Senior Female Athlete of The Year Nominee: Alish Smith (2019 Amateur MMA Awards)

It has not been an easy journey for Australia’s Alish Smith, yet her undeterred dedication in the face of frustrating results has seen the young contender remain a prominent fixture at the international level and in 2019 the 23-year-old picked up her first international accolades on the IMMAF platform.

Representing the Aussie national team, Smith has been a consistent supporter of IMMAF championships since 2017 and remains committed to seeking out competition at the elite amateur level. Having been stopped only once, way back in 2017 by Swedish world silver medalist Anja Saxmark, subsequent mixed results do not tell her full story with the striking specialist consistently going the distance against standout medal winners, time and again battling with heart and talent yet coming up short on the scorecards.

On Day 2 of the 2018 World Championships, a knockout win over Ukraine’s Olga Volkova showed the potential of Smith’s striking and power of a well timed counter shot.

Despite facing elimination in the World Championships quarter-finals, Smith would go on to bounce back and turn heads as she hit the ground running in 2019, picking up gold at both the Oceania Open and Asia Open championships, besting Australia’s Jacinta Austin and China’s Huihua Ni in respective finals, taking her progression even further with exciting displays of counter grappling and control on the ground which contributed greatly the breakthrough performances that saw her take to the podium and climb the world rankings.

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) and World Mixed Martial Arts Association (WMMAA) host the 2019 Amateur MMA Awards on Thursday 14 November during the 2019 IMMAF | WMMAA Unified World Championships in Manama.

Senior Female Athlete of The Year nominations include:

Nina Back (Sweden)
2018 World Championships: silver
2019 European Open: silver

• Alish Smith (Australia)
2019 Oceania Open: gold
2019 Asian Open: gold

 Gase Sanita (New Zealand)
2018 World Championships: gold

• Alexandra Kovacs (Hungary)
2018 World Championships: gold

By IMMAF.org lead writer: Jorden Curran

Senior Female Athlete of The Year Nominee: Nina Back (2019 Amateur MMA Awards)

Consistency is key for relevance on the international IMMAF platform. Sweden’s Nina Back remains at the summit of the women’s strawweight rankings having never failed to reach the finals of the World Championships or European Open.

The senior women’s strawweight division has evolved considerably over the past two years. The 115lb bracket featured 9 contenders at the 2017 World Championships. This year, the division is set to host 18 of the World’s best with Back having spearheaded the division’s growth.

The fact that Back continues to pursue her first gold medal under the IMMAF banner is a testament to the depth of talent that she battles among. Since her international debut at the 2018 European Open, Back’s talents have grown to showcase great strength and forcefulness having taken the reigns from her predecessor and former world champion, Anna Astvik.

Photo credit: Daniel Schalander @PHOTOGRAPHYVIKING

Back has brought a new level of intensity to the strawweight ranks, booking her place in the finals of the 2018 Worlds and 2019 European Open with submission and KO stoppages on each occasion with 3 out of 4 finishes secured without mercy in the opening round.

As the World and European silver medalist, Back is the number-one seed and the most consistent performer in her division. Team Sweden’s hunger to regain the strawweight world title no doubt linger. While the challenge grows greater each year, Back remains as the division’s perennial benchmark.

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) and World Mixed Martial Arts Association (WMMAA) host the 2019 Amateur MMA Awards on Thursday 14 November during the 2019 IMMAF | WMMAA Unified World Championships in Manama.

Senior Female Athlete of The Year nominations include:

• Nina Back (Sweden)
2018 World Championships: silver
2019 European Open: silver

• Alish Smith (Australia)
2019 Oceania Open: gold
2019 Asian Open: gold

 Gase Sanita (New Zealand)
2018 World Championships: gold

• Alexandra Kovacs (Hungary)
2018 World Championships: gold

By IMMAF.org lead writer: Jorden Curran

Senior Male Athlete of The Year Nominee: Axel Sola (2019 Amateur MMA Awards)

2019 is anticipated to be the final year of Axel Sola’s amateur tenure. As one of the most decorated and consistent challengers since 2017, the Frenchman is set for a final showing at the 2019 IMMAF Amateur World Championships, in hunt of that which has continued to elude him, the world title.

