IMMAF welterweight world champion and Rising Star Ramazan Gitinov is fast approaching a pivotal moment in his career. Last August, the 24-year-old secured his second European Open title in Kazan, Russa. This month, he will be a firm favorite to defend his world title when the 2021 IMMAF World Championships takes place in Abu Dhabi.
After that, the Bahrani fighter will weigh up his options. A move to the professional ranks is not out of the question, but more time in the amateurs may benefit his long-term development.
“The European Championships showed that the one-year break affected him as a fighter. I know his potential, and I know he can do much better. We are working on his mistakes, and you will see the best version of Ramazan in Abu Dhabi, “says Eldar Eldarov, Team Bahrain’s head coach.
“I want him to stay one more year as an amateur because I feel the experience he’s getting right now is the best you can have as a fighter to sharpen yourself. But he wants to go pro. We’ll make a decision after the Worlds.”
Eldarov, like Gitinov, comes from Khunzakh in Dagestan, Russia, and knows more than most about how talented his young charge is. Eldarov invited his countryman to join him at Team Bahrain after experiencing Gitinov’s wrestling abilities firsthand during a training session.
Gitinov has flourished since arriving in Bahrain in 2017, and while Eldarov may have spotted areas requiring improvement, it does not take away from how impressive his gold medal campaign was at the European Open.
Gitinov, who stands atop the IMMAF pound-for-pound rankings, marked his return to competition with an emphatic first-round submission victory over Russia’s Musa Ramazanov in their quarter-final matchup. He followed this up with a pair of unanimous decision victories over Bulgaria’s Deyan Galinov in the semi-final and Russia’s Evgeny Morozov in the final.
Gitinov’s wrestling was as strong as ever but what stood out was the development of his striking, an area of his game he had been aiming to improve in the months leading into the European Open.
“I was training during the year, I tried to focus on my striking this time, and I feel like I’ve improved my striking skills overall. And I’m happy with my performance because I beat really tough guys to get this gold medal,” he says.
Gitinov’s IMMAF medal tally currently sits at six, but his success has been anything but linear. He began his MMA career with two straight wins before suffering back-to-back defeats. The second of which, a stoppage loss to France’s Fabien Xabidi, took place with less than a minute gone on the clock.
It was a humbling moment for the young talent, who responded by assessing the situation regarding both his health following the fight and what he needed to do to upskill himself before deciding how to move forward.
“I feel lucky and blessed to have the right people by my side,” Gitinov explains.
“After that loss in 2017, I thought that maybe MMA was not my sport, and I must continue with my wrestling career. But my coach Eldar and our leader Sheikh Khaled motivated me, brought in the best doctors to work with me, and I recovered 100%.
“Most importantly, they believed in me and my future. I spent one full year in Bahrain to become a better athlete and worked a lot on my strength and conditioning. It gave me confidence and motivation, and I came back to the cage a brand-new fighter.”
The aim now is a second-world title, and any talk of turning professional is on hold until after the tournament. Gitinov knows that the competition he faces is constantly improving, and he refuses to let any discussions about his post world championship career distract him from the task at hand.
“The focus is now entirely on getting another world gold medal for Bahrain. I will leave any decision on my future until after the World Championships, ‘ he comments.
“There are a lot of new names in my weight class. Every competition, there’s someone new who gives everyone else a tough fight. Let’s see what happens this time. All I can control is how I perform, and I will be ready 100%.”
Team Bahrain will head into the tournament with high expectations. Alongside Gitinov, the team also boasts the No.1 women’s pound-pound fighter in Sabrina De Sousa and the No.2 men’s pound-for-pound athlete in Rasul Magomedov. It is a formidable squad and one that shares a strong bond.
“Our team is having the best training camp we’ve ever had,” Gitinov says.
“Our leader Sheikh Khaled brought all of us to Bahrain, and we are doing the camp in the same climate zone as Abu Dhabi. The camp in Bahrain is always good for us. Everyone tries to help those who are preparing. It’s real teamwork and amazing to have so many teammates together under one roof going for the same goals.”
Gitinov’s path after the World Championships is not set in stone, but what’s certain is that whatever decision he makes will be carefully planned out. Gitinov knows better than most about the importance of patience and making moves at the right time.
Watch the 2021 IMMAF World Championships streamed live from Abu Dhabi at immaf.tv from 24 to 29 January 2022.