IMMAF Events Director praises example set by women as MMA officials

Pictured above: South Africa’s Chyrene Strauss officiates at FightStar Championships, the nation’s prominent developmental platform. 

By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran

For IMMAF Events Director, Alistair Pettitt, the increased involvement from women at this year’s IMMAF Africa Open Championships was a distinguishable contribution to the event’s success.

IMMAF, in conjunction with official national governing body, MMA South Africa (MMASA), hosted its third and largest Africa Open Championships to date, from 24-26 May in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Alistair Pettitt, who had traveled to oversee the event’s development, praised the MMASA officials on a flawless performance. In particular, the women, who joined IMMAF for the first time, yet stood out in their execution of high standards and thus served as the personification of IMMAF’s worldwide gender equality goals.

MMASA officialsThe team (pictured) included:
Chyrene Strauss – Referee and Judge
Kayla De Jager – Judge
Desire Le Roux – Time Keeper
Judete Coxen – Outside Corner Official

On the surface, professional women’s MMA has experienced a boom period at the top flight level, thanks in part to former UFC champion and recent Hall of Fame inductee, Ronda Rousey, who blazed a path for women’s divisions to feature in the UFC where women now compete as some of the most high profile athletes in MMA.

Despite this, women traditionally remain as a minority in the wider global sport, not just in participation, but noticeably as officials also.

The IMMAF Event Director stated: “At this year’s Africa Open Championships, we had three women as certified MMA officials and one volunteer time keeper. Chyrene, Desire, Kayla and Judete served as a brilliant example of the officiating standards and functional gender equality under MMASA, and this did not go unnoticed. Not only did these women fulfill their roles to the most professional level that I have seen since we have been in Africa, I am also confident in saying that each of them would be a perfect fit in any international IMMAF event team.”

Also with experience in running her own MMA gym, certified official Chyrene Strauss first gained national qualification in 2013, as a referee and judge with MMASA – South Africa’s government body for MMA regulation. When MMASA later became affiliated under the IMMAF, she sought further education and certification to the standard of the international body.

MMASA Vice-President and IMMAF Board member, Raymond Phillips, explained MMASA’s commitment to a gender equality initiative, and highlighted the enthusiasm shown in adhering to the ‘Women in Sport’ program, in collaboration with the South Africa Olympic Council: 

“In MMASA we have had women engaging in the sport since the inception of MMA in South Africa. Due to our national politics, we wanted to get gender equality into our sport from the start. In our kickboxing federation, this was dealt with many years ago and MMASA sought to mirror this progression. MMASA wanted to make sure that women get the same treatment as their male counterparts in all aspects, from athletes to officials.”

He continued, “I have noticed that women in many cases feel they have to prove and push themselves harder to be recognised in sports, so we at MMASA encourage women to be part of this exiting, fast growing sport. We have not been disappointed and we are very happy with the progress. Under the supervision of our Olympic body, SASCOC, we have established a ‘Women in Sport’ recognition program and I believe that we will be producing more and more female officials. The women, of who I have been privileged to work with, really show great interest and potential.”

IMMAF continues to support gender equality on a global scale. Inspiring developments continue with each passing year and have included increased opportunities for women as competing athletes, plus the growing number of licensed officials and a phenomenal response to cutman Joe Clifford’s education and licencing program for Seconds.

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The chase is on for IMMAF pound-for-pound pinnacle

Pictured: Irman Smajic (upper), Anna Astvik (lower left), Murtaza Talha Ali (lower right)

By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran

Having passed the midway point of 2018, the chase to be IMMAF’s pound-for-pound top athlete has opened up, following the conclusion of last month’s European Championships.

For the past twelve months, IMMAF Heavyweight champion and Sweden’s most decorated amateur standout, Irman Smajic, has reigned as the pound-for-pound number-one since earning gold at the 2017 Asian Open Championships in Singapore. However, Smajic’s absence from the 2018 Euros has allowed the chasing contenders to close in on his lead.

The top three positions of the pound-for-pound rankings are currently occupied by reigning IMMAF world champions, with Sweden’s Anna Astvik and Bahrain’s Murtaza Talha Ali, leaders of their respective divisions, having closed in on Smajic due to their gold medal triumphs at the European Open in Bucharest, Romania.

Pound-for-pound rankings: IMMAF's current top 10.

