The 2018 IMMAF Africa Open Championships take place in South Africa this month, 24-26 May, returning to Johannesburg at the Brakpan Sports Centre. This year marks the biggest edition of the Africa Open to date, with increased participation among African nations and international competitors from beyond the continent including Australia, Bahrain and the USA. Among the lineup of competing athletes, four of last year’s Africa Open gold medal winners will return to defend their titles, including Bahrain’s Abdulmanap Magomedov (Featherweight) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Eliezer Kubanza (Welterweight), plus 2017 Lightweight champion, South Africa’s Nkosi Ndebele, who will contest for the Featherweight title in 2018. Bahrain’s Hamza Zrira (pictured) completes the quartet of defending gold medalists as he returns in hope of becoming a two-time Africa Open champion in the Bantamweight division. At 24-years-old, Zrira is a product of his country’s athlete development program for MMA, through Bahrain’s own international stable and training facility, KHK MMA, and the Bahrain MMA Federation. Zrira first showed promise on the IMMAF platform in 2016, making it to the quarter-finals of the European Open in Prague. Making his international debut, Zrira bested Ukraine athlete Roman Kolotvin with a unanimous decision from the judges before falling short on the scorecards against Rostislav Raichev, who represented the surging Bulgarian national team. Raichev progressed to earn the bronze medal, but Zrira took it all the way to split-decision. After picking up a win on home soil in January of 2017, Zrira’s next championship outing was the IMMAF Africa Open last September. Zrira triumphed over home nation athletes from South Africa in both the final and semi-final bouts. Following another unanimous decision over Shaun Joubert, he saved the best for last in the gold medal decider, securing a Triangle Choke that forced Katiso Matime to submit in the opening round, in under three minutes. At the 2017 IMMAF World Championships in Bahrain, Zrira lost out on the scorecards in a testing bout with Dinislam Jetpissov, of team Kazakhstan, the nation who dominated the early stages of the competition. Video below. Zrira kicks off his 2018 IMMAF campaign ranked 4th in the IMMAF Men’s bantamweight world rankings. A bronze medal of higher in Johannesburg would see him comfortably advance into the top-3 ahead of the 2018 European Championships in June. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83XqrZhzeFA For more Africa Open event and team information visit MyNextMatch.com.