By Frank Bonada
Superior Challenge 26: Legends witnessed the coming together of two elite Nordic prospects, as IMMAF World Cup and European Champion Cecilie Bolander went head-to-head with two-time IMMAF World gold medallist Nina Nikolija Milosevic.
Already boasting a 2-0 record in pro-MMA, Bolander’s experience, albeit as limited as it was, appears to have paid dividends against the debuting Milosevic. However, considering Milosevic’s extensive amateur record and accolades, she was favoured by many to come out on top in this bout.
During their time with IMMAF, both athletes became known for their impressive ground games. Bolander boasted a remarkable 100% submission finish rate, while Milosevic had excelled in securing rear naked chokes and landing strikes from top control. But as is so often the case when two elite grapplers face-off, many of the early exchanges of the bout were contested on the feet.
Milosevic started well, utilising leg kicks from range, and landing knees in the clinch when Bolander attempted to close the distance. Yet, with just over a minute and a half left in the first round, Bolander executed her signature hip throw, initiating a series of exhilarating grappling sequences. Amid the scrambles, Milosevic sprang back to her feet and promptly sent Bolander sprawling to the mat with her own takedown. Ever a submission threat, Bolander ended the round hunting a heel hook from the fifty-fifty position.
In round two, Bolander turned up the pressure, attempting a variety of takedowns, and striking off clinch breaks. Her relentless approach forced Milosevic onto the back foot, where the two-time IMMAF World Champion attempted to land pinpoint shots from the outside.
Despite Milosevic’s success with this tactic, Bolander consistently landed the more significant strikes for the majority of the round. It wasn’t until the final minute that Milosevic began to find success on the feet, only to have Bolander respond with her first takedown of the round. In the waning seconds, Bolander attempted her signature armbar, although Milosevic valiantly held on until the buzzer sounded.
In the third round, Cecilie Bolander was finally able to get an early takedown. After transitioning to full mount, the Norwegian Judoka maintained top control for an extended period, albeit with limited offence. Milosevic was able to scramble back to her feet, but after a series of wild exchanges, another dramatic judo throw saw the Swedish bantamweight hit the mat once again. Bolander road out the remainder of the fight in half guard from top position, keeping active with an impressive variety of strikes.
Considering both competitors had less than three pro bouts between them, the level of skill and tenacity exhibited by both athletes is testimony to the elite proving ground that is the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation.
Ultimately, it was Bolander whose hand was raised at the end of the bout, winning the matchup via split decision. She now moves to 3-0 in the pro ranks of MMA and seems destined to continue her rapid ascent to the very top of the sport. As for Nina Nikolija Milosevic, her stock has not dropped in the slightest. Just as Manon Fiorot came up short against Leah McCourt in her professional debut, look for both women to achieve major success wherever their future takes them.
To watch the next generation of rising stars, don’t miss the 2023 IMMAF World Championships, scheduled to take place in Tirana, Albania from November 20th to 25th.