By Joe Price
After a successful first day at the IMMAF Youth MMA World Championships for the United States of America, the team is on a high going into the next two days of the tournament.
Lariah Gill won the 48kg category to add to Elijah Nehme’s gold in the male’s division of the same weight. That was not the end of the medal haul for America, as Uriel Cruz, Sebastian Olivencia-Grafals and Adam Troy Maldonado Jr. all won bronze.
USA Team Leader, John Frank, has been crucial to the success of this American team, especially after many trials and tribulations during the Pandemic. As someone who is passionate about the sport of MMA and the potential of the amateur scene in the USA, John has used the platform of the IMMAF World Youth championships to create togetherness amongst his team.
“Our team has 31 kids, from ten different states, that were a team of complete strangers before meeting at our national championships,” he said.
“They were very competitive with each other, including parents and coaches, so as soon as we got to Bulgaria, we wanted to do some team bonding stuff.”
It is this unity that transcends the sport itself. Although MMA can establish tremendous discipline and spirit amongst teams and individuals, it is often overlooked how powerful the sport’s role can be.
“I think we’re now the most unified team in the event. Thanks to this sport, we have found unity at this very challenging time.”
“If everyone did this in society, it would be fantastic. The unity is my favourite part. I don’t care if my team wins a single match; our goal is to set the standards for sportsmanship and mutual respect at these competitions.”
By instilling these morals into his team now, alongside the skills they are learning along the way, John believes he can help set a pathway for the development of his young athletes. It is not just about having oven-ready athletes move over from another sport, but to breed MMA fighters who have studied and trained towards a career in mixed martial arts from the very start.
“I’m beating the drum on this. Within any established sport, you must have youth development – training MMA athletes from adults and grabbing them from other sports is not sustainable.”
“We are building MMA fighters to be MMA fighters. Not building soccer players, or American football players, and turning them into MMA fighters.”
The IMMAF Youth MMA World Championships offer something extra to these young people. In an environment where quality competition is seldom found in their own nation, the preparation for these events helps raise the standards in the sport.
“ There were no outlets for MMA in America for these young athletes. By having competition, it develops the sport through better techniques and training methods and pushes away ineffective ways.”
“But to maintain an effective environment, it has to be a safe environment. We are the only non-Olympic sport in the USA that has adopted safe sport standards which can guard our athletes from different types of abuse.”
IMMAF actively engages in the efforts towards setting standards across the board. Through the quality of athlete, the safety for its athletes, and the events it can stage; it is an organisation with its members in mind.
An MMA body like IMMAF can create a platform that will be at the heart of the growth of the sport through its constant rise in athlete attendance, and skillset of the competition.
“IMMAF boosts outreach domestically. The most competitive kids want to be in the most competitive tournaments, and with such a small percentage of competitive fighters in the USA compared to the population, this is the best way to do it,” said John.
“This is the most competitive tournament we’ve seen for the kids, and it’ll only get more competitive. The more competitive the teams are, the more the kids will be put on notice to raise their game.”
“IMMAF provides this strong competition. Competition breeds better technique and better competitors. It will only make the sport stronger, and as long as we can engage our greater MMA community, there’s not limit in the efforts for developing youth.”
Outside of MMA supporters, there are mixed opinions on the sport. Some only see the sport via the optics of bad press that accompanies most professional sports.
But John is convinced that by attending a single amateur event, that people would realise what MMA actually stands for and seeks to promote.
“If we can get engagement with the sport, that would be great. We don’t yet have much US media interest in us right now. I don’t know if they’re uncomfortable, but MMA is here to stay and IMMAF shows how it can be done safely.”
“Everything a naysayer may have to say, we have all the information to contradict snap judgements on the sport regarding safety and values. If they came to one event, they would be won over. It is just hard to break the barrier.”
The development of the sport is truly the priority of IMMAF and all its members. As everyone attending in Bulgaria, and watching at home, witnessed today; the sport is a very supportive and inclusive environment to be involved with.
IMMAF would like to thank John, and wish him and the USA Team the best of luck during these championships.
You can watch the event LIVE via TV IMMAF at this link.
You will also find the latest championship news here