Pound-for-pound rankings: IMMAF’s current top 10.

27-year-old Astvik holds the number-two position behind her national team mate, having now won a second IMMAF grand slam in the Women’s Senior Strawweight division, adding to her IMMAF world title achieved last November in Bahrain.

Likewise, Men’s Light-Heavyweight world champion, Murtaza Talha Ali, dominated his way to the 2017 world title on home soil. In Bucharest, the 21-year-old showed perseverance, edging a split-decision over Sweden’s Robin Larsson in the quarter-finals before besting Ireland’s Cathal Manning with a Unanimous Decision nod in the semis. The reigning 205lb king saved his best for last to shut out Sweden’s defending European champion, Anton Turkalj, to take home the gold medal.

With future results pending, the trailing pair are within touching distance of the pound-for-pound pinnacle. The soonest opportunity to take over comes at the 2018 Asian Open championships, taking place in Beijing, China, from 2-8 September. At each Continental Championships, an excess of 500 ranking points can be earned by each eventual gold medalist, with even higher totals on offer at the World Championships.

Breakdown: Rankings points awarded to athletes at IMMAF championships

Breakdown: Rankings points awarded to athletes at IMMAF championships

35-year-old Smajic, however, has vowed to continue his record setting amateur tenure in 2018 when he returns to action. The heavyweight great is currently 14-3 on the IMMAF platform, and undefeated since 2016, enjoying a win streak that has seen claim a second world title in 2017 alongside European and Asian Open titles in the same year.

The race to be IMMAF’s top athlete does not end there. Hot on the heels of the leading trio are the likes of Bahrain’s Abdulmanap Magomedov (formerly of Russia) in fourth place, plus Australia’s Joseph Luciano with an outside chance of finishing 2018 on top. Current no.5, Serdar Altas, brought a close to his amateur career and turned pro following his gold medal triumph at the 2017 World Championships, but will retain his ranking points until the 12-month lifespan ends and his total begins to decrease.

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The chase is on for IMMAF pound-for-pound pinnacle

Pictured: Irman Smajic (upper), Anna Astvik (lower left), Murtaza Talha Ali (lower right)

By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran

Having passed the midway point of 2018, the chase to be IMMAF’s pound-for-pound top athlete has opened up, following the conclusion of last month’s European Championships.

For the past twelve months, IMMAF Heavyweight champion and Sweden’s most decorated amateur standout, Irman Smajic, has reigned as the pound-for-pound number-one since earning gold at the 2017 Asian Open Championships in Singapore. However, Smajic’s absence from the 2018 Euros has allowed the chasing contenders to close in on his lead.

The top three positions of the pound-for-pound rankings are currently occupied by reigning IMMAF world champions, with Sweden’s Anna Astvik and Bahrain’s Murtaza Talha Ali, leaders of their respective divisions, having closed in on Smajic due to their gold medal triumphs at the European Open in Bucharest, Romania.

Pound-for-pound rankings: IMMAF's current top 10.

Pound-for-pound rankings: IMMAF’s current top 10.

27-year-old Astvik holds the number-two position behind her national team mate, having now won a second IMMAF grand slam in the Women’s Senior Strawweight division, adding to her IMMAF world title achieved last November in Bahrain.

Likewise, Men’s Light-Heavyweight world champion, Murtaza Talha Ali, dominated his way to the 2017 world title on home soil. In Bucharest, the 21-year-old showed perseverance, edging a split-decision over Sweden’s Robin Larsson in the quarter-finals before besting Ireland’s Cathal Manning with a Unanimous Decision nod in the semis. The reigning 205lb king saved his best for last to shut out Sweden’s defending European champion, Anton Turkalj, to take home the gold medal.

With future results pending, the trailing pair are within touching distance of the pound-for-pound pinnacle. The soonest opportunity to take over comes at the 2018 Asian Open championships, taking place in Beijing, China, from 2-8 September. At each Continental Championships, an excess of 500 ranking points can be earned by each eventual gold medalist, with even higher totals on offer at the World Championships.

Breakdown: Rankings points awarded to athletes at IMMAF championships

Breakdown: Rankings points awarded to athletes at IMMAF championships

35-year-old Smajic, however, has vowed to continue his record setting amateur tenure in 2018 when he returns to action. The heavyweight great is currently 14-3 on the IMMAF platform, and undefeated since 2016, enjoying a win streak that has seen claim a second world title in 2017 alongside European and Asian Open titles in the same year.

