Irfan Ahmad runs a gym in a Pakistan slum, now he’s set for the IMMAF World Championships

Photo via PAKMMA
Written and contributed by Caoilte de Barra

The countdown to the 2017 IMMAF World Championships is on and with the tournament beginning on November 12 the excitement is certainly kicking in.

Each and every year fighters from different nations from around the globe enter in hope of coming out with a gold medal. Some new faces and addition nations will appear every year as IMMAF membership continues to expand, globally. This year Pakistan will be among the newcomers looking to put on a good showing.

Pakistan has never competed in the IMMAF World Championships; amateur boxing veteran Abbas Khan represented the nation in the 2016 European Open Championships, losing out to Ireland’s Lee Hammond after a promising start to the bout that showcased his boxing roots. That was, unfortunately, the most we’ve got to see of Pakistani amateurs on the global scene so far.

Times are changing though and Pakistan is a new kid on the block looking to enter this year’s IMMAF World Championships.

The effort gone into developing MMA in Pakistan has been incredible and has gotten to a point where they believe they can compete with some of the best fighters in the amateur scene around the world.

Bashir Ahmad is the man who has played a key role in this with the work he has done with the Pakistan MMA Association (PAKMMA) over the years. Since assisting to introduce the sport to the country, it has grown to new heights, he explains.

“The goal of PAKMMA was actually to get people to rally around and get working to start an MMA community in Pakistan. At that time, distinguishing between amateur or pro was irrelevant as no one even knew what MMA was. PAKMMA is essentially the big bang of Pakistani MMA. Now, as the sport has grown, a requirement for oversight and management became more and more important.

“With the advent of the IMMAF, PAKMMA had a supporter and mentor in formulating a better infrastructure and pathway for the new athletes.

“In fact, because of PAKMMA’s new direction in conjunction with the IMMAF, more and more clubs are recognizing the importance of having long and developed amateur careers.”

Having PAKMMA working closely with the IMMAF, there are certainly plans and preparations for them to be able to send a competition team. However, this comes with great difficulty for the nation where the GDP per capita is 18 times lower than the USA, who are a main competitor in the championships.

Despite financial burden being the main barrier to competing, there is still hope.

“That’s the hope and the plan, that we can send a team to Bahrain. Finances, like many other developing countries in Asia, are a legitimate issue. Most of our athletes come from humble backgrounds. And if they come from middle-class families, which means that by Pakistani standards they make 1,000 USD a month. How would someone in the west feel if their kid came up to them and told them they needed a month salary to compete in an amateur tournament?

“That being said, because the scene is growing, more and more people are taking the risk for the potential reward and investing by saving, borrowing and sometimes getting sponsors to compete overseas.”

Bashir went on to mention some of the prospects of which he believes can one day showcase what their nation has to offer.

“There are a few I would like to mention: Zeeshan Shah is a well-developed athlete who has yet to go pro. We have Shahid Siddique, another athlete who has won international belts and has not yet gone pro. Finally, there is Irfan Ahmad who is in many ways, my protégé. He gets it. He gets why I do what I do, and he gets why I think the way I think. He runs Shaheen gym, a gym in a slum – he will be a champion one day.”

Next month Pakistan will be represented by Ahmad at the 2017 IMMAF World Championships. The 21-year-old Men’s flyweight competitor has been a sensation on the national scene thus far, accumulating a 3-0 amateur record that includes a fierce stoppage in which he imposed a taster of his Muay Thai prowess to end the bout in just 77 seconds.

The amateur scene in Pakistan started from nothing, now it has grown into an outstanding community of fighters, fans, and coaches. The growth in the sport has taught much patience in their development, one of the more vital aspects, Bashir believes.

“The amateur scene has developed in the sense that more promotions and more athletes understand the importance of a slow and steady development that only amateur scenes can bring out.”

Now with IMMAF putting on tournaments across the globe, Bashir concludes that it gives amateurs targets prior to turning pro whilst giving them a good perspective on when they should make the step up.

“I think it gives amateurs something to strive for beyond simply going pro. It gives a good litmus test for deciding when the right time is. If you’re medalling at the Worlds, there is a good chance your time to take it to the next level is near.”

From speaking with Bashir, a lot of hope and belief is there for Pakistan to both compete and succeed at this year’s IMMAF World Championships.

The 2017 IMMAF World Championships take place at Khalifa Sports City Arena from 12 to 19 November, as part of Brave International Combat Week, the 2017 World Championships are set to be the biggest event in the history of amateur MMA under IMMAF with over 250 athletes representing nations from all continents. 2017 marks the first year of the IMMAF Worlds taking place outside of Las Vegas, USA.

For more information on PAKMMA visit pak-mma.com.
For live updates and team information from the 2017 IMMAF World Championships visit MyNextMatch.com.

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