From Competitor To Leader, How Jo Doyle Galvanised Women’s MMA Talent in the UK

MMA competitor Joanne Doyle (pictured above, left) was among the most consistent achievers of the UK national amateur MMA team from 2016 to 2018, yet it was a distinct lack of women’s talent within the national lineup that motivated the former European Open gold medalist to adopt a leadership role and introduce new opportunities to young up-and-comers.

Representing Team UK, Doyle won the 2016 IMMAF European Open championship in the featherweight division, advancing to the final with two victories before taking a split-decision win over future world champion Julia Dorny. Doyle would go on to earn bronze at the IMMAF World Championships in 2017 in addition to a European Open silver medal in 2018.

It was the 2018 European Open in Bucharest that marked the turning point of Doyle’s involvement with her national team. Doyle represented the senior national squad as the only woman within a group of 10 athletes. It was clear that women’s talent was not being engaged. However, the invite to lead a rejuvenated women’s team was the opportunity for Doyle to build new bridges and pathways, and she began to galvanise prospects from across the nation.

“When I was offered the position I jumped at the opportunity,” Doyle explained. “I knew there was a lot of female talent in the UK, they just needed the right support. Having competed at numerous IMMAF tournaments I felt I could give advice from a position of experience.”

Doyle knew the talent existed, including a number of potential rivals on the national circuit. Nevertheless, her ambition was to create the best possible team to represent the nation. It was a simple yet effective approach of informative outreach and inspiration through the expression of a collective benefit for all involved.

“I knew most of the amateur fighters in the UK as I was always looking for opponents for myself, as promoters struggled to match me,” she explained. “I simply messaged them to attend the trials, where they expressed the same problems that I had with local shows. Speaking with the athletes I could explain the tournament format and that they would get multiple fights on their record.” 

Less than six months following her appearance as the UK’s only woman competing at the European Open, Doyle had constructed a women’s contingent of six athletes for the 2018 World Championships alongside fellow women’s team coaches James Doyle and Mark Spencer. Top standout Megan Morris emerged to sensationally win the junior bantamweight title and earn a nomination for junior athlete of the year.

Doyle celebrates with Megan Morris and fellow coach Mark Spencer following World Championships victory.

The women’s evolution only continued. The 2019 European Open headed to Rome, now with a lineup of 10 women representing the UK.

“It felt amazing!”, Doyle recalled. ” I was really proud of how all the team came together to support each other, even if they were in the same weight category. From our first tournament as a team we picked up medals and titles which continued the momentum we had built at the trials and training days.” 

With Doyle now serving as the women’s team coach, the nation’s representatives bound for Rome included the athletes listed below. As a nation, the UK would would reach an incredible second place in the junior European Open medal table, picking up 7 medals (3 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze), 3 of which were secured by the women’s team including champions Milly Horkan, Izzy Mitchell and silver medalist Shannon Troup who was forced to withdraw from the final for medical reasons. Megan Morris and Melissa Mullins each secured a silver medal in the senior European Open divisions with the UK team firing on all cylinders and collecting medals across the board.

Lexi Rook joined UK team as a champion prospect and remains undefeated on the UK circuit.

Junior Team Athletes (ages 18-20)
Strawweight – Liv Taylor – Sunderland
Strawweight – Shannon Troup (1-1) – Edingburgh
Bantamweight – Milly Horkan – Middlesbrough
Lightweight – Izzy Mitchell – Manchester
Senior Team Athletes (18+)
Flyweight – Levi Steedman – Manchester
Bantamweight – Charlotte Brown – Rochdale
Bantamweight – Lexi Rook – East Sussex
Featherweight – Melissa Mullins – Coventry
Strawweight – Marie Spencer – Yorkshire
Flyweight – Megan Morris – Blackburn

The dissolution of the UKMMAF ushered the new English MMA Association (EMMAA), with the existing national team and majority of coaches remaining unchanged, now as Team England, who would secure 4 medals at the 2019 Junior World Championships with Milly Horkan (pictured below) adding world championships gold to her European crown.

“I think the sport has grown to a point where more women are interested in taking classes be it jiu jitsu or kickboxing,” Doyle added.“I think certain projects can draw numbers such as ladies only and beginner classes. It is essential as a coach to recognise the goals of a student as some want to keep it recreational and others may move towards competition.”

While further elevating the national team and setting off on a prestigious international pathway, Doyle’s team of prominent standouts hail from across a countrywide talent pool. Doyle’s vision has came to fruition with a fine example set for how informative outreach and enthusiasm can build bridges that see inspiring results within a fragmented national scene. While continued work is required to support and sustain the Team England’s development, these fresh role models have taken to the stage with potential to inspire participation in MMA for women from all walks of life.

By IMMAF.org lead writer: Jorden Curran

IMMAF Governance gets boost with new Youth Development Commission

YOUTH DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION

IMMAF is delighted to introduce the new Youth Development Commission, which will be working closely with other Commissions and Committees to manage the huge demand for amateur MMA youth programmes all over the world.

IMMAF President Kerrith Brown said: “Our experience with our first Youth World Championships last year proved the point that MMA has massive appeal for young combat sport athletes. As the legitimate world governing body for amateur MMA, we have a responsibility and mission to make the sport accessible and safe for youngsters, with rules and procedures that are fit for purpose.”

To acknowledge its strategic importance, the Youth Development Commission will have both a chairman, Stanislav Nedkov (BUL) and a vice-chair Danny Corr (Northern Ireland). Stanislav is a former UFC professional fighter and now a sport administrator while Danny Corr is responsible for creating award-winning youth sport and culture initiatives.

