The journey of IMMAF champion Serdar Altas and why now is the time to turn pro

By lead writer, Jorden Curran
Photography by Jorden Curran

For Sweden’s Serdar Altas, it all came together in 2017. His ascent to the pinnacle of amateur MMA was two years in the making following his international debut at the 2015 IMMAF World Championships.

Age 23, the Men’s flyweight competitor and IMMAF triple crown winner calls time on his amateur career, announcing plans to compete as a professional moving forward. Altas transitions as the world’s top ranked flyweight and sits at number 3 in the pound-for-pound list with a final amateur record of 15-3, ending on a streak of 9 victories, winning the 2016 IMMAF Africa Open, 2016 European Open and 2017 World Championships titles.

From his family roots in Kurdistan, Altas is one of the longest serving members of Sweden’s national MMA team – the top ranked nation in the IMMAF world rankings. Altas made his international debut in 2015, making it to the Men’s flyweight (125lb) final that year in Las Vegas, USA.

Altas lost out in the final against one of the year’s standout performers, Frenchman Iurie Bejenari.  Nevertheless, Altas had secured an IMMAF Worlds podium finish in his first attempt, at the age of 21, and there was more to come. Now, as one of the top young prospects, he was one to watch.

Having stood on the World Championships podium, Altas may have been tempted to turn pro after a first taste of success on the premier amateur platform. If he had turned pro earlier, as others have done, it would have been a grave miscalculation; he was far from the evolved competitor that he would become.

Altas was served with a painful reality check in his next two international outings, yet it may have been the most valuable turning point in his development. As everybody comes to learn, the level of talent at IMMAF championships is forever increasing. Altas faced a skid of upset losses, eliminated in the first round of bouts from the 2015 European Open – his first campaign after claiming World Championships silver.

The heartbreak continued in 2016 with another opening bout exit, this time at the 2016 World Championships. On each occasion he was defeated by fresh newcomers: Bahraini trailblazer Hussain Abdulla and Canadian Jarrett Vornbrock.

“IMMAF is the best place for amateur MMA,” Altas stated, “because the best people from all around the world come together to compete and how is that not a good thing? If you want evolve quickly, IMMAF is the right place for you.”

And evolve he did, the disappointing results were the catalyst for major development within Altas, lighting a spark that would see him remain undefeated for the rest of his amateur tenure.

The nine-fight win streak and continental Open titles in Africa and Europe culminated with a seemingly destined triumph on the grandest stage where he finally secured the defining IMMAF World Championships gold medal.

Serdar strikeIn the process of winning the IMMAF world title in Manama, Bahrain, Altas shut out Japan’s gutsy Hiroyuki Sugiura and clinched a poetic semi-final triumph against Hussain Abdulla, his old rival of the 2015 Euros. As the nation of Kazakhstan looked to be taking the World Championships by storm, Altas’ disciplined approach to control all aspects of the bout saw him best two of the daunting Kazakh standouts: quarter-finalist Dastan Zhakypbekov and silver medal winner Yernaz Mussabek in the final (pictured).

Altas shared insight with, expressing that the all new challenge of going pro is now the greatest motivation for him, now as a developed competitor: “I choose to begin my professional MMA career because there is nothing left to win in the amateur world,” he explained. “There is less motivation now and that’s why I decided, together with my team, to go pro. I want new challenges. So, to the flyweight division, keep your chin down and your hands up because I am coming for all of you.”

As an MMA nation, Sweden is to be commended for maintaining longevity and continued development of it’s amateur champions, and the world rankings reflect the benefits of this. The likes of Rostem Akman, Cornelia Holm and Gabriella Ringblom have each stood at the top of their division, accumulating championship medals for back-to-back years before turning pro, and in turn, they are exported as some of the most well prepared contenders to the pro ranks.

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