The last IMMAF event was the 2020 Oceania open and for me, the Youth Championships will be the first IMMAF event I’ve attended since Bahrain in November 2019- it’s been a long time coming!
It’s brilliant to see events returning, I say that tentatively but we’ve got one foot in the door with the Youth Championships only being a few weeks away in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The youth tournament carries a little bit more gravitas because the first world youths that were in Rome in 2019 was just spectacular, amazing, and one of my favourite events of the year- including everything I do for the UFC! Watching those kids perform was magical so getting back to that at the end of this month; it’s not a minute too soon.
Not only will it be fantastic to see the athletes returning to the IMMAF cage but I’m very much looking forward to seeing the officials returning and continuing their development too. Every fighter deserves a confident and switched on referee and competent, switched on officials, but the kids even more so because, especially with the youth as well, every fighter has got the potential to get hurt or injured but not necessarily at the expense of having an unqualified official. I take great pride and place, as does the board at IMMAF, in getting the best team we can when it comes to our events and it’s not just the IMMAF events.
For 20 years plus I have witnessed events and shows where the officials are so far down the pecking order it’s untrue. From the beginning of my involvement with IMMAF, that’s something I never wanted to replicate.
We have set about changing that and it’s one of the things I’ll never make an excuse for and to say that it’s important is so obvious. When you have got people going in there to fight each other. Bringing in the best people you can is a matter of safety and also fairness.
As I discussed during the IMMAF Technical Seminar Week, in order to further the continual development of officials we are introducing a new IMMAF online MMA Officials Training.
The online aspect of the course allows us to reach nations where MMA is still very much a developing sport. It’s far easier to mould and shape someone who is raw and has next to no knowledge than work with someone who has done it their own way for 10 years (usually the wrong way) which means you need to correct bad habits. That’s not exclusive to MMA, and is the same in any vocation, so getting in there as early as we can so we can arm them with the right information is really important. The online officials course means we can now deliver theoretical knowledge, no matter where you are.
It goes without saying that the complete assessment of an official cannot be done online; we are not reckless. But we can deliver the theoretical content, the rights and wrongs, the dos and don’ts and that’s a massive step in the right direction.
Safety depends on a competent referee who is switched on enough to stop fighters getting unduly injured and the second important issue is fairness. Do they know the rules? Can they apply the rules? And it’s the same for judges.
At the IMMAF World Championships in 2019, I had a team of over 60 officials dealing with over 500 athletes, 4 cages, 6 days of competition. This means nearly 400 matches and the level of performance of those officials was phenomenal.
But the road that starts at IMMAF can also lead to international pro events, when I can bring on officials I have trained. The UFC is a great example. Everyone wants to get to the UFC – not just fighters but officials too. During the fight island series last year, the UFC trusted in me and guys like Clemence Werner from Germany, Vito Paolillio from Italy, Ben Cartligde and David Lethaby. This team has worked with me internationally for years. To see them work their way up through the ranks, just as a fighter does and rightfully earn their spot through hard work, dedication and competency, makes me very proud.
Closer to home, the announcement of the Arnold Classic in England meant good news for the English Mixed Martial Arts Association too. Thankfully for EMMAA, they have concentrated on giving the MMA part of the segment to us; which is phenomenal. There is going to be an invitational open to athletes from England, Scotland, all Ireland and Wales and that will be on the Friday and Saturday. Then, on Sunday, we will host a national youth tournament for English athletes. As it should be, in the right way, athletes who go on and represent their country, competing to earn their place, so it is based on merit and standings.
So we can look forward to an EMMAA qualification tournament as well as a showcase for fighters of all ages, weights and skills from the UK home countries. This is all really exciting and I can’t wait to get it on the road!