World & European silver medallist Anja Saxmark is hungry for gold in 2016!

Through 2015, Swedish flyweight contender Anja Saxmark was one of the most consistently successful athletes to compete across the IMMAF World Championships of Amateur MMA in July, and the IMMAF European Open Championships in November. Having reached the final on both occasions to eventually claim a pair of silver medals, Saxmark tells IMMAF.org that she is now “very hungry” to take gold in 2016. Anja’s strong determination and appreciation for combat sport fuels her drive to compete, and she had her first taste of international level competition at the World Championships in Las Vegas. A first love of kickboxing paved the way for 2.5 years of training in mixed martial arts, and she completed a series of shootfighting bouts before earning her place on Sweden’s national amateur team. As she made her way to the 2015 World Championships, Anja was highly uncertain of where she stood in comparison to her fellow competitors, but soon found her footing as one of the world’s top standouts at 125lbs. “When I got to the World Championships I’d been doing MMA for two and a half years and didn’t know what level I was at. But I’m a very driven, focused person. I work hard, train hard and I really like fighting as a sport! Of course I wanted to win but I also knew that many of the girls were more experienced than me. I was really happy with the silver medal. “Before the World Championships I only had three shootfighting fights, 3-0. Shootfighting is a lighter form of MMA. There’s the same level of protection as in amateur MMA, with stand up fight, takedowns, and submission wrestling, but no punches on the ground. “I’ve always loved all kinds of martial arts and did some karate, kickboxing, taekwondo and capoeira as a kid, but nothing serious. When I was 26 I started kickboxing at Fighter Centre in Gothenburg. I got hooked, and fought my first fight after only four months training. I did kickboxing for about a year before I started doing MMA at Gladius MMA instead. I fought 18 kickboxing fights in that year with a 9-9 record, but after trying MMA I knew that was where I wanted to stay!” Now with undoubted confidence in her ability, Anja and the Swedish team made their way to the IMMAF European Open in Walsall, England. Her personal expectations had increased but so had the level of competition, and  so Anja needed to prove just how driven she could be with a series of stern tests. In addition to earning her second silver medal, Anja produced a highlight performance, displaying grit and determination in the opening round with a come-from-behind submission win over Ireland’s Meagan O’Loughlin. “At the European Open I had higher expectations of myself. I’d learnt so much at the World Championships, I really wanted to win. So I was a bit disappointed when I lost the final, but Sunna [Rannveig] was so good, the best girl I’ve ever fought and she really deserved that gold! I enjoyed the fights before the final as well. I fought my best fights so far at the European Open.”

Anja punch
Picture: Anja Saxmark lands a right hand in the European Open final against Iceland’s gold medal winner Sunna Rannveig
Mixing it up with international opposition is the most legitimate route for an athlete to gain a real understanding of their amateur development at the highest level. For Anja this opportunity and platform was incredibly valuable due to a lack of domestic opponents at home. Her enjoyment of IMMAF’s tournament based platform has further inspired Anja and she is now hungrier than ever to take home a gold medal. “I think it’s very important (to face international competition) if you want to develop as a fighter. Also, there aren’t so many girls competing in MMA in Sweden yet, so for me it’s almost the only chance to get fights. It’s been amazing! A mix of the hardest, most intense and awesome experiences of my life, both the fights and everything around it. I will stay amateur for at least one more year. Tournaments are amazing experiences, and I’m very hungry for those golds now.” Anja is currently in Thailand where she and her boyfriend, professional MMA fighter Robin Gidlöv, have spent Christmas and New Year in addition to training at the famous AKA Thailand gym in Phuket. “It’s been great here! Great weather, a super environment and I have a great trainer here called Pom. I’ve mostly done private sessions, working on my stand up. I feel like I’ve developed a lot in just these few weeks. I’ve also sparred some with my boyfriend Robin Gidlöv. He is a Pro MMA fighter and helps me a lot with my training. Other than that, lots of yoga and a little grappling.” Outside of MMA Anja maintains her strong dedication to sport and fitness as co-owner of a personal training studio, and gives huge thanks to her business partners for making it possible to pursue her passion for MMA. “I started a personal training studio 7 years ago and have been doing that full time since then. Two years ago I was joined by a co-owner, Johanna Andersson. That made it possible for me to train more. And a year ago we hired a CEO, Joel Löwenberg. Without him I probably wouldn’t have been able to train and compete as much as I do. I still work full time training clients but he runs the business and takes care of staff. We have grown from four trainers and one massage therapist to seven trainers, three masseuses and a CEO in just two years, and in 2016 we are moving our business to bigger and better premises, and intend to keep on expanding. So I’m definitely focusing on my career; but I have really good people around me, supporting me on all levels and making it possible to both train many, many hours per week and go away to compete.” Written by IMMAF.org lead writer and website manager, Jorden Curran

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