By Caoilte de Barra
Ukraine is renowned as the best youth team in the world after thriving at the IMMAF Youth World Championships. They’ve produced some top talent, and we are currently seeing some of them graduate from the youth ranks.
The step up can take time for some athletes to get used to, considering the addition of strikes to the head compared to youth bouts. However, Ukrainian athletes that have come through the ranks have looked incredible in this competition. Of the thirty-seven athletes on the team, many have graduated from the youth team, seven of which have won medals as youths.
On Day 1 of the 2022 European Championships, two of the youth medalists secured wins for Ukraine in impressive fashion. 2019 Youth A Featherweight World Champion Oleksandr Huliaiev submitted England’s Thomas Horsman with a triangle choke in the second round.
2019 Youth A Flyweight silver medalist Andrii Stoian added another victory soon after, outpointing a tough opponent in Slovakia’s Michal Kopas after a back-and-forth battle.
It wasn’t all victories for the youth graduates though. Yurii Pasych was unable to get the better of top Spanish prospect Jose Gilarte but showed he is still at a high level and is one to keep an eye on.
The federation’s vice president, Anton Blank, detailed just how the strategy they have in place is working to keep these athletes in the sport and developing.
“The objective of the federation was and is now to make the sport of MMA, the sport that everyone who wants to be part of, can be. And so, in Ukraine, We have a lot of villages or small towns where children do not have a lot of things to do, and if we open a gym there, they can train, and it gives them an opportunity to go somewhere and see the world and also to become somebody. They can become a National champion, then a European champion or a World champion.
“It was our strategy, and I think it works because two years in a row, we took first place in the youths. And then the next step is to hold them in the sport when they become seniors because their life changes when they’re seniors, so we need to do everything for them to stay in the sport.”
As the week goes on, we will see a lot more of the youth graduates in action, one of the more notable names being Anastasiia Holinko, who won gold at Youth A and B. Now competing as a junior, Holinko is one of the highly touted athletes and is looking forward to the challenge of the junior bracket.
“I used to participate in IMMAF events in the past when I was younger. I participated in youth events, but recently I turned 18, which is why I compete in the Junior category and I hope I will be able to have the same success I had in IMMAF youth events.”
Watch the 2022 IMMAF European Championships live and exclusively from Bella Italia Efa Village in Lignano Sabbiadoro (Italy) from 27 September and 1 October 2022 at immaf.tv, with the tournament draw taking place on 26 September.