Picture above: Delyan Georgiev (left) and Joel Arolainen (right) went the distance in a thrilling featherweight final By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran Bulgaria was challenged by uncertainty heading into this year’s IMMAF World Championships. The likes of Alexandra Toncheva, Daniel Galabarov and Ferdun Osmanov had each contributed significantly to the nation’s profound success on the IMMAF competition platform over the past three years. However, with these national stars having since progressed towards pro careers, the pressure was on for the Bulgarian MMA Federation (BULMMAF) to maintain or better it’s reputation for having produced the world’s second highest ranked national team. The 2017 IMMAF World Championships took place from November 12-19 at Khalifa Sports City Arena in Manama, Bahrain. The mission was a success, but with unsettling moments along the way as team Bulgaria was left troubled by a series of defeats. Among the newcomers was national judo standout Izabel Hristova. The 19-year-old entered the Women’s Lightweight bracket as one of the nation’s most intriguing new prospects, but was no match for the experience of Germany’s world silver medalist, Julia Dorny, who earned a comfortable unanimous decision win. Regardless, the young Hristova remains full of potential as a future contender. Bulgaria’s World Championships campaign was dramatically shaken and near derailed, beginning with the early exit of 2017 European Open finalist, Nikolay Ivaylov, who dropped a decision loss in the opening round of the Men’s Flyweight bracket to Kazakhstan’s Dastan Zhakypbekov. Two-time European Open champion, Nikolay Nikolov, entered the welterweight bracket as the division’s number-1 seed and top ranked competitor. Also competing on Day 1, he faced Kazakhstan’s Makhir Aliev and took control of the opening stanza. However, fortune took a dramatic turn as Nikolov came out for the second round with his hands low and subsequently was handed his first ever defeat as Aliev pounced with a headkick knockout. All but two of Bulgaria’s 8 competing athletes were eliminated prior to the semi-finals. Remaining strong was Men’s Featherweight Delyan Georgiev (pictured above) who had battled through Northern Ireland’s Gerard Corr, New Zealand’s Clarke Jarrett and Canadian Ali Wasuk. Georgiev – the reigning European Open champion – faced his greatest opponent to date in the semis, in the form of 2016 world silver medalist, David Evans. The determined American had the luxury of being rested after advancing automatically through his quarter-final bout due to the withdrawal of team UK’s Ash Williams. Georgiev salvaged Bulgaria’s optimism with a standout unanimous decision triumph over one of the USA’s top representatives. Alongside Super-Heavyweight favorite Atanas Krastanov, the Bulgarian duo advanced to the World Championship finals. Both athletes secured their gold medals as Georgiev edged an emotional split-decision triumph over Finland’s Joel Arolainen while Krastanov went on claim a unanimous decision finals victory over Poland’s Marcin Kalata. While Bulgaria secured fewer podium finishes than that of 2016, the success of two world champions crowned sets a new high for total golds earned by the Balkan nation.