After 2 Years of Near Misses, Sweden Took Over Amateur MMA at the 2016 World Championships

As the founding nation of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation, Sweden’s domestic governance of MMA quickly produced an impressive national team to compete on the world stage beginning with the 2014 IMMAF World Championships in Las Vegas, USA. However, the nation was dealt consecutive years of near misses before finally taking over the international scene.

Unsurprisingly, Team USA would come out on top of the medal table with the most gold medals secured at both the 2014 and 2015 World Championships. Meanwhile, 2014 saw Sweden achieve the understated statistic of having the most athletes reach the finals of the World Championships. National team pioneers Gabriella Ringblom (women’s flyweight), Jill Holmström (women’s featherweight), Joel Moya (men’s featherweight) and
Jimmie Jensen (men’s lightweight) would each battle to the final of the respective divisions, yet would be forced to settle for silver medals. Current UFC standout Amanda Ribas notably earned gold for Brazil with a unanimous decision win over Ringblom, the future world champion.

Ringlom earned gold in dominant fashion at the 2016 Worlds

The theme continued in 2015 with a further three silver medals earned. Experienced Frenchman Iurie Bejenari bested another future champion in Serdar Altas in the men’s flyweight division, Ireland’s Frans Mlmabo triumphed with Joel Moya taking silver at featherweight for a second year and Italy’s Micol Di Segni slugged it out with Anja Saxmark to earn gold via decision in the women’s flyweight tournament. Saxmark would go earn to achieve silver medals at the Asian Open and twice at the European Open Championships. Having only been stopped once, by Iceland’s Sunna Davíðsdóttir, Saxmark remains of the toughest women to compete on the IMMAF platform and is likely among the best athletes to have not secured a gold medal.

Saxmark (red shorts, right) battled Davíðsdóttir in a grueling 2015 European Open final.

2016 would finally be Sweden’s year on top of the World Championships medal table, ironically doing so without a single silver medal. While future UFC veteran Rostem Akman earned bronze at middleweight, all three Swedish finalists including Gabriella Ringblom, Cornelia Holm (women’s bantamweight) and Irman Smajic (heavyweight) wouldn’t triumphantly accomplish Sweden’s first world titles at the elite pro level. All three athletes would successively become the world’s top ranked amateur MMA competitor in the pound-for-pound standings.

Two-time IMMAF heavyweight champion, Irman Smajic

The Swedish team would continue to hold top position at back-to-back World and European Championships until late 2018. The team cleaned up at the 2017 Amateur MMA Awards, winning Best Female Athlete (Anna Astvik), Best Male Athlete (Irman Smajic) and Team of the Year.

A shift in the landscape of national team prowess sparked a difficult year for Sweden, placing ninth in the 2018 Senior World Championships medal table with Nina Back earning the strawweight silver and Mustafa Atrakchi securing bronze at light-heavyweight. In the Junior Worlds, Millie Eriksson achieved silver in the women’s jr. flyweight division.

Sweden bounced back to prominence at the 2019 World Championships and the nation’s female standouts in particular carried the team to third place in the senior medal table. Bezhan Mahmudi (atomweight) and Bianca Antman (women’s flyweight) took home world titles while the team also secured a trio of bronze medals awarded to former European gold medalist Frida Vastamäki, Sandra Meneses and talented wrestling specialist Daniyal Shamkhalov who emerged to shake things up in the men’s featherweight ranks.

By IMMAF.org lead writer: Jorden Curran

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