Team of The Year Nominee: Ireland (2019 Amateur MMA Awards)

While IMMAF and the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA) campaigns for sport recognition within Ireland’s government, the nation’s home grown talent continued to legitimize Irish MMA at the international level.

In 2018-2019 team Ireland exemplified MMA’s prominence within the Emerald Isle. After Conor McGregor rocketed the sport to pop culture prominence circa 2014, MMA’s roots have grown deep beyond the mainstream surface.

This was showcased vividly in Rome at the 2019 European Open and Junior European Open Championships. Despite zero funding compared to a number of prominent rival teams with government support, the Irish showed up in numbers, boasting a squad of 30 athletes as the largest team of the championships among 34 competing nations.

At the junior level (age 18-20), Ireland displayed its generational depth via the 2018 Unified World Championships, earning 5 medals with 3 athletes reaching the final of their respective divisions and Ger Harris (pictured above) earning gold in the men’s Jr. flyweight bracket. Ireland picked up a further 4 medals (2x silver, 2x bronze) at the Junior European Open.

It was at the senior level (18+) where two of Ireland’s best and longest serving team members would shine at the premier level of amateur MMA and come of age in magnificent fashion.

Lightweight standout Lee Hammond (above) was forced to withdraw from the 2017 World Championships due to a freak training accident in Portugal resulting in a ruptured bowel. The Dublin SBG product under John Kavanagh returned for the 2018 World Championships and hit sensational form, racking up four triumphs en route to capturing the gold medal in the men’s 155lb division at the age of 22, going viral in the process with the world’s first “Hammoplata” submission. Hammond also defeated gold medal favorite and reigning European gold medalist Pavel Senchenko (Ukraine) by way of split-decision in the semi-finals.

Also securing the world title at the age of 22, heavyweight Ryan Spillane proved beyond all doubt that his 2018 European Open triumph was no fluke, solidifying himself as the world’s no.1 heavyweight contender on the international amateur platform.

Pictured: Spillane (center), alongside Ireland coach Liam-Og Griffin (right) and fellow athlete Aeilish O Hanlon (left)

Spillane had well and truly shaken off the underdog tag of past years. To date, the young Irishman may be the greatest example of a matured athlete under the IMMAF banner. Learning from experience and time served in the gym, he stepped out from the shadow of past greats such as Irman Smajic and Daniel Galabarov, emerging as a prospect of potentially greater promise, still at such a young age.

At the 2018 World Championships, Spillane impressed with three successive first round stoppages, pitching in a pair of toe-hold submissions against rivals from Azerbaijan and Poland, plus a swift TKO on his feet against Ukraine. Spillane was awarded the gold medal upon Lebanon’s Chaddad Alexandre withdrawing from the final due to injury.

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.

National Team of The Year nominations include:

• Bahrain
• Russia
• Kazakhstan
• Ukraine
• Ireland

For more information on award categories and nominates, click HERE.

By IMMAF.org lead writer: Jorden Curran

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