Italy’s Olympic Legacy Welcomes Youth MMA World Championships, Host Nation’s Vito Paolillo Discusses New Pathways Under a Perfect Setting

This week Italy is set to welcome over 260 young athletes from 27 competing nations as Rome hosts the inaugural IMMAF – WMMAA Youth MMA World Championships, from 3-4 August.

Unified world governing body, IMMAF – WMMAA, once again teams with the Italian Grappling & MMA Federation (FIGMMA) to bring together an elite international amateur platform.

Featuring on the same ground as the 2019 European Open back in June, the Youth World Championships take place at the PalaPellicone Olympic Center (pictured below), home of Italy’s Olympic programs for Judo, wrestling, Karate and other martial arts, now also welcoming MMA.

The Youth MMA World Championships serve as the ground-breaking first event of its kind at an international level, outlining progressive competitive pathways for athletes to accumulate MMA experience and represent their country from the age of 12, upwards.  Youth divisions include tailored rule sets spanning Category A (age 16-17), Category B (14-15) and Category C (12-13).

FIGMMA vice-president, Vito Paolillo (main picture) serves as the national event director alongside IMMAF international event director, Alistair Pettitt. With recognition under the Italian Olympic federation and umbrella combat sport body, FIJLKAM, Paolillo believes that MMA’s national status, coupled with FIGMMA’s experience in youth events, makes Italy the perfect nation to serve as event hosts. 

“We need to create a progression path for kids that enter the sport,” he stated. “In the past, MMA was a sport where you go after building an amateur career in another sport. Kids now want to enter MMA from the beginning, they want to be an MMA fighter when they see the professional stars and they go to the gym because they want to train MMA.

“In Italy we’ve organised youth competitions in MMA since 2010 on a national level,” he explained. “So we’re really excited to host this first major international competition for youths, the first Youth World Championships. It’s an honour to host it here and we are lucky to be able to use the Olympic Centre from FIJLKAM, the PalaPellicone, it is probably the best venue in Italy for combat sports, it is perfect for this kind of event and we have full support from the Olympic federation. It’s going to be a great event for everybody.”

While deeply familiar with Italy’s national wrestling program, the FIGMMA vice-president is well versed in the development of respective grappling disciples, also a black belt in Judo and experienced as a BJJ practitioner. Paolillo is confident that opening pathways to young MMA enthusiasts will in turn draw attention and further raise the profiles of fundamental disciples, such as wrestling.

“This can benefit the other combat sports with MMA serving as an introduction to wrestling, for example, which initially is less appealing to kids,” Paolillo explained.

“Here in MMA the athletes are beginning on a progression path to compete within the sport and progress towards senior IMMAF competition with years of experience in tournaments, then eventually take the next step, if they want to go pro, perhaps with 15 years of competitive MMA experience, rather than having to learn new things at a later stage or even as adults after only training a single discipline.”

By IMMAF.org lead writer: Jorden Curran

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