touch, meaning that if he’s at 100% he will be VERY difficult to beat. If Mike doesn’t have the best odds in Vegas, he’s almost definitely in the top three.
Jeff Sewing (4-0-2)
Why He Can Win: He’s very difficult to roast. There are about a million other reasons he can win, but let’s start with that. The guy is extraordinarily normal, to the point where a recent opponent had to make up a fake miscarriage angle just to get some meat on the roasting bone. Of course, being boring isn’t enough of a reason for someone to be considered a favorite. How about the fact that he’s the only undefeated battler in the tournament? How about the fact that he was wins over Jay Light and Leah Kayajanian? How about his Roastie nomination for Joke of the Year last year? The guy just writes phenomenal roast jokes every single fight, and he might be the most dangerous draw in the tournament for that reason. He also co-hosts a fantastic sports podcast with myself called Pat and Jeff Like Sports – it’s really good and available on iTunes and that’s not relevant to the tournament but you should listen anyway.
Movses Shakarian (3-2)
Why He Can Win: Because Roast Battle tournaments are an Armenian thing until proven otherwise. Leah Kayajanian won the last one and it’ll be up to Movses to keep the title in Armenia (or Glendale, probably) this year. If you don’t believe in racial/cultural roasting superiority, you should be aware that Movses is extremely likeable on stage. He’s got a very fun high-energy style that plays well with Belly Room crowds, and he also writes solid jokes. As the newest battler in the tournament he’s also a bit of a wild card – he just made his debut in June so it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. Still, if you saw any of his first few fights, you’d know that a Cinderella run to the Final Four is well within reason.
Quentin Thomas (6-2)
Why He Can Win: He takes smart, calculated risks. Quentin started off his battle career 3-0 before taking a loss to Tony Bartolone in a fight where Tony took all sorts of risks. Since then, Quentin’s writing has progressed to a point where he feels very comfortable writing jokes that don’t follow the traditional roasting formula. He even recently took the risk of doing a mystery battle where he didn’t know his opponent until they took the stage, a battle he won in dominating fashion. He’s always been a solid joke writer, but as of late he’s developed a roasting confidence that’s taken his performance to the next level. Quentin is also the only battler in the tournament (I believe) with three three-round main events under his belt (against Tony, Madison Sinclair, and Anna Valenzuela). Overall, he has proven himself repeatedly in the ring and enters the tournament as one of the favorites because of it.
Jacob Trimmer (6-3)
Why He Can Win: He’s in the perfect place right now in terms of rest vs. rust. What I mean by that is that Jacob battled a lot for a few months, but his most recent fight was against David Lucas over three months ago. I’ve always found this to be the ideal situation – rest up, then take a few fights in a row. Roast Battle can be daunting and overwhelming and wear you down. This shouldn’t be an issue for Jacob, who should be stepping in ready to run the roast marathon in front of him. There are other reasons he can win, namely that he’s a really good roaster, but I’m running out of different ways to say that. Everyone here is a really good roaster, you know? Fuck.
Bryan Vokey (5-2)
Why He Can Win: He’s seven fights in and hasn’t lost a single battle without an asterisk yet. He lost to Quentin Thomas in the Mystery Opponent Battle, a concept that is very clearly looking like an advantage for the “underdog”. He lost to Rena Hundert in a battle that was fraught with controversy (you can dig up the roast report for that one if you’re interested). Beyond that, five battles, five wins, and a Rookie of the Year Roastie Award as given by his peers. That’s a very solid resume, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a Final Four appearance (or greater) added to it.
Paige Wesley (4-2)
Why She Can Win: She’s the master of the “Thank You So-and-So” joke. It’s a joke format that is quickly becoming overdone in the battles, but of all the people who use it, Paige might utilize it the most effectively. Against Danielle Perez, her “Lady Foot Lacker” burn helped seal the win. Against Rena Hundert, “Ho Jack Horseman” swung the momentum in her favor. Against Keith Reza, “Special Ed Sheeran” was a home run. I could go on, but you get the idea. It wouldn’t surprise me if Paige has a document on her computer with 19 separate “Thank Yous” for everyone in the tournament. If she does, watch out. Could be a long couple of months for her opponents.
After all of those words building a case for anyone, I reached out to a bunch of Roast Battle veterans for their Final Four predictions and found that, for the most part, they’re in agreement. If nothing else, this cements anyone outside of Schmidt, Sewing, and Becannon as solid Cinderella stories. To close the column, here are those predictions.