Senior men’s featherweight world champion Delyan Georgiev took over as leader of the IMMAF pound-for-pound rankings after successfully retaining his crown at the 2018 Amateur MMA World Championships.
The historic IMMAF-WMMAA Unified World Championships took place from 11-18 November in Manama, Bahrain, with finals taking place on November 17.
Having also won the IMMAF world title in 2017, the undefeated Team Bulgaria athlete became just the fifth competitor to retain a gold medal. Earlier that day, New Zealand’s Gase Sanita became the fourth athlete to do so, successfully retaining her title in the women’s lightweight division.
Georgiev subsequently takes lead as the World’s top ranked senior competitor. “This is the biggest award for me and I wouldn’t even have dreamed of it,” he commented. “I feel like I deserve it and I’m thankful to the Bulgarian MMA Federation and our president Stanislav Nedkov for everything he does for us, and that I have the chance to participate in big events and to achieve my goals.”
15-0 on the IMMAF platform alone, 26-0 overall, the 25-year-old Georgiev first secured the European Open title on home soil when the second largest event on the IMMAF calendar took place in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, in 2017.
Later that year, he represented Bulgaria at the IMMAF World Championships, advancing to the finals where he edged a split decision over Finland’s Joel Arolainen. In the space of a year, the featherweight European and World champion had bested standout amateurs from nations across the globe, including Finland, the USA, UK, Canada and Ireland.
Georgiev returned this year to defend the world title, at the biggest and most competitive World Championships to date with over 350 athletes in attendance and a 32-man featherweight bracket. Georgiev opened his 2018 campaign with a first round TKO over the UK’s Callum McVay before securing a Day 2 unanimous decision win over Finland’s experienced Eemil Kurhela.
The further evolution of Georgiev’s talent was increasingly evident; impactful on his feet and with solid wrestling. In the quarter-finals, he saw through another unanimous decision over Omaraskhab Yusupov of Russia, no easy task against the nation who went on to conquer a record breaking five divisions with a total of eight senior finalists.
Waling in to the World semi-finals, Georgiev was about to encounter the two greatest tests of his amateur tenure. First, Spanish revelation Enrique Hecher Sosa, who had cruised through back-to-back unanimous decisions over Alvin Miller (USA), Kohei Maeda (Japan), plus the previously undefeated Tim Ha (Czech Republic). After an intense contest between two top level amateurs, Georgiev secured a split-decision over the Spanish hopeful.
In the senior featherweight final, Georgiev faced off against Germany’s Eduard Kexel in what was the most eagerly anticipated collision of Finals Day. The duo went back and forth in a grueling encounter, battling the very best of one another as they traded technical striking exchanges, counter shots, takedowns and sprawls. Both Georgiev and Kexel donned gold competition gear as reigning title holders of respective championships within the past year. Georgiev, the current world champion, and Kexel, the junior European champion who entered the senior ranks just days removed from his 21st birthday.
The near even bout was on a knife edge, but with Georgiev’s aggression outlasting Kexel in the later stages, the deciding factor may well have been the astonishing cardio of the Bulgarian that saw him power through all three rounds one last time. After one of the great world championship deciders, Georgiev won the gold medal after a split-decision thriller.
The gold medal triumph propelled Georgiev to the summit of the world amateur rankings. He is the fourth athlete and first Bulgarian to achieve the rank, lineally occupied from 2015 to the current day by Brendan Allen (USA), Gabriella Ringblom (Sweden), Cornelia Holm (Sweden) and Irman Smajic (Sweden).
The former European champion missed out on the chance to defend the continental title in 2018, due to the search for a new coach. “This was very emotional to me,” he revealed, “and I had the need to arrange my thoughts.”
For now, his ambition remains within the top flight Amateur MMA with a priority of returning to the European Open, taking place 18-23 June in Rome, Italy. Georgiev plans for the 2019 Euros to serve as his final conquest before turning his attention to a professional career.
“I’m planning to participate for second time in the IMMAF European Championships. Another dream of mine is one more European title and to make my game better. I feel more and more ready to go pro. I’m planning to fight in Brave in 2019, during the next World Championships Combat Week.”
By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran