By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran Photography by Jorden Curran “And the pro offers come pouring in, amazing offers,” IMMAF world champion Benjamin Bennett revealed on social media. At the 2017 IMMAF World Championships in Manama, Bahrain, Bennett earned the welterweight division gold medal and picked up five victories in the tournament from 13-18 November, extending his current win streak to 11 consecutive triumphs with an incredible overall amateur record of 30-3. “He is getting offers now from several big pro promotions,” team USA coach Robert Hulett confirmed. Bahrain’s own Brave Combat Federation is believed to have shown a particularly keen interest in signing the 23-year-old American talent. Brave is fast establishing itself as the leading platform for professional MMA in the Middle East. Since the promotion’s debut in September of 2016, Brave has already expanded internationally with events in UAE, Brazil, India, Kazakhstan and Mexico. Hosted during Bahrain International Combat Week from 12-19 November, the 2017 IMMAF World Championships coincided with Brave 9: The Kingdom of Champions, on the November 17 rest day, and welcomed the plethora of international amateur teams to attend. Bennett, who has also found international success in amateur boxing, began his 2017 IMMAF World Championships campaign with a unanimous decision victory over team Bahrain boxing specialist, Abbas Khan. The Alaska native went on to force a second round TKO stoppage over New Zealand’s Pat Hamer before securing another unanimous decision in the quarter-finals against Oskar Biller – Sweden’s European Open silver medalist. In the semi-finals Bennett went the distance with the highly talented Issa Isakov. The Belgian all-rounder entered the World Championships and added three dominant performances to his own resume after gaining prominence with standout performances at the European Open, only losing out via a split-decision to champion Nikolay Nikolov. Bennett secured another unanimous points triumph over Isakov to set his place in the gold medal finale of the welterweight bracket against Sola Axel. Bennett’s competitive journey to the IMMAF World Finals was far from a direct path, it is a story of setbacks and personal development, both physically and mentally, that dates back to 2015. His sights were first set on the IMMAF World Championships that year. Bennett first pursued qualification for the USA national team via the USA MMA Federation (UMMAF) National Championships. Bennett lost out in the quarter-finals of the qualifying event, dropping a unanimous decision to Brendan Allen who went on to represent the nation at the 2015 IMMAF World Championships in Las Vegas. Allen won the world middleweight title and subsequently became the world’s inaugural pound-for-pound top ranked amateur upon the launch of IMMAF’s world rankings. Bennett secured his place the following year upon reaching the national championships finals. In the domestic title decider he was edged out via split-decision, a distinguishing result considering his opponent: two-time IMMAF world champion, Will Starks. At the 2016 Worlds in Las Vegas Bennett secured a pair of victories, in what would be his first meeting Sweden’s Oskar Biller followed by triumph over Italy’s Gianluigi Ventoruzzo. The young hopeful was eliminated in the quarter-finals, another painful denial via split-decision, this time at the hands of Canadian Alexander Martinez – the eventual two-time world silver-medalist after a memorable encounter with Starks in a rematch of their 2015 title decider. For Bennett, the process started over. Once again he aimed to qualify for the World Championships, this time taking place in Bahrain, and did so with victory back at the UMMAF Nationals. “I was made fun of for my lack of wrestling and ground game my whole life,” he recalled. “Five years later, at the world games, all guys would do is talk about ways to avoid going to the ground with me or how to not get taken down, even the purple belts and ex college wrestlers.” Having remained undefeated since that fateful bout with Martinez, Bennett arrived to finally place one hand on the crown. He is just one victory away from the pinnacle of amateur MMA. “Ben is one of the most driven fighters I’ve ever met,” coach Hulett explained. “He moved from Alaska to train with Hulett House for a year (in Missouri), just so he could win this event.” The would be champion went the distance one last time, in his closest encounter of the tournament, against France’s Sola Axel. The Frenchman provided Bennett with his greatest challenge of the campaign, forcing the American team to adjust their approach for a back-and-forth striking contest. Their efforts paid off with a split-decision nod from the judges to clinch the prestigious gold medal. Coach Hulett added: “In his last fight, his opponent came out fighting differently than we expected and this put Ben on his heels. But Ben did what great fighters do, he adjusted and pulled out the win. He has had adversity his whole life and fought through it. I just helped him focus his drive.”
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