Who and what to watch out for at the Karate World Championships 2018
Karate is set to make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, giving this year's World Championships a heightened sense of excitement and anticipation.
The 24th Worlds will provide the highest number of points for athletes to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
More than 2,000 competitors and coaches from over 135 nations will take part.
A constellation of current world champions are ready to light up the WiZink Center in central Madrid, and take a big step on the Tokyo trail.
The best karateka on the planet are set for hand-to-hand combat in Kumite, Kata, and Para-Karate disciplines.
Kiyou Shimizu and Ryo Kiyuna or Damian Quintero and Sandra Sanchez?
The Kata competition has been dominated by Japanese karateka Kiyou Shimizu and Ryo Kiyuna who claimed the last two titles at the 2014 and 2016 competitions.
But local heroes Damian Quintero and Sandra Sanchez are out to grapple with glory in front of home fans.
Look out too for Hong Kong's young gun Mo Sheung Grace Lau and world champion Antonio Diaz of Venezuela, as youth and experience go head to head.
The birth place of karate
Japan brought karate to the world, and it's also bringing two more world champions to Madrid apart from Ryo Kiyuna and Kiyou Shimizu.
How about Ayumi Uekusa and Ryutaro Araga?
Uekusa re-captured the Grand Winner award this season and hopes to continue dominating the Female Kumite +68kg category.
WKF ranking leader Ryutaro Araga aims at extending his prevalence in Male Kumite -84kg.
Other ones to watch are new Grand Winner Ugur Aktas from Turkey and current runner-up Aykhan Mamayev of Azerbaijan in Male Kumite -84kg.
Alexandra Recchia to sparkle again?
Kumite is the domain of French star Alexandra Recchia, particularly in the absence of 25-year-old compatriot Emily Thouy.
Recchia has fought her way to the podium seven times at the Worlds in both individual and team competitions, including top honours in Female Kumite -50kg and Female Team Kumite at Linz 2016.
Many insiders forecast her standing proudly atop the winners' steps in Madrid too.
Battling to unseat the 30-year-old are WKF rankings No.1 and recent Grand Winner Serap Ozcelik of Turkey, defending silver medallist Miho Miyahara from Japan and Austria's seasoned contender Bettina Plank.
Another Iranian masterclass?
The 2016 World Championships saw the rise of Iran as a karate powerhouse, with five top three finishes in Austria.
Sajad Ganjzadeh is the holding Male Kumite +84kg world champion and Amir Mehdizadeh is his equivalent in the Male Kumite -60kg.
2017 Grand Winner Sajad Ganjzadeh has a tough task on his hands to defend the title with German WKF ranking leader Jonathan Horne and Georgian former world champion Gogita Arkania circling.
Amir Mehdizadeh, meanwhile, faces serious competition from rising karatekas like Uzbek Sadriddin Saymatov and Turkey's Eray Samdan, with former World champion Douglas Brose of Brazil also a menace to Mehdizadeh's title retention hopes.
Pride of England
Jordan Thomas is England's world champion in Male Kumite -67kg.
The British karateka triumphed in Linz two years ago but won't have an easy path to retaining his perch.
-67kg has been a bag of surprises of late with New Grand Winner Burak Uygur of Turkey upending predictions.
Steven Dacosta of France also looks strong and current runner-up Yves Martial Tadissi of Hungary all in the running.
One event, two world champions, Lofty ambitions
The Female Kumite -61kg is unique in having two current world champions in competition.
Egyptian Giana Lofty took top spot in -61kg two years ago, while Austrian Alisa Buchinger brought joy to a home crowd in Linz when she brought home the -68kg event.
Buchinger has since changed categories and will bring even more competition to -61kg which is already packed with talent.
Sixth crown for Kumite King Rafael Ahgayev?
We may well see history in the making in Madrid if Azerbaijan's Rafael Aghayev wins a sixth World title.
It would make him the most decorated athlete in the history of the sport.
A fifth world title in Linz was already a startling achievement and Aghayev aims to go one better in the Spanish capital.
Out to thwart that historic achievement are 2017 Grand Winner Stanislav Horuna from the Ukraine, rising Japanese star Ken Nishimura and former champion Luigi Busa of Italy, among others.
With the clock ticking down to Tokyo 2020, the best karateka in the world have a new sense of purpose.
The first ever Olympic medals in karate will be on the line in less than two years.
Madrid will give us a good look at what lies in store.