The Youth Development Commission will help create programmes to guide young athletes on pathways for lifelong participation, competition preparation and personal development in MMA.

Because young Athlete development frameworks must be holistic and embrace the complex nature of athlete development, this Committee will cover Coaching, Regulatory affairs, Medical, Anti-doping and Ethics.

Members 2019-2021

Chairperson: Stanislav Nedkov (BUL)

Members:

Sharif Bapu (IND)
Danny Corr (GBR)
Zanna Kim (KAZ)
Bertrand Amoussou (FRA)
Vito Paolinio (ITA)
Raul Salas Navarro (MEX)

Staff Liaison: Andrew Moshanov (RUS)

COACHING COMMISSION

Another key IMMAF Commission is the Coaching Commission, and IMMAF is pleased to announce a new membership team led by Richie Cranny of Australia. Richie is a former professional MMA athlete, coach and founder of the highly successful “Wimp 2 Warrior” training scheme to train inexperienced individuals in MMA techniques.

The Coaching Commission provides strategic direction and leadership to ensure that IMMAF coaches have the most up-to-date level of competency and can deliver effective teaching of the skills of mixed martial arts to their membership. The Commission will provide a coach’s perspective and voice to the decision-making processes within IMMAF and advocates for the rights and interests of coaches within the sport of Amateur Mixed Martial Arts globally.

Both Commissions share an IMMAF Staff Liaison in the highly experienced Andrew Moshanov, IMMAF’s Director of Sport Development.

Coaching Commission 2019-2021

Chairperson: Richie Cranny (AUS)

Members:

Gennady Kapshai (RUS)
Luis Barneto (POR)
Lutz Heyden (GER)
Bertrand Amoussou (FRA)
Paolo Oliveira (NZL)
Anton Blank (UKR)

Staff Liaison: Andrew Moshanov (GBR)

IMMAF to Offer Free Online Coach Education Courses

Dear IMMAF Coaches, 

Sport has the power to connect and to build communities. While we are temporarily restricted from communication in person, we remain committed to our mission to promote sport and a healthy lifestyle. We therefore wish to inspire learning, creativity and ideas, even while our coaches and students are hunkering down at home.

This in an opportunity for us to reinvent ourselves and rediscover the values of education.

Whether you are new or experienced, seeking revalidation or looking for more tips for your coaching, please contact moshanov@immaf.org to enrol on IMMAF online courses. 

IMMAF Update on Coronavirus & Championships – 24.3.20

Last week, we were sad to inform you of the postponement of IMMAF’s 2020 Africa Open Championships and 2020 Pan American Championships, until further notice.

We promised to keep you informed about the status of the 2020 Asian Open Championships, planned for June in Kazakhstan, and also our 2020 Youth World Championships (6 – 9 August) and 2020 European Senior & Junior Championships (11 – 16 August) in Rome: 

Due to the fast moving circumstances of the Covid-19 global crisis, the IMMAF CEO and Board will be reviewing the options for these events with IMMAF’s event partners over the next 7 days.

IMMAF will issue updated information on 2 April after the upcoming Board Meeting.

In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and ask that members adhere to the safety advice of their government and government organisations.

Is Aussie Prodigy Colby Thicknesse Ready To Take On The World?

Colby Thicknesse burst onto the international scene at the 2020 IMMAF Oceania Open Championships and at the age of 20 was the youngest of Australia’s four gold medal winners.

The young contender worked his way to the IMMAF platform with consistent action at the national level in 2019. Three bouts within the year extend his record to five victories with just a single blemish by way of a judge’s decision, his resume boasted three rear-naked-choke submissions and a knockout win upon his amateur debut.

Thicknesse would secure the men’s featherweight gold medal with a further three triumphs, competing from 6 – 8 March at the IMMAF Oceania Open in Gold Coast, Australia. Battling on home soil, he announced himself among international counterparts beginning with 2018 Junior World bronze medalist, Ali Yaqoob. Thicknesse secured his debut win on the international platform via third round TKO and was the first opponent to stop Yaqoob who had previously lasted the distance with top contenders such as Reo Yamaguchi and Olzhas Moldagaliyev.

In the Oceania Open semi-finals Thicknesse was faced with the burden of taking on team mate Abzzy Mahdawi, who he bested via unanimous decision. Thicknesse won the men’s featherweight final with a unanimous decision win over Team England’s Dylan Thompson, age 24. Victory over the English veteran will likely serve the Australian team with valuable insight, comparing home grown up and comers with products of the UK’s busy amateur scene.

Upon turning 21 in June, Thicknesse will be headed towards the senior ranks of the 2020 IMMAF World Championships, currently slated to take place in October and hosted by Kazakhstan. At the IMMAF Worlds, he would be set to face the stiffest competition available to any elite level amateur. Top contenders of the 145lb division include a diverse lineup featuring world champion Ahmed Gazimagomedov, with Russia’s tremendous wrestling pedigree, and World silver medalist Elaman Shalkimbeko, a strong and exciting Kazakh striker. 2019’s World bronze medalists were Swedish wrestling specialist Daniyal Shamkhalov who added an impressive new dynamic to Sweden’s national team, plus Ireland’s Alexander O’Sullivan who looks set to flourish with almost 30 MMA bouts under his belt including vast experience and consistent prominence at the IMMAF level.

Australia continues to hold position as a top 10 nation in the IMMAF world team rankings. While moving forward with a keen awareness of global rivals, drawing upon nationwide prospects with development and retention of young talent such as Thicknesse could well serve Australia’s advancement in coming years.

By IMMAF.org lead writer: Jorden Curran