By Joe Price
Ukraine sat top of the medals table after day one, with 24 podium places consisting of eight golds, eight silvers and eight bronzes. There were some standout performances from athletes representing the yellow and blue flag also, with Dmytro Dotsin and Ivan Berdysh winning their categories with undefeated records.
Ukraine is represented by about 70 young fighters at these competitions; which truly emphasises the popularity and love of MMA across the country.
MMA Ukraine’s Vice- President, Anton Blank, was elated that the country could be back competing internationally at these youth events. The commitment of the young athletes to this sport acted as a big reason behind the country’s success, and why COVID-19 did not stop the Ukraine athletes working hard.
“It is great to be able to compete at international level once again. Last year we couldn’t do much due to the pandemic, but we used our time efficiently whilst we could not travel to compete,” said Anton.
“We made sure we prepared well, especially for these competitions, and made sure no time was wasted. We were able to make adjustments to our programme to prepare for these championships to the best of our ability.”
The performances so far have reflected the hard work put in by all involved with MMA Ukraine. The foundations of the successes have stemmed from the grassroots of the sport, with MMA being one of few outlets in some areas of the country according to the Vice-President.
“Our success is based on how much MMA means to our people. Our small towns and villages are made up of fighters and athletes, MMA genes are common there.”
“If one village has an MMA gym, it is a chance for them to go somewhere and socialise. They train a lot because they don’t have a lot to do in a small town, so they are always very committed and laser-focused.”
Mixed martial arts exceeds itself as simply being a sport. It becomes something that provides togetherness in its community, and discipline amongst its practitioners. International experience, and the opportunity to use the sport as a launching pad for their futures, is something that Anton believes to be a real positive aspect that the sport offers.
“The sport can provide an opportunity for them to venture outside of their villages and become whatever they want to be. When they train with aspirations of becoming a good athlete, it teaches them important disciplines.”
“Not only does it help keep them healthy and integrate them as part of a team, but it can create more opportunities for their education to go and study in the right institutes. They can get out of a small town, see the world, and get their chance in their life.”
Next year will mark a decade since the governing body, MMA Ukraine, gained recognition from its Sports Ministry to oversee the nations development within the sport. There have been vast improvements since back in 2012, and Anton suggested that MMA has been a catalyst in keeping young people safely occupied whilst they continue to better themselves as athletes and people.
“It is important to utilise the interest these young people have in the sport. We think it is very important to develop our youth because it opens doors for them later on in life,” he said.
“If we know that the young athletes are in the gym and training hard then we know they are safe and have a chance to be successful in MMA. If the gyms are their only outlet in their towns, and they are not training or involved in MMA, then we do not know what they will be up to.”
“It is not only my opinion, but the opinion of the whole federation who believe in helping our young athletes to develop.”
The development of youth athletes, and the sport in general, is an ethos shared by Ukraine and the rest of the IMMAF family. The aforementioned pursuit of Olympic recognition is worn vividly on the sleeve of Anton. Recognising IMMAF as a fantastic organisation to be involved with, the Vice-President also sees the MMA body as one of the key-players in getting the sport to the Olympics.
“IMMAF is the main organisation that wants to internationally develop MMA, in both skill and credibility, from its roots. Like the Olympics has its members, we have IMMAF to work with and compete under.”
“We feel we have done everything necessary we need to do to become an Olympic sport, and we hope that we are knocking on the right doors to be genuinely considered.”
“MMA is such a fast-growing sport, arguably the fastest, and the committee needs to look at us and realise the sports potential. I hope we can receive Olympic status in the near future.”
The continuing rise in the level of MMA on show at these tournaments will cause no hinderance to the sport’s popularity.
Anton and the Ukraine team will not be present at the 2021 IMMAF Senior & Junior European Open Championships in Kazan, Russia. Nevertheless, he is looking ahead to the competitions later on this year, with some positive news about the Ukraine’s approach to the events.
“We are not able to attend the championships in Kazan, Russia,” said Anton.
“We will be preparing to bring a big team to the following events though, and we are really looking forward to the competitions for the rest of the year.”
IMMAF would like to thank Anton, and wish him and his team the best of luck during these championships.
You can watch the event LIVE via IMMAF.TV at this link.
You will also find the latest championship news here.