Pictured above: IMMAF World Champion Will Starks (blue) completes a stunning take down of Silver medalist Alexander Martinez (Red) 2016 was the biggest year to date for IMMAF with a plethora of development on both the competitive platform as well as in the realm of sport regulation. The competition year kicked off with the 2016 World Championships in Las Vegas, taking place during UFC 200 International Fight Week and culminating at the UFC Fan Expo with the likes of Dan Hardy and the Nogueira Brothers in attendance. Anti-doping testing was carried through from the previous year, and for the first time, Amateur MMA athletes competed wearing red and blue rash guards, shorts and shin guards, bringing a visual impact that is in tune with top amateur level combat sport around the world. The number of IMMAF Member nations excelled beyond 60 and continues to climb. Among the approved national governing bodies to be welcomed to the IMMAF family this year were, China, Singapore, Russia, Mexico, Thailand, Georgia, Spain, Egypt, Luxembourg and the Bahamas. Nations around the world hosted the flourishing IMMAF Certification Courses that are on offer. Internationally renowned referee Marc Goddard leads the way in official certification for referees and judges, and veteran cutman Joe Clifford introduced his own IMMAF approved course bringing education and high standards to developing seconds. Below are 5 of the top moments that took place under the IMMAF banner in 2016:
Onsite Brain Scans Introduced at Amateur Championships
In July the 2016 World Championships saw Amateur MMA receive the investment of an onsite brain scan facility where athletes could receive immediate post-fight checks. This high standard of medical safety was also carried through to the European Open Championships in Prague, in November. Furthermore, at the start of the year, the IMMAF Board unanimously passed the Medical Committee motion that every IMMAF event must have pre-arranged access to a CT scan facility for competitors on referral from their post-fight medical.
Bulgarian Talent Flourishes
Bulgaria finished 2016 as the no.2 ranked nation after displaying some of the best potential in the world for developing grass roots talent into top flight amateur champions who will go on to become promising contenders at the professional level. Most promising of all, Bulgaria celebrated 5 champions at the 2016 European Open, 3 of whom earned Gold while under 21 years of age. These champions included 20-year-old Ferdun Osmanov (Men’s Lightweight) and 19-year-olds Nikolay Nikolov (Welterweight) and Atanas Krastanov (Super-Heavyweight). In addition, 26-year-old Strawweight World Champion Aleksandra Toncheva (pictured above) retained her European Open title, in addition to two-time European Open Heavyweight Champion Daniel Galabarov, 25. In 2017 the Bulgarian MMA Federation (BULMMAF) will host the European Open Championships in the nation’s capital, Sofia, from March 29 to April 2.
First IMMAF Africa Open Championships
2016 was historic for Mixed Martial Arts South Africa (MMASA) as the government supported regulatory body hosted the first Africa Open Championships in Johannesburg from 29 August – September 4. Continuing from the momentum of Pieter Roedulf Roets winning Welterweight Gold at the 2016 World Championships, South Africa’s amateurs put on a strong showing on home soil and finished 2016 in the no.3 ranked position with encouraging signs of growing community participation in the region. The Afria Open returns to Johannesburg in 2017 from August 28 to September 2.
Ringblom and Sweden Claim Top Ranked Positions
2016 saw the emergence of a new amateur pound-for-pound no.1 in the form of Sweden’s Gabriella Rinblom. Following a 2015 campaign where she was forced to settle for Silver as a Bantamweight at the European Open, Ringblom switched to the Flyweight bracket for 2016 and showcased ring craft with effectiveness as both a boxer and wrestler. Ringblom earned Gold in becoming the 2016 IMMAF Women’s Bantamweight World Champion, in addition to triumph at the Africa Open alongside 5 of her Swedish team mates. Ringblom earned Silver at the 2016 European Open with defeat coming at the hands of Hungarian newcomer Alexandra Kovacs, the shock result thus bringing an even greater sense of excitement to the division. Sweden also established a strong lead as the world’s no.1 ranked nation, claiming a total of 13 Gold medals across three IMMAF championship events. Women’s Bantamweight Cornelia Holm completed an undefeated year as she was crowned World, European Open and Swedish National Champion. Heavyweight Irman Smajic was also crowned World Champion and Rostem Akman retained the European Open Championship at Middleweight, in addition to newly crowned champions Serdar Altas (Men’s Flyweight), Renato Vidovic (Men’s Bantamweight), Daniel Schalander (Men’s Featherweight).
USA’s Will Starks Becomes a Two-Time IMMAF World Champion
The USA’s Will Starks achieved iconic amateur status as only the second athlete to become a two-time IMMAF World Champion, alongside fellow Team USA alumni Jose Torres. Returning to the IMMAF Worlds following a successful Gold medal campaign in 2015, the Welterweight contender extended his undefeated IMMAF record to 9-0 (full amateur record 22-1) and secured the 2016 World Championship by way of Unanimous Decision after a thrilling three rounds of action against Canada’s two-time World Silver medal winner Alexander Martinez. Following the World Championships it was announced that Starks is set to transition to professional MMA, following in the footsteps of Torres under the banner of standout American organisation, Titan FC. Let us know about your favourite 2016 IMMAF moments in the comments. By IMMAF.org lead writer and website manager, Jorden Curran