By Caoilte de Barra
The 2022 United States Fight League (USFL) National Championships are now in the books. The event served as qualifiers to represent the United States at the upcoming IMMAF Youth World Championships.
The event took place at Dan Henderson’s Athletic Training Center in Temecula, California, and almost 200 bouts happened over the day. The historic event saw gyms from across the country travel to the event. 2021 IMMAF Youth World Champions Abigail Alvarez, Hannah Wagstaff, Lariah Gill and James Weaver all returned to action, each adding a national medal to their collection. A full list of results from the event can be found here.
Following the event, USFL President Jon Frank spoke highly of the event, highlighting the skill level of the athletes.
“The event went great. We started on time and finished ahead of time. The officials were very diligent and took their duties seriously, and trained accordingly. Most of the coaches prepared their athletes well. We had relatively few injuries, especially when considering the number of bouts and high levels of athletes. The skill level of many of these kids was off the charts!”
Jon has been involved in the youth set-up for quite some time, and the team have become a force to be reckoned with in the IMMAF youth ranks. The 2021 Youth World Championships standouts placed third on the medal table overall. Success that may be matched, if not beaten, given the level of talent coming through their National Championships.
“Every year, the standard of competition rises. This was the largest and deepest youth tournament ever held in the U.S., but even with that, some divisions were small or uncontested while others were 10 deep with 3 national champions or world medalists battling for a world team spot. In any case, all the champions deserved their national titles, this was an open tournament, and all who showed up were prepared to take on the best our country has to offer. This competition is the measuring stick for youth MMA and participation will ensure growth for those ready for the challenge.”
Although there is clear growth, Jon added that there are still some obstacles to overcome.
“We hope to gain momentum with this being a very well run and well attended national championships. Athletes came nationwide and from a diverse Martial Arts community but there are still so many unknowns and challenges when trying to establish a youth developmental sport where the community doesn’t understand or support youth development. All we can do is put our nose forward, do the right thing over the easy thing and strive to get better and better.”
By officially becoming the amateur MMA federation affiliated with IMMAF, the USFL is looking to add a senior team and build upon the success of the youth team. Major steps have been taken so far, and the support of UFC veterans has been a key factor in their progress. However, Jon explains this is still a work in progress, and they have a plan to bridge the gap between youth and pro MMA in the United States.
“It’s going to take some time, but we have a plan! We obviously have a very strong youth development program and very strong professional MMA program in the United States. Now we need to bridge that gap.
“We have enlisted major players in the Amateur MMA community in three regions of the United States who have a genuine interest in making this bridge a reality while working through the adult regulatory bodies established in their regions.
“The support of people like Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin and Joe Stevenson means we are making great progress! We are looking for state directors for youth development who will build a strong base for our adult amateur teams. Which, in return, will ensure the U.S. retains competitiveness at the highest levels of professional MMA. After 25 years of professional MMA, it is time to recognize “MMA” as its own unique sport. And that can only happen with the 3 phases of development.”
Although setting up a senior team is still in the early stages, we are fast approaching the 2022 IMMAF Pan America Championships and the United States is expected to compete.
Photo Credit: Amanda Brown