‘The best team ever’: French MMA unites for IMMAF World Championships

Pictured above: IMMAF European silver medalist Manon Fiorot (left), French team coach Lionel Brezephin (right).

By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran

France’s national amateur MMA team is confident of having assembled the greatest squad possible ahead of the 2017 IMMAF World Championships. If this proves to be the case, the international landscape will experience a dramatic shift with this year’s IMMAF Worlds set to place from 12-19 November in Manama, Bahrain.

At the IMMAF World Championships in 2014 and 2015, success was widely diversified among nations, but with the USA establishing itself as leader of the World Championships platform.

Assembled by the Commission Française de Mixed Martial Arts (CFMMA), France’s amateur team achieved its first World Championship medals in Las Vegas, 2014, as Women’s featherweight Florence Bethert and Men’s lightweight Guillaume Bletio each claimed bronze.

France’s most successful campaign to date was back in Las Vegas for the 2015 Worlds where Men’s flyweight Iurie Bejenari stormed his way to a gold medal while Women’s bantamweight finalist Lucie Bertaud earned silver and heavyweight competitor Allan Guichard picked up bronze.

In 2016 Guichard was France’s only World Championship medalist, advancing to earn silver. By this time Sweden had excelled as leaders of the world stage and continue to stand strong as the top ranked nation in the IMMAF World Rankings.

While French MMA has continued to fight political hurdles at home in the struggle for acceptance and regulation, the country has dropped to 19th place in the IMMAF national team rankings – a major underachievement considering the nation’s martial arts pedigree and export of pro level standouts. On the international amateur platform, a modest degree of success has been subsidized by the likes of team regular Dimitri Henri securing bronze in the welterweight bracket at the 2016 European Open.

However, heads were turned most recently when former national karate champion Manon Fiorot excelled at the 2017 European Open in Sofia, Bulgaria, and marked herself as the most promising French prospect by taking herself to the Women’s bantamweight finals, only losing out on the scorecards to Swedish great Cornelia Holm.

CFMMA communications director Julien Brondani tells us that Fiorot continues to develop at a compelling rate with her World Championships return now imminent after inexperience resulted in an early exit from the tournament in 2016, submitted by Norway’s world silver medalist, Camilla Mannes.

“Coach Brezephin (CFMMA national team coach) receives updates from Manon’s coaches. She lives and trains in the south of France and sometimes visits in Paris for training. We can see her progression. Manon is a true warrior who likes fighting; she was a great karate champ under a true legend of this sport, Mr Jean-Francois Gomis.

“Her striking skills are very good for MMA, she has got perfect timing. She improved a lot since her first fight, you can see the progression between Vegas and Sofia. She’s working on wrestling every day and she’s still on the mat every morning and evening with great coaches like Muay Thai great Xavier Lafaye or Aldric Casatta, founder of Boxing Squad Nice and a pro mixed martial artist.”

The CFMMA spokesperson added: “Manon has solid mental strength, she’s a beast.”

French fortunes could be about to change. There is excitement within the camp and high optimism is warranted with team coach Lionel Brezephin having called up the top gyms in France to nominate their best amateur hopefuls.

“Coach Brezephin and David Pierre-Louis asked coaches from the greatest teams in France to send their best amateur athletes. We have probably the best team ever.

“Our athletes are coming from every part of France and are training with the best coaches like UFC veteran Cyrille Diabate and the Snake Team, coach Fernand Lopez – founder of MMA Factory and home of Francis N’Gannou (#4 ranked UFC heavyweight), plus others like Werdum Combat Club in Bordeaux and Parabellum with MMA pioneer Julien Sévéon.”

In addition to the returning duo of Fiorot and Henri, the new-look team features a total 10 athletes making their way to Bahrain.

“Some of the newcomers are Amine Betach and Fabien Xabidi from Snake team, John Caseneuil of MMA Factory and Alex Sola from Boxing Squad. You probably know France is one of the best places in Europe for Muay Thai and Kickboxing so we have solid strikers and a very ambitious team cause our team that is young, is very talented and we are hungry!”

As influential figures within French Judo lobbied against the sport, nationwide unity became critically essential for CFMMA. The triumph of Les Bleus in 1998 sparked major sport and social development when France lifted the FIFA World Cup. Similarly, a momentous showcase of the nation’s brightest MMA talent could spur on development of grass roots MMA in France to all new heights.

“The first reason that we asked the greatest coaches to send athletes is because we want to show the unity of MMA in France. CFMMA is fighting for MMA everyday with the help of IMMAF. We are proud of that. This is like the Gracie Barra Slogan: ‘Organized like a team, fighting like a family.’

“Our first victory is to bring together the best teams, the best athletes of all ages and backgrounds. After that? Yes, the medals could help us of course like Lucie Bertaud and Iurie Bejenari in 2015.”

Team France are well aware of the challenge that faces them on IMMAF’s competition platform, the premier competition for amateur mixed martial artists.

“This is a tournament and everything can happen in a few seconds. Dimitri Henri had to withdraw in Sofia after a foot injury, but that’s the rules of a the game. You have to be on the top every day for a potential 5 days of competition, the level is just excellent.

“We know we are meeting great nations like Sweden, Bulgaria, UK, Italy and so many others now coming in like Mexico or Kazakhstan with huge talents. Bahrain will be on top with a great team, no doubt. Everybody is dangerous, that’s why we love MMA and we love IMMAF. IMMAF is the future of MMA and the level is growing every year.

“We have worked a lot for this event and we would like to thank the IMMAF staff for this amazing job and the Bahrain Federation as well. We can’t wait.”

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 more participants than ever before representing nations from all continents. 2017 marks the first year of the IMMAF Worlds taking place outside of Las Vegas, USA.

For live IMMAF World Championships results and more information on brackets and national amateur teams visit MyNextMatch.com

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