IMMAF champion Sanna Merta discusses MMA and family life balance

Picture: IMMAF European Open featherweight champion Sanna Merta Following her featherweight gold medal triumph at the 2015 IMMAF European Open Championships, Finland’s Sanna Merta spoke with to recap her trio of victories and discussed how she manages to balance training with family commitments. Merta also responded to the proposal of Northern Ireland’s lightweight champion, Leah McCourt, that she moves to 145lbs for an amateur ‘superfight’ with the Finnish champion. “It felt great, naturally,” Merta expressed when recalling the joy of being awarded the European Open gold. As she headed to the championships in Walsall, England, her personal target was always to make it to the final, she explained, “Before the tournament I set my target to have three fights and come home with a medal. However, at the same time I was thinking that if my goal is to have three fights, my goal is also to win them all.” From November 20th to 22nd Merta scored three successive victories over Ireland’s Lindsey Doyle, Germany’s Julia Dorny and Sweden’s Cornelia Holm. Each opponent required a different approach and this was reflected in the results. “They all were different kinds of fighters with different backgrounds”, Merta recalled, whose own strengths stem from a background in Judo. “Doyle is a boxer, I had to exclude her strengths with my grappling and ground game.” Merta secured a second round TKO stoppage against Doyle in the tournament’s opening round. The following day she faced fellow Judo veteran Julia Dorny whose tempo and determination on the feet was  well met by Merta, who decided to stand and trade patiently and technically. Dorny secured a series of takedowns but each time Merta would counter with a triangle attempt. After a third takedown Merta completed the arm-bar submission in round three. “Dorny is a former judoka, as am I, and taller than me which was a new situation. The game plan was to go through her legs and arms to her body and then continue to the ground. This was my toughest fight.” The 31-year-old faced Sweden’s Cornelia Holm in the final on November 22nd. Holm advanced to the finals with a dominant first round submission via keylock against French fighter Celine Provost. However, the Swedish finalist presented a greater puzzle with Merta being less aware of Holm’s background heading into the bout, unlike that of her previous contests. “Before the final I did not have much information about Holm’s former sports, but I thought she has good movement on her feet and she is able to carry out effective grappling against the wall. In this match I wanted to try out how well I am able strike and move in a standing position, but I also kept the grappling and ground game part of the game plan. Overall I think that combination worked pretty well.” Merta asserted herself more and more as the three round final progressed, and she bested Holm via unanimous decision, showcasing well rounded abilities in doing so. The Fin’s martial art background had seen her complete her final judo match in 2009 before transitioning to mixed martial arts at the end of 2011. She entered the European Open with a 2-2 amateur record and was strongly encouraged by the evidence of her progression which received a thorough test on IMMAF’s international stage. “One or two powerful take downs would have been nice, but they were missing this time. Otherwise, I am very pleased with the variety. I was able to get points and wins via my strengths, the grappling and ground game, but also via territories not so general to me with strikes and kicks. “During the tournament I thought several times that I am so lucky to have this chance to have several matches against international opponents, and at the age of 31 years! I wanted to give my best. After every match there was such an avalanche of emotions that I felt for winning the fight.”

On the podium: left to right - Cornelia Holm, Sanna Merta, Celine Provost, Julia Dorny
On the podium: left to right – Cornelia Holm, Sanna Merta, Celine Provost, Julia Dorny
With 2015 having played host to both the European Open and World Championships in Las Vegas, few would have predicted Finland to enter 2016 as the most highly achieving nation across the two events.  Nevertheless, Merta was always confident in what Finland’s national amateur team was capable of. “Before the tournament I thought we are going to be successful team. We could have had a couple more medals too.” Finland’s 2015 medal tally included:European Open: Gold – Varpu Rinne (135lbs), Sanna Merta (145lbs), Abdul Hussein (135lbs), Silver – Mia Isola (155lbs), Bronze – Sini Koivunen (155lbs), Inka Auvinen (125lbs) World Championships: Gold – Minna Grusander (115lbs), Silver – Tuukka Repo (155lbs), Bronze – Juho Laitinen (185lbs) Merta looks forward to competing in 2016, hopefully from as early as April, and responded to the compelling idea put forward by European Open lightweight champion Leah McCourt, who in a previous interview with expressed that she would “love to fight the 145lb IMMAF European winner.” With an encouraging response Merta simply stated that a superfight between the two amateur champions is “very possible”. At the age of 31 Merta is deeply involved in her family and working life as well as MMA. With family coming first and foremost, the three aspects of her life require a diverse range of attention, but she draws comfort and strength in knowing that her efforts work hand in hand. “I have a two-year-old daughter with my husband and I have full time job, so there is a lot to focus on, but I think this trinity – family, job and fighting – is a good combination even though it can be stressful sometimes and demands good planning and scheduling. All three parts of my life support each other. I am changing employers in February and I want to concentrate on my new job for a while. I maintain my physical through training, but my next matches are not lined up until are possibly April or May.” Written by lead writer and website manager, Jorden Curran You can follow the Finnish MMA Federation on Twitter @FinMMAFed and vists for more information. 

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