By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran As Ciarán Clarke prepares for the 2018 IMMAF-WMMAA World Championships, he gave thanks this week to former Republic of Ireland international and Leeds United legend, Gary Kelly, who presented him with sponsorship in the lead up to the World’s premier competition for amateur mixed martial arts standouts. “Gary approached me one day in the gym where I train boxing and conditioning,” Clarke told IMMAF.org, “Sean Kilroy Fitness in Drogheda, where we’re both from.” Kelly made 531 appearances for Leeds United FC between 1992 and 2007, the highest of the modern era and 8th on the club’s all-time appearance list. The 44-year-old right-back earned 52 senior caps for the Republic of Ireland and represented the nation at the World Cup in 1994 and 2002. Clarke revealed how Kelly related to the young contender as a fellow athlete familiar with his position and the weight that can be lifted with the aid of sponsorship. The football star, who owns the GK Gym also in Drogheda, will cover the 23-year-old athlete’s training, gym membership and nutrition expenses. “[Gary] was just finished with his training session and I was just finishing mine. He said, ‘If you’re ever looking for sponsorship let me know, I can help you out, keep up the good work’. Later that day I text him to thank him for the offer and told him of the upcoming World Championships and if we could sort something out. He said he will never forget how he felt years ago when he was looking for sponsors, he used to hate asking people for sponsorship and he knows how I feel and that’s why he wanted to help out.” Competing in the men’s lightweight division, the amateur veteran first represented Ireland at the 2016 IMMAF World Championships in Las Vegas, followed by the 2017 European Open and the 2017 World Championships last November where the extent of his potential was showcased. “I felt my best at last years World’s,” he said. “It gave me confidence to know I can beat anyone and I believe I can become World Champion this year in Bahrain.” For the 2017 World Championships Clarke joined the Republic of Ireland national team as a late replacement, yet showcased his best form to date, upsetting Swedish tournament favourite Tobias Harila to avenge a previous loss and advance to the quarter-finals where his exit came via a narrow split-decision loss to eventual silver medalist, Vitaly Andrukovich of Belarus. “I always come back a better version of myself,” Clarke added. Already proven as a significant threat to all international comers, the young Irishman is feeling motivated on the road back the World Championships where he plans to compete for the prestigious gold medal. The Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA) regularly brings together one of the World’s largest and most successful national teams to compete on the IMMAF platform. Team Ireland will be in action at the historic IMMAF-WMMAA Unified World Championships, taking place from 11-18 November, also featuring Junior World Championships for the first time in Manama, Bahrain.