By Jorden Curran
The nation of Kazakhstan is among the foremost regions in the world for amateur MMA. With an emphasis on youth development, the country enjoys a thriving national scene that receives strong government support and as a result is set to host the 2021 IMMAF World Championships later this year, boasting a national team ranked 3rd in the IMMAF senior world rankings and 2nd in the junior team rankings.
The 2021 IMMAF Senior and Junior World Championships has been confirmed for the 27 November to 4 December in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan at Barys Arena.
Since the amalgamation of IMMAF and the WMMAA, Kazakhstan quickly became one of the most prominent forces on IMMAF’s premier amateur stage. Since then, much has been seen of Kazakh talent and many medals have been claimed under the nation’s flag, but just five years ago it was the unassuming Berik Shinaliyev (main image), who first gave the IMMAF audience a taste of Kazakhstan’s potential, as he quietly made his way to the 2016 European Open in Prague and became an instant crowd favourite.
Bringing with him a mostly stand-up repertoire, Shinaliyev used his unorthodox in-and-out skillset to elude takedowns as much as possible and puzzle his rivals. His wild savvy, spotlighted by a spinning back-kick knockout in the opening round of the men’s flyweight tournament, caught the attention of onlooking nations including Team UK, who between competition days offered some extra guidance towards passing an opponent’s guard.
Shinaliyev earned a bronze medal in his first IMMAF outing after a submission loss to Irishman David Fogarty, and the Ireland team soon befriended their Kazakh rival. They would meet again at the 2017 European Open where Shinaliyev would get the better of Ireland’s Dylan Kennedy via a unanimous decision and would eventually claim a second European Open bronze medal upon a split-decision loss to Sanan Safarli, the eventual gold medallist.
It’s been mixed results for Shinaliyev since turning professional in 2017, but last night the 35-year-old’s tally evened to 3-3 while competing for a fifth time under the banner of prominent Kazakh MMA organisation, Octagon.
He was joined on the same card by a product of the latest generation of talent to graduate from the IMMAF pathway, 22-year-old Gani Adilserik (pictured, above), now 2-0 after last night’s arm-bar submission triumph.
Unlike Shinaliyev who travelled as the lone challenger of an underfunded team for his 2016 IMMAF debut, Adilserik represented the full-fledged Kazakh national team in 2018 and 2019; a national super squad of athletes, regularly among the deepest lineups of national talent with 20+ individual contenders spanning the men’s and women’s tournaments within both junior and senior ranks.
Adilserik earned the 2019 junior flyweight world title with an impressive hit list of rivals, first upsetting Muhidin Abubakar, who entered the 2019 Junior World Championships off the back of national dominance in the UK. The Kazakh hopeful went on to surpass Ireland’s Gary Rooney and stopped medal favourite Murat Ibrahimov via a belly-down arm-bar in the tournament final, foreshadowing what has since become his signature hold and securing world championships gold in one of the most competitive junior divisions.
With home field advantage for the 2021 IMMAF World Championships, will this be the year that “best of the rest” Kazakhstan turns up the heat and leapfrogs the front runners of Bahrain and Russia, to lead the IMMAF medal table?