The race to be IMMAF’s top athlete does not end there. Hot on the heels of the leading trio are the likes of Bahrain’s Abdulmanap Magomedov (formerly of Russia) in fourth place, plus Australia’s Joseph Luciano with an outside chance of finishing 2018 on top. Current no.5, Serdar Altas, brought a close to his amateur career and turned pro following his gold medal triumph at the 2017 World Championships, but will retain his ranking points until the 12-month lifespan ends and his total begins to decrease.

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Germany triumphs at Euro18 & GEMMAF makes big leaps: ‘It’s a new beginning’, says Clemens Werner

Pictured, left to right: Julia Dorny, Wladislaw Keilbach, Clemens Werner, Eduard Kexel, Anna Gaul

By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran

Last month, IMMAF’s 2018 European Championships was the platform for Germany’s biggest success since Daniela Kortmann won gold at the inaugural World Championships in Las Vegas, 2014.

For the next three years, Germany remained in the shadow of European counterparts such as Sweden, Finland, France, the UK and Ireland, while national team mainstay Julia Dorny battled hard to take Germany back to the top of the podium, clinching as high as silver medals at the World and European Championships.

Last year, at just 24-year-old, Clemens Werner was elected President of the German MMA Federation (GEMMAF) and within a year has steered the national body to its first multiple gold medal haul at an IMMAF championships.

Dorny, Germany’s perennial top contender under the IMMAF banner, was back in action at Euro18, taking place from 17-23 June in Bucharest where she finally broke through to achieve the gold medal that had eluded her in the Women’s Featherweight division. With standout performances in the semi-final and gold medal decider, the 28-year-old showcased her Judo roots to great effect, in addition to further developed striking that made effective use of her size and reach.

Prior to Dorny’s crescendo in the finals of the Senior European Championships, team Germany had cemented itself as the second most successful nation of the inaugural IMMAF European Youth Championships, for Junior athletes age 18-20. While the Republic of Ireland topped the Junior medal table, Germany sensationally achieved an unexpected second place with two gold medals and one silver.

19-year-old Anna Gaul set the tone as she went the distance in a hard fought contest with Austria’s Lea Maria Zinkanell to earn the Women’s Jr Flyweight gold via a split-decision. In the Men’s Jr Lightweight bracket, it was 20-year-old Eduard Kexel who emerged as the nation’s top performer throughout the championships.

Kexel made history as the first German to win an IMMAF title in the Men’s ranks. In the process of earning the gold, he went the distance across all three bouts, accumulating 9 rounds of experience with unrelenting energy and a forceful pace to seal Unanimous Decision triumphs over Mateo Buzzico (Italy), Adam Darby (Ireland) and finally, Zubair Gadzhiev (Bahrain).

Men’s Jr Welterweight competitor, Wladislaw Keilbach, bolstered Germany’s inspiring medal tally with a silver medal, besting Bahrain’s Yousif Sayyar via a split-decision to advance to the final where he met eventual gold medalist, Welshman Roan Crocker of team UK.

As a certified IMMAF official, Clemens Werner is a multiple time judge of international IMMAF championships. The now 25-year-old took over the helm of GEMMAF last September, taking on the responsibility following the departure of former President, German actor Raphaël Vogt.

“I am thrilled about the success,” he said, speaking with IMMAF.org. “With a team of six athletes we won three gold medals and 1 silver medal which is a huge improvement compared to our previous results at IMMAF tournaments. In my eyes, these championships mark the restart of the GEMMAF and show that Germany is a serious competitor now. The results can be a booster for the reputation of the GEMMAF, not only in Germany, but also in the international MMA scene. We plan on using this momentum to progress further.”

The German duo of Junior gold medalists joined the national team as newcomers to the IMMAF platform. Both are products of the all new national competition circuit, established this year by GEMMAF to raise participation, build and guide the progression of domestic talent under safe and regulated conditions.

“I am sure that the increase in participation was the key to success for the European Championships. In 2018 we held regional championships in Germany for the first time and established a ranking system for athletes. The higher frequency of GEMMAF events allows the athletes to gain more experience within a safe environment under IMMAF standards and allows us to spot talents who can compete in the IMMAF tournaments. Four out of six of our European Championships team were spotted in these regional championships.”