Sola has been the most active athlete of the 2018-2019 year. As a welterweight in 2018, he earned silver at the World Championships for a second time. In arguably the most competitive division, Sola entered the 2018 Worlds as the reigning European Open gold medalist and further set himself apart with decision victories against fellow medal favorites, Luxembourg’s Yann liasse, Sweden’s Robin Roos and Bahrain’s Russian born Murad Gueinov

The 22-year-old possesses exceptionally rounded abilities and can certainly boast wrestling and well-drilled sprawls as a standout facets of his game. Nevertheless, a back-and forth showcase resulted in a decision loss to Russia’s Islam Bagomedov at the World Championships Finals, yet served as a motivator for Sola to set off and target maximum experience in 2019, committing to every continental open of the new year and moving up in weight to join the middleweight ranks.

2018 World Championships final: Sola lands a right hand on Bagomedov

The journey has produced mixed results thus far, but not without valuable lessons. Sola cruised to gold medals at both the Oceania and Pan-America Championships, and while booking his place in the Africa Open final, he opted to withdraw due to a hand injury with European Open still to come.

A decision loss to Ramazan Gitinov at the Asia Open was a reminder that Sola’s kryptonite lies within most experienced wrestling specialists, yet the experience will no doubt factor in his approach to this year’s World Championships campaign. The Frenchman looked on course to retain his European Open title in 2019, with a first round arm-bar submission of Dmytro Honcharenko (Ukraine) and a one-sided decision over Welshman Jack Tucker. A captivating semi-final was lined up against Russia’s Magomedkhabib Umarov, but injury struck again as Sola’s aggravated hand issues resulted in his withdrawal.

His self-funded commitment towards utilizing the international platform are inspiring and deserving of commendation. Accumulating a 9-2 run (18-4 overall,) Sola’s impressive medal haul of the past year includes World Championships silver (2018), Oceania Open gold, Pan-Am gold, Africa Open silver and European Open bronze.

French MMA Commission (CFMMA) President Bertrand Amoussou presented sola with his 2018 European Open gold medal.

Securing the coveted gold medal at the 2019 World Championships, taking place this November, would no doubt place Sola’s determination to reach the summit among the sport’s greatest triumphs, as the finest example of evolution through the catalyst of competition.

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) and World Mixed Martial Arts Association (WMMAA) host the 2019 Amateur MMA Awards on Thursday 14 November during the 2019 IMMAF | WMMAA Unified World Championships in Manama.

Senior Male Athlete of The Year nominations include:

• Sola Axel (France)
2018 World Championships: Silver
2019 Africa Open: silver
2019 Pan American Open: gold
2019 Oceania Open: gold
2019 European Open: bronze

• Pasha Kharkhachaev (Bahrain)
2018 World Championships: gold
2019 Asian Open: gold
2019 European Open: gold

• Bagdat Zhubanysh (Kazakhstan)
2018 World Championships: gold
2019 Asian Open: gold

• Lee Hammond (Ireland)
2018 World Championships: gold

• Delyan Georgiev (Bulgaria)
2018 World Championships: gold
2019 European Open: bronze

By IMMAF.org lead writer/photographer: Jorden Curran

Senior Male Athlete of The Year Nominee: Lee Hammond (2019 Amateur MMA Awards)

Lee Hammond completed one of the great returns IMMAF competition at the 2018 World Championships. In a coming of age showcase the young Irishman tapped into his finest form to date as an amateur prospect and did so having bounced back from a life-threatening accident while training overseas.

Representing the Republic of Ireland, the 23-year-old is set to defend his world title in November at the 2019 IMMAF World Championships, but his journey to the gold dates back to 2015. At the inaugural European Open Championships, Hammond made his international debut as one of Ireland’s most talked about up and comers and accomplished a bronze medal in the lightweight division.

The UFC’s Jack Shore emerged to win the European Open in 2015. Norway’s Geir Cemsoylu earned silver with the Irish duo of Hammond and Thomas Martin picking up bronze.

His progress continued with the IMMAA national team. The SBG product under John Kavanagh produced a sensational run of four wins at the 2016 European Open, three by way of arm-bar submission, eventually earning silver after a split-decision loss in the final to Bulgaria’s Ferdun Osmanov.

Hammond vs. Osmanov, 2016.

The 2017 World Championships were expected to be the scene of Hammond’s gold medal breakthrough, but fate took a turn as he was hospitalized while in Portugal, suffering a ruptured bowel.

Upon recovering, Hammond qualified once again to represent his country and hit the ground running, continuing with momentum as he had never left.

Making a huge impact without delay, Hammond went viral on Day 1 of the 2018 World Championships, capturing the attention of the MMA world his trademarked Hammoplata submission of Romania’s Stefan Tonu.

A second submission win over Sweden’s Mario Markus set up the captivating showdown of Hammond taking on Ukraine’s dominant Pavel Senchenko, the 2018 European Open gold medalist and favorite for the world title. After a demanding three rounds going to a split-decision, Hammond secured his biggest win to date and proved his worth among the elite of his division, solidifying himself a gold medal contender.

