By James Sweetnam
The heavyweight division is the most attractive in all of combat sports. Fans can’t get enough of watching these larger-than-life athletes take each other out.
On January 24, MMA enthusiasts will get to enjoy the start of the 2021 IMMAF World Championships in Abu Dhabi. The tournament is renowned for finding and developing the best amateur talent from all around the globe.
Each fighter is vying to further their career, achieve the accolade of ‘the best on the planet’ and excite their supporters. Every year the MMA community feels privileged to watch the fighters regardless of the weight class. But there isn’t a single division more appealing than heavyweight.
There is a plethora of mixed martial artists who all believe that they can claim their place on the 265-pound throne. But the man entering the competition with the most momentum is surely Rasul Magomedov. The Bahraini has looked mightily impressive in his IMMAF tenure to date. In August, He cruised his way to gold in the European Open event. His stunning performance in the final particularly impressed fans. He dismantled the reigning champion Omar Aliev to secure a comprehensive unanimous decision victory.
Following his breakthrough tournament, the 27-year-old proved that he was anything but a flash in the pan. He arrived at the World Cup in Prague, Czech Republic, with a massive point to prove – and he did just that. Magomedov dominated the entire tournament to stand atop the medal table once again.
His groundbreaking showings have made him a worthy favourite going into the UAE competition. But he certainly isn’t the only fighter with a good chance of winning. Arlind Berisha also emerged victorious at the World Cup. The Kosovan struck gold in the junior heavyweight division. However, he’s stepping up a weight class for the World Championships. A collision between two of the best big men on the entire planet will keep fans glued to the edge of their seats.
Berisha continued to impress in the aftermath of his glowing success in Prague. The intimidating fighter has stopped every man who has dared set foot in the cage with him. His most recent fight against Guolaugar Por Einarsson for the Cage Warriors Southeast amateur title was expected to provide him with a stern test. However, despite taking Berisha to the second round for the first time in his amateur career, the Icelander couldn’t do much else. He was finished via body kick with half of the second segment remaining.
We’re yet to discover whether Berisha can compete with the elite at Senior Heavyweight, but there’s no doubting his talent. A potential meeting between the 21-year-old and Magomdeov would undoubtedly set the world alight.
However, as good as this contest would be, there’s one man who could be the dark horse of the entire championships. Shamil Kuramagomedov is potentially the most seasoned athlete in the whole division. His 8-2 record is less appealing than the unbeaten fighters in the competition. But his experience could pay dividends on the biggest stage of them all. Despite losing his last two IMMAF bouts, the RMMAU athlete bounced back to win his countries national championships.
The 5 ft 11 heavyweight is slightly smaller in stature than his adversaries, but his grappling prowess more than makes up for it. If he can successfully utilise all the tools in his repertoire, he has a real chance of upsetting the applecart.
But if fans are looking for an outside pick, they needn’t look any further than the New Zealand team. The Kiwi’s are taking two extremely bright prospects to Abu Dhabi. They may lack experience on the big stage, but they’re getting all the preparation they need in their homeland. Australasia has become a hotbed for high-level martial artists in recent years. The UFC is currently home to two of their world champions in Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski.
They regularly train alongside the best prospects in their country, and one fighter who’s reaped the rewards of this is Alexander Lutu. He’s watched and trained alongside ‘StyleBender’, and there’s no doubting that his game will have come on leaps and bounds for the experience. In addition, Abraham Paku has been sharing rounds with premier heavyweight Tai Tuivasa – the Kiwi couldn’t have secured a better sparring partner if he’d tried.
There’s no doubt that the underdog nation still has a huge mountain to climb. But if their work behind the scenes is anything to go by, then they have a genuine chance of making a mark on the medal table.