By Jorden Curran
Slovakia’s Youth MMA team were in great form at the 2021 IMMAF Youth World Championships. Following the amalgamation of IMMAF and WMMAA, Slovakia’s MMA governing groups successfully combined to form one united body for the country – the Slovak MMA Union (MAMMAL – SZMMA Slovensky Zvaz MMA) – with Mgr. Ing. Marek Herda serving as the organisation’s President.
Ahead of the Youth World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, Director of Slovak MMA Union – Branislav Hutka – made the premonition that Slovakia’s young talents were set to make a splash and surprise many, competing at the youth level for the first time as 1 of 23 countries, up against some of the largest and most decorated youth MMA nations including the USA, Russia and Ukraine.
The small but talented Slovakian team consisted of just 5 athletes alongside coaching staff, with rivals such as Kazakhstan and Ireland fielding teams of 25 – 30 athletes. Impressively, Slovakia placed 8th in the Youth World Championships medal table with a pair of medal winners achieving gold and bronze, ahead of standout nations such as Italy, Bahrain, Romania and hosts Bulgaria.
Newly crowned Youth A featherweight queen, Slavka Holubjakova (pictured, centre) took out opposition from Kazakhstan, winning her opening bout with an arm-bar submission in the first round. In the semi-finals she stopped Ireland’s Louise Brady, who lasted until the third round before succumbing to Holubjakova’s rear-naked-choke. Finally, Slovakia’s champion was crowned as she pulled off a triangle choke submission, finishing Bulgarian silver medal winner Violeta Starcheva in the opening stanza.
At the age of 17, Slavka’s world title in the under-18s category marked her as a top young prospect among the youth MMA talents of her country.
“I started with martial arts when I was 9 and it was BJJ which first got my attention,” she explains. “MMA fascinated me not long after, but my parents didn’t like the idea of me getting punched in the face.” IMMAF’s commitment to the healthy development of young athletes is a foremost priority and is reflected within youth competition rule sets which prohibit strikes to the head for all athletes under the age of 18.
“It fascinated me every day, more and more,” Slavka added. She later took up Muay Thai around the age of 14, adding a striking element to compliment her BJJ skills, but MMA continued to call and her training shifted to Mixed Martial Arts just one year prior to collecting the IMMAF youth world title.
“I think the feedback [in Slovakia] was quite great,” Slavka commented. In Slovakia, MMA is just getting more popular among other sports and every win just helps its popularity. A gold medal from the World Championships was unexpected, and I guess people were surprised but very glad.”
Prior to Slavka’s triumph, her rivals from Kazakhstan, Ireland and Bulgaria would have been considered the more likely champions, but in taking the gold medal back home to Slovakia she has demonstrated that MMA’s growing popularity is capable of positively impacting youth and creating national stars in the nation’s young generation, just as it has done within Ireland, Kazakhstan and beyond.
“I am very thankful for that opportunity, because before I fought just with Slovak girls in MMA. It was a great experience and I hope there will be more girls from more countries next year.”
Slavka will soon turn 18 years of age and in doing so will graduate as a champion from the IMMAF youth platform and become eligible to compete within the junior (under 21) and senior (18+) international IMMAF championships.
“Next year I hope I’ll catch the World Championships, because I’ll be 18 at the end of the Summer. However, if I won’t be an adult by the start of the tournament I want to compete and win gold again for Slovakia [at the Youth Championships].”