Ireland will be out in full force next week when the 2021 IMMAF World Championships begin inside the Jiu-Jitsu Arena in Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi.
The All-Ireland team will arrive with a squad bursting with talent and riding a wave of confidence after their impressive performance at last year’s World Cup in Prague.
Helping spearhead the charge for gold will be rising star Kiya O’ Sullivan, who first burst onto the IMMAF stage in 2019 at the inaugural Youth MMA World Championships to secure a silver medal for Ireland. The 18-year-old burst returned last year to win the junior women’s flyweight title in Prague and now aims to add a junior world championship to her trophy cabinet when she returns to the IMMAF cage.
O’ Sullivan is excited about the prospect of once again representing her country on the world stage and feels that the bond forged within the Irish team has helped contribute to their recent success.
“The team spirit at the World Cup at Prague was incredible. It was an honor just to represent Ireland, and to win the gold as well was simply the best,” she says.
“The atmosphere in the Ireland camp is really motivational. In recent years, the Irish MMA scene has become much more integrated, and we now see IMMAF athletes increasingly training together back home in Ireland. This means that the team is much more together when we travel abroad, and you can really feel the support from your fellow competitors.”
It has not been the smoothest of sailing for O’ Sullivan in the build-up to the world championships. The ongoing pandemic continues to make life difficult for athletes worldwide, and in this regard, O’ Sullivan is no exception.
“Training has been tough at times because of the restrictions in Ireland due to Covid. I also contracted Covid myself and so could not train for a number of weeks,” she explains. “However, I remained motivated and had lots of support from my team at CMAC, and so I’ve pushed on and made myself ready to recapture the gold.”
Understanding the sacrifices and commitment it takes to excel as a martial artist is something that comes easy to O’ Sullivan. After all, MMA runs in her family’s veins.
O’ Sullivan’s father is the general secretary of the Irish MMA Association, while her mother is an IMMAF cutwoman and competed at the 2015 IMMAF European Open. Her older brother Alexander is a four-time IMMAF medallist, and the family owns and operates the CMAC gym in Dublin, so it makes sense then that O’ Sullivan would join the family business and become a martial artist.
“I started doing Judo at six years old and have been heavily involved in combat sports since [then], with K-1, Jiu-Jitsu, and of course MMA,” she explains.
“The fact that my family is involved is very helpful. They understand the difficulties and obstacles that I must go through as a fighter because they have undergone them themselves. My mother and brother have both represented Ireland at previous IMMAFs, and now my brother is also on the Ireland coaching team and will be supporting me all the way to the cage with his experience.”
O’Sullivan is still in the beginning stages of her MMA career, but she is already mapping out her future pathway. Her desire to compete at the World Championships stems not just from getting the opportunity to add to her medal tally but also to see how she fares, matching up against the world’s best.
“I am aware that the competition will be fiercer this year, and I’m looking forward to challenging myself against the top amateurs in the world. As I plan to go pro in the future, it is imperative that I get to test my skills against top international competition now so I can round out my game for the pro scene”, O’ Sullivan explains.
“I have lots to learn still, and I also have time on my side as I am still [only] 18. I will likely stay amateur until I am at least 21. I would like to enter the senior IMMAF divisions and add the senior gold to my resume before I hit the professional leagues.”
Women’s MMA has grown in leaps and bounds over the past five years, and with fighters like O’ Sullivan starting to make their presence felt, the future of women’s MMA is in safe hands.