By James Sweetnam
Anton Blank, the Interim President of IMMAF’s National Member Federation of MMA in Ukraine, is excited about hosting the Cup of Kharkiv on November 13-14. The best fighters in the region will compete against one another for more than just local bragging rights.
The Ukrainian sport leader expects find athletes to compete at the national championships in December, with the potential to represent their country at the 2022 IMMAF World Championships should they win, as the federation is recognised by Ukraine’s sport ministry.
Between 150-200 of the region’s best fighters will compete at the event, which will feature multiple age categories from 10-11 years old onwards. It is unclear how many fans will watch the championships live due to the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic, but there will be a live stream of the event for those who can’t make it in person.
Ukraine performed exceptionally well at the 2021 IMMAF Youth World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. With an incredible 18 gold medals, Ukraine’s team topped the table.
Blank spoke to IMMAF earlier this week about the importance of the event.
How do you find athletes for IMMAF events?
He said: “In our national team, there were many young athletes from different parts of Ukraine. We are looking in different cities, towns and even villages; we’re looking for fighters from all regions to take to the World Championships. We understand that youth development is very important to IMMAF and our country. We are the best in the world in the under 18’s category, and this is a tournament in which we can develop further.”
Are you looking forward to seeing a new wave of Ukrainian prospects at the tournament?
“I’m excited to see the new talents; we’re trying to get all the martial arts clubs to compete, even if they compete in other disciplines. We will show them that IMMAF rules are the best to use. I know that these young athletes will be in the national team next year. In addition, we will announce a new head of the regional federation at the event. Our previous head is now an IMMAF judge, and he is concentrating on that.”
How will competing at the Cup of Kharkiv help fighters improve and prepare themselves for the big stage?
“We are trying to make our athletes feel like they are taking steps to become superstars. We’re offering bonuses for things like good technique, amazing fights, spectacular moves. We want all events in Ukraine to be like the UFC because some of the athletes will become MMA megastars. The events we put on are beautiful because we want the fighters to feel like they are in the right place. This will help develop the competitors because they will be motivated by the big fight feel, even if it is at a regional event.”
Do you think this tournament can produce some superstars of the future, and could there even be a UFC champion coming out of this event in ten years?
“It is our dream to make a Ukrainian UFC champion. We understand to do this, we must implement the correct structure within the federation. We must open gyms, make big events and find the best talent from all over our big country. We do what we do because these young athletes have to feel this dream. If they don’t have a dream, they will not go far. So this is why we’re trying to show them how far they can go with us and with IMMAF. That’s why it’s important to do small events like they are big.”
How do you manage to give the events that big fight feel?
“We have good lights and good sound systems. We try and introduce them to the big stage so that they feel like they are someone whom both the sport and the federation need.”
Where do you think Ukrainian MMA will be in ten years?
“After our success at the IMMAF Youth World Cup, many more young athletes want to train in MMA because their parents understand that there is a future for MMA in Ukraine. This is important because we need to start from when they are children. Our youth development showed at the World Cup, and if we do not lose these fighters when they become seniors, they will be huge in five years. Some of them can turn professional and this is what we want, to get a UFC Champion. We will not stop. In several years, we’ll see that some of the amateur world champions we have can become senior champions and even UFC athletes.”
How proud are you of all the work you’re doing with the Ukranian federation and is there anything you’re really excited to see at this weekend’s event?
“I am proud that we are part of IMMAF and that we have changed the system of judging the fights to be like IMMAF. We have several officials in IMMAF events, and we have outstanding referees inside Ukraine. So officials at our events are of a very high standard; we know that every fight is judged how it has to be judged. It was a good year for Ukraine, but I understand that we still have a lot of work to do.”
What would you like to see change in the amateur game going forward?
“I hope that next year many more countries will become a more active part of the IMMAF family. In particular, I would like to see countries like the USA, Brazil and Thailand bring top fighters to events because they have outstanding competitors, and the higher the standard, the more the athletes can develop. In addition, I hope MMA national federations in all countries will receive recognition from the national ministries of sport so they are regulated properly. Most importantly, I hope that next year we can make more progress in recognition as an Olympic sport.”