The GEMMAF President added that opportunities for these German athletes may not have been possible if not for the close relationship with the Austrian MMA Federation, headed by Dr. Fritz Treiber and coaching brothers Gerhard and Michael Ettl, who provide coaching assistance and invaluable sponsorship enabling athletes from both nations to compete. The national cooperation saw the Austrian coaches collaborate with longtime GEMMAF coach Lutz Heyden, plus Harry Werz.

Team Austria itself picked up a total of four medals. in addition to Junior silver medalist Lea Maria Zinkanell, Super-Heavyweight Damian Vasenjak picked up a silver medal, and Senior Lightweight Bogdan Grad eliminated Sweden’s Navid Badi and Irish standout Ciaran Clarke to reach the semi-finals, eventually earning bronze after a narrow split decision loss to Estonia’s Kaupo Kokamägi. Also, Senior Heavyweight Besart Berisha forced a TKO stoppage of Ireland’s Padraig Kelleher for a bronze medal.

Team Germany and Austria together at IMMAF Euro18

Team Germany and Austria together at IMMAF Euro18

Werner has wasted no time in establishing groundbreaking momentum for GEMMAF and is continuing the push for recognition under the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB – see previous interview HERE).

Furthermore, following the amalgamation of IMMAF and the WMMAA, heads of GEMMAF met with national counterparts GAMMA, during the week of the European Championships. The meeting, hosted by IMMAF, laid the foundation for future discussions on how the organisations may collaborate for the strength and betterment of German MMA.

German MMA

Pictured: The meeting of GEMMAF and GAMMA in Bucharest.

“I hope that we can use the momentum that we created through the European Championships and continue our work to ensure a sustainable development of the sport in Germany. We are creating and enforcing unified rules and regulations, building an amateur competition structure, offering educational courses and so on. Ultimately, we want to improve the image of the sport in Germany and become a member of the German Olympic Committee (DOSB). Since forming the new board in October 2017, we are making big leaps into the right direction and I am sure that we are on the road to success.”

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COACH JOHN KAVANAGH FRONTS MMA CHARGE IN CHINA

WILL CHINA PRODUCE THE NEXT CONOR MCGREGOR?

Wujie Sports and SBG Ireland have signed a three-year deal that will see Conor McGregor’s coach and IMMAF Coaching Committee consultant, John Kavanagh, head up a programme for the coaching of China’s top professional MMA competitors. Kavanagh is head of SBG Ireland gyms franchise and also stands as the President of the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association under IMMAF.

Under the agreement SBG Ireland will, on a monthly basis, supply MMA coaches to four regions in China that sit under the China International Mixed Martial Arts Federation – Yunnan region, Henan region, Sichuan region and the Northern region. SBG will also offer an exchange programme that will see Chinese MMA athletes travel to Dublin on training camps. The goal is to initially raise the level of MMA at the professional end in China, and the profile of Chinese athletes internationally to spearhead the growth and appeal of the sport.

At the same time, the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) and the China International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (CIMMAF) will be working to implement IMMAF’s Talent Development Pathway for MMA Coaches and Athletes at a grassroots level, led by IMMAF’s new Director of Development, Andrew Moshanov. MMA has mushroomed in popularity across martial arts gyms in China but lacks experienced coaches.

The deals have crystallised in the run up to the 2018 IMMAF Asian Open Championships and Junior World Championships which are set to take place in Beijing from September 3 to 8.

Coach John Kavanagh said:

“Ever since I was a boy I had a huge interest in Bruce Lee films and all things martial arts. To now be invited out to help the Chinese coaches and fighters improve their level in MMA is a great honor and dream come true. I’d especially like to thank IMMAF President Kerrith Brown and CIMMAF President Mr. Wei for making this possible. I look forward to getting started and getting results!”

IMMAF President Kerrith Brown said:

“With China’s population of 1.4 billion, the country has a vast potential, untapped market for MMA. It is a country with a long martial arts tradition and great depth of talent, but younger Chinese participants are gravitating towards MMA. This presents a fantastic opportunity for IMMAF and CIMMAF to implement a safe pathway for participants and proper governance while MMA is still in its infancy there. There is a demand already too for regulated youth programmes for the large numbers of minors participating in MMA, which IMMAF has been invited by CIMMAF to implement.”

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