Move aside, Skyline Chili.
Michael Torres was the king of Cincinnati on Monday, and he didn't make anyone queasy in the process.
Torres defeated Ethan "The Swan" Swanson in the Power Tower showdown of Monday's episode of NBC's American Ninja Warrior. The two competitors earned the right to compete for a safety pass that provides a do-over at the Las Vegas national finals in the case of a fall in Stage 1 or 2 because they were the fastest finishers in the Cincinnati city finals.
They each thrived on a 10-obstacle course that was intentionally made more difficult after 11 athletes hit the buzzer in the qualifying rounds in the Queen City.
One of those obstacles was the brand new Slam Dunk, which asked ninjas to grab the sides of basketball-like balls and use them to propel themselves onto circular obstacles suspended in the air that resembled rims.
The two-handed dunks were no problem for Philip Scott, who started Monday's episode in inspirational fashion. Scott revealed he had multiple panic attacks earlier in the day and even called producers unsure if he would compete, but he made it through the Slingshot where he fell in qualifying, conquered the Mega Wall and powered through Slam Dunk on his way through eight obstacles.
It was fitting, though, that 6'5" Brandon Mears was the first to complete the entire course on an episode featuring a basketball-themed obstacle.
The firefighter was the tallest competitor on the show and climbed through the 35-foot Spider Trap as the final obstacle to hit a buzzer at the city finals for the first time in his seven-year ninja career.
Torres and Swanson impressed, but the women made headlines of their own in Cincinnati with Jesse "Flex" Labreck and Michelle Warnky among those in the competition.
The top two women advanced to Las Vegas, and Jeri D'Aurelio, who served in the army, did her best to break into the presumed Labreck and Warnky dominance. D'Aurelio made it through the Slingshot after previously falling on the fifth obstacle five times in her career and beat the Mega Wall in dramatic fashion on her third and final try before falling on Slam Dunk.
That typically would have been enough to advance, but Warnky made history in her home state.
She flew through Slam Dunk and Spinball Wizard before propelling up Spider Trap to become just the second woman in show history to complete the course and hit a buzzer at the city finals. She also set an incredibly high bar for Labreck, who responded like only she could by becoming the third woman to finish the course.
That Labreck's fiance, Chris DiGangi, completing the course was a mere footnote on the evening was a testament to the power of Warnky and "Flex."
There was plenty of drama on the men's side as well, as Mears' time had no chance to stand up in a loaded field.
Fellow firefighter and training partner Dan Polizzi surpassed his friend for the fastest time but only temporarily thanks to Torres. Torres never completed a city finals course in his ninja career prior to Monday, but he hit the buzzer a full 22 seconds faster than Polizzi.
Not even that time stood up, though, because of Swanson. Swanson already clinched a spot in the national finals as the fastest in qualifying, meaning he could focus all his energy on speed. That resulted in a blistering time of three minutes and 43 seconds, which was 18 seconds faster than Torres.
It wasn't just tension among the finishers, as Grant McCartney—who is known as Island Ninja—found himself on the bubble for Las Vegas after falling on Slam Dunk. Fortunately for the ninja veteran, he just made the cut and will have a chance to redeem himself in Sin City.
Attention now turns to Las Vegas for the national finals with all the city finals in the rearview mirror. That Torres prevailed against such a loaded field in Cincinnati should serve him well, but the level of competition will be dialed up with $1 million on the line.