The final chapter of Hammond’s World Championships campaign was against surprise finalist, Finland’s Marko Sarasjärvi. The duo battled to a split-decision and Hammond was dramatically forced to endure a near completed arm-bar hold from Sarasjärvi, but Hammond’s overall control and high level BJJ with continuous transitions from the bottom saw his journey come to the end with Ireland receiving gold on the lightweight division podium.

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) and World Mixed Martial Arts Association (WMMAA) host the 2019 Amateur MMA Awards on Thursday 14 November during the 2019 IMMAF | WMMAA Unified World Championships in Manama.

Senior Male Athlete of The Year nominations include:

• Sola Axel (France)
2018 World Championships: Silver
2019 Africa Open: silver
2019 Pan American Open: gold
2019 Oceania Open: gold
2019 European Open: bronze

Pasha Kharkhachaev (Bahrain)
2018 World Championships: gold
2019 Asian Open: gold
2019 European Open: gold

• Bagdat Zhubanysh (Kazakhstan)
2018 World Championships: gold
2019 Asian Open: gold

• Lee Hammond (Ireland)
2018 World Championships: gold

• Delyan Georgiev (Bulgaria)
2018 World Championships: gold
2019 European Open: bronze

By IMMAF.org lead writer/photographer: Jorden Curran

Senior Male Athlete of The Year Nominee: Pasha Kharkhachaev (2019 Amateur MMA Awards)

Pasha Kharkhachaev stunned audiences upon his debut at the 2018 IMMAF World Championships and continued to bring fear upon his division throughout the year, bringing a touch of outrageous spectacle to the international amateur platform.

After storming through the quarter and semi-final stages, the enigmatic super-heavyweight blasted his way to the 2018 World Championships gold medal with perhaps the most devastating strike ever seen on the amateur platform, knocking out Russian national champion Grigoriy Ponomarev with a single punch in the opening round of their world championship final (main picture.)

Kharkhachaev would go on to cement himself as one of the most must-see performers in all of MMA. Showcasing unprecedented one-punch stopping power, he picked up both the European and Asian Open titles in 2019.

Having progressed from his sambo background, where opponents would meet a similar end, Kharkhachaev brings his conquering appetite to the sport of mixed martial arts. To date, the 24-year-old remains undefeated (6-0) having flattened all comers in the opening round, consistently punching his way to one title after another. His walk away knockout triumphs are fast becoming legend and his notoriety has captivated Bahrain as he represents the country’s national team.

Kharkhachaev has all the makings of a lovable draw, reminiscent of unassuming big hitters such as Mark Hunt and Roy Nelson. There is, however, even greater substance to his ability, far beyond that of a novel appearance and ridiculous KO power.

Kharkhachaev’s laid back approach sees him slowly, menacingly, walk down his opponents with a blank expression of contempt, much in the style of cinematic boogeymen such as Friday the 13th’s Jason or Halloween’s Michael Myers. The moment of his strike then comes with astonishing quickness, leaving opponents devastated in the blink of an eye. In the 2019 European Open final, a hesitant Ruslan Moiseienko appeared lost as the daunting world champion slowly approached.

Considered by some within the Bahrain camp as the team’s greatest talent, the true extent of his capability may in fact remain hidden. While his success is underpinned by punching power, the precision and speed of his execution must be praised in equal measure. Kharkhachaev displays reserved agility with spinning back kicks and head kicks, delivered as if to be a teaser, to keep us guessing just what he will do next. Rumor has it that the near 350lb standout is able to pull off both a backflip and full splits.

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) and World Mixed Martial Arts Association (WMMAA) host the 2019 Amateur MMA Awards on Thursday 14 November during the 2019 IMMAF | WMMAA Unified World Championships in Manama.

Senior Male Athlete of The Year nominations include:

• Sola Axel (France)
2018 World Championships: Silver
2019 Africa Open: silver
2019 Pan American Open: gold
2019 Oceania Open: gold
2019 European Open: bronze

• Pasha Kharkhachaev (Bahrain)
2018 World Championships: gold
2019 Asian Open: gold
2019 European Open: gold

• Bagdat Zhubanysh (Kazakhstan)
2018 World Championships: gold
2019 Asian Open: gold

• Lee Hammond (Ireland)
2018 World Championships: gold

• Delyan Georgiev (Bulgaria)
2018 World Championships: gold
2019 European Open: bronze

By IMMAF.org lead writer/photographer: Jorden Curran