By Daniyal Nasir Mirza
History was made for Pakistani MMA during the first three days of the 2021 IMMAF World Championships as their debuting PAKMMAF team claimed notable successes in the opening rounds of the tournament.
Firstly, bantamweight Ismail Khan registered the country’s first victory in any IMMAF competition with a Day 1 victory over Greece’s Giannis Balampanidis, then Zulgarnain Khan followed up later in the day by claiming the nation’s first finish in an IMMAF tournament with a TKO finish of Greek opponent Ioannis Zafeiropoulos.
The second day of the competition saw more success, with Ismail Khan continuing his winning ways by defeating Tajikistan’s IMMAF European Open bronze medallist Amirhamza Islamov. Eman Khan also made history by becoming the first woman from Pakistan to ever compete at the IMMAF World Championships.
Then, Day 3 saw a watershed moment for Pakistan MMA as Ismail Khan defeated IMMAF World Cup gold medallist Fidel Gramiccia to secure the first IMMAF World Championship medal in PAKMMAF history.
Pakistani fighters have competed in IMMAF before with names such as 2016 IMMAF gold medallist Shoaib Youssaf and Muhammad Abbas Khan, but this year marks the first time a federation from Pakistan has sent a national team of athletes who have trained solely in Pakistan, and the PAKMMAF president, kickboxer-turned-businessman Omar Ahmed, hailed the success of the team through the first two days of the Championships.
“This is the first team we’ve ever got to send a proper contingent,” said Ahmed.
“We have a very diverse team, which is a true representation of the vast population. Our diversity is in age, socio-economic backgrounds and in the country’s geographical regions. This diversity is truly our strength.
“Competing at the games has been an unparalleled experience for the fighters and being here myself it has given me inspiration and ideas about what the missing Ingredients are for becoming a top tier MMA federation in the world.”
PAKMMAF is still very much in its early stages as an organisation, and Ahmed admitted that one of the next big challenges will be to secure additional funding in order to help increase opportunities for fighters in the region.
“We are working on securing private funding to make this federation bigger and to learn progressive ways of managing and training athletes athletes,” he explained.
“With a population size of 220 million people, we can surely produce some exciting fighters who can compete with the top tier fighters of the world in the years to come.”
One of the current stars of the PAKMMAF team is Ismail Khan, who arrived in Abu Dhabi with a champion’s mentality and, despite already earning a guaranteed bronze medal, has his sights set on the ultimate prize.
“I came here with the mindset that, God willing, I’ll make Pakistan and my coaches proud with a gold medal,” he stated.
“I believe our training and coaching isn’t far behind the rest of the world. We put in multiple sessions in the day, just like the top tier teams of the world.
“The only difference between us and the rest of the world is the access to facilities and resources. Once we bridge that gap, we’ll be no different than the best in the world.”
Pakistani MMA has now entered its fifteenth year of existence. Most of the MMA activity in Pakistan has originated from the grassroots, with gyms and clubs hosting events that usually do not record any profits.
Notable names in the Pakistani MMA community have included individuals like Bashir Ahmad, who is currently an executive for Asian MMA promotion ONE Championship. He is credited for being the first regulator for Pakistani MMA and is often referred to as “The Godfather of Pakistani MMA.”
“I’ve always been confident regarding the trajectory of the sport of MMA in Pakistan,” he said.
“But I am nonetheless constantly being surprised at the speed and breadth at which the sport is growing.
“Having such a large contingent at the IMMAF World Championships, including the first female athlete, coming away with two wins in the first day, and then going on to earn our first medal – it’s still settling in.
“Pakistan wasn’t able to send a single athlete to a world championship until 2017. It’s quite an emotional feeling, and I’m proud of every single person in Pakistan’s MMA community for getting us where we are today.”
With one Pakistani fighter through to the semi-finals in Abu Dhabi and another who made it as far as the last eight, the 2021 IMMAF World Championships have undoubtedly seen Pakistani MMA make great strides in their development as an MMA nation.
With PAKMMAF’s first medal already secured on their IMMAF World Championships debut, one thing seems clear – they are breaking new ground for a nation with a growing passion for the sport of mixed martial arts.