By James Sweetnam
Kharkiv’s best young talents battled it out at the regional tournament over the weekend of November 13-14. The event took place under the watchful eye of Anton Blank, the Interim President of IMMAF’s National Member Federation in Ukraine.
Between 150-200 of the region’s best fighters competed at the event, which featured multiple age categories from 10-11-years upwards.
The champions in their respective weight categories will now get an opportunity to compete against the best in their country at the National Championships in December.
Ukraine performed exceptionally well at the 2021 IMMAF Youth World Cup in Prague, Czech Republic. The eastern European nation picked up 18 gold medals and topped the podium. They are now hoping to ride that momentum of success into the 2022 IMMAF World Championships in Abu Dhabi. As the federation is recognised by the Sport Ministry, an official Ukrainian squad can be selected at the National Championships.
Blank spoke to IMMAF after the event, summarising the highlights from the Cup of Kharkiv. You can also watch the interview here:
Can you talk us through the event at the weekend?
Blank said: “We had all ages, and it was interesting to see the level of the fighters because most of them were newcomers. It was good to see them because they all had their own style, but they were still good in all aspects of the game, whether it be striking, grappling, or wrestling. We had a lot of exciting fights. All-day long I was sitting, watching the fights. It was very interesting.”
The next generation of fighters coming through seem to incorporate all the different aspects of MMA. Do you think we’ll see more of that, as people from a young age start trying all the various disciplines that make up the sport?
“Yes, the game changes, and now we have not only new fighters, but new coaches as well. The next wave of trainers were MMA fighters themselves. They’ve learnt the sport through MMA, not just wrestling or striking. Now that they’re coaches, they can teach the next generation of fighters, and we will see a new product. I also think that the athletes watch UFC, they watch how they train and fight. I think this helps them learn.”
You had a wide variety of age categories competing at the tournament. Were there any that stood out?
“It was interesting to see the youngest fighters because they were fighting like they were professionals. If you watch how they walk to the octagon, they walk like superstars. Many of them have their own style, but someone was fighting in the stance of Conor McGregor, and some others were always trying to take their opponent down like Khabib. The seniors are different because we can see that they are thinking a little bit more. The juniors and young athletes are like actors, they act like they are in a movie, but seniors are more serious. There is something interesting about every age category.”
You say you had some athletes trying to imitate McGregor whilst others were trying to imitate Khabib. Which style do you think will be more effective as MMA progresses?
“This question is the reason why MMA exists, because we are still trying to find out the answer. I think it depends on the athletes because some of them have long arms and legs, so they move good and they are very quick and light on their feet, so they can keep distance and throw punches. Whilst others have short arms, but they are powerful, so they like to close the distance and wrestle. I think it depends on the athlete and the physical abilities that he has as an individual.”
The National Federation of MMA Ukraine searches all over the country for the best possible athletes. Do you think you found any future IMMAF representatives at the Cup of Kharkiv?
“The athletes that won over the weekend will be taken to the National Cup. It is there that we will really see their level. I think there were some interesting fighters, but they need more practice. We can understand their level if they have good opponents. In the Cup, we will see if they can be in the national team or not.”
Your events feel like massive PPV cards. How did the athletes adapt to fighting on the big stage?
“I think the young athletes think that this is not real, it is like a game or a movie. When they watch UFC events they dream about getting there, so they prepare mentally. Now we have the internet so we can watch all the fights and events that we want. So, I think the fighters watch a lot, so they can feel part of it going into the tournament.”
Did anyone win any bonuses?
“Yesterday we gave two prizes. In the seniors we had one welterweight fighter who became champion. He had a lot of fights with nice opponents. His fights were good, and he finished them all in the first round. He ended each contest in a different way, so we gave him a bonus. The other guy was a bantamweight and he also became champion. In his semi-final, he fought a guy who had won the silver medal at the IMMAF Youth World Cup. But he still beat him. It was a tough fight, very close and difficult. But he won, so he got a bonus too. I think his opponent was too relaxed, he wasn’t expecting to find such a difficult opponent at a regional event, which is why he lost. But the guy who won, he was very serious, he believed in himself.”
Is there anything else for us to look forward to?
“The National Cup will be the last event of the year in Ukraine, and we hope to see the interesting fighters who can represent Ukraine in national tournaments. We also hope for good news from IMMAF about the status of the international federation in our amateur sport. Lastly, we hope to finish this year with the understanding that 2022 will be a big one for amateur MMA.”