By James Sweetnam
The Portuguese team is heading to the 2021 IMMAF World Championships with their biggest line-up ever.
Eight of the country’s best athletes have qualified for the biggest tournament in amateur MMA. Portugal was one of the first nations to join the governing body, and they have been present at every World Championships to date.
Their team has grown exponentially over the last ten years despite the difficult circumstances they’ve had to operate in. The European nation has struggled financially throughout its history. But it’s never dissuaded them from trying to achieve their goals. Their official spokesperson, Luis Barneto, has coached the squad singlehandedly at all the major tournaments without any financial help.
He told IMMAF: “I have been filling the role of coach and team leader since the first world championship, back in 2014. We have no financial aid from anyone. So each year, the athletes make an effort to finance themselves, and apart from a couple of championships, they travelled with only one coach.”
Barneto struggled to get their championship side together due to their financial restraints. The bulk of preparation was done by coaches at their retrospective clubs. The final selection process was made following two tryout events.
This year, the growing squad has a second coach, who they hope will make a positive impact starting January 24. They hope to capitalise on their momentum from the 2019 World Cup in Bahrain. Bantamweight Leandro Gomes dominated the competition and picked up Portugal’s first-ever gold medal. Barneto is delighted that the 19-year-old has put his country on the map.
He said: “We are all very proud of Leandro, our world champion. Naturally, we feel motivated as his accomplishment has shown us a world of possibilities. He’s proved that success is possible with or without financial help from the government.”
The Portuguese have also been inspired by their neighbours.
Barneto added: “Spain have inspired us since they also struggle to get support, and traditionally, we cheer for them, and they cheer for us.”
Portugal has a great deal of confidence in the squad that’s heading out to Abu Dhabi. Flyweight Rui Morgado is desperately searching for his first win in IMMAF competition. The 23-year-old trains hard despite stringent job commitments. He has a second-degree black belt in taekwondo with elite Jiu-Jitsu to match.
In addition, their bantamweight, Iuri Rodrigues, is hoping to redeem himself after a split decision loss in the Junior European Championships. Portugal also expects big things from jiu-jitsu practitioners Tomas Figueira and Guilherme Andrade. Furthermore, their welterweight, Edmilson Gomes, may lack MMA experience, but his grappling prowess could make up for it. He’s won several national wrestling championships throughout his career. But their biggest threat is 2019 Junior European vice-champion, José Machado, who is hoping to translate junior success into the seniors.
Despite their struggles, Barneto believes that 2022 is the year for Portugal to prove just how good they can be. He’s given us an insight into the mentality that he’s installed into his fighters.
He explained: “Everyone is capable of going far in the competition. This wasn’t always the case with our teams, in my opinion. They are confident and want to win their first ‘final’. After that, their second, and so on because this is a competition with up to 5 “final matches”. So, the goal is to see each fight as the final and see where we can go. Although there are countries with better opportunities, I still naturally want my team to perform to their best. The Portuguese people are traditionally used to reaching goals and winning battles that were theoretically impossible.”
It’s clear that these athletes can overcome any obstacle thrown in their direction. They’ve refused to give up on their dreams, and Barneto has explained how.
The coach concluded: “It’s the warrior spirit. They’ve all made enormous sacrifices. Despite our lack of results, our major challenge is to keep the athletes competing long enough at this high level, before going professional. This may be the first generation willing to do so since the culture is changing, and if all goes well, by 2023, we will secure government support.”
The full team for Portugal is as follows –
Rui Morgado – Men’s M: Flyweight 56.7 kg (125 lbs)
Iuri Rodrigues – Men’s M: Bantamweight 61.2 kg (135 lbs)
Guilherme Andrade – Men’s M: Featherweight 65.8 kg (145 lbs)
Ze Machado – Men’s M: Lightweight 70.3 kg (155 lbs)
Daniel Martins – Men’s M: Jr Lightweight 70.3 kg (155 lbs)
Axel Furtado – Men’s M: Jr Lightweight 70.3 kg (155 lbs)
Edmilson Gomes – Men’s M: Welterweight 77.1 kg (170 lbs)
Tomas Figueira – Men’s M: Middleweight 83.9 kg (185 lbs)