Winning Tradition: The USA continues living up to expectations through home grown amateur champions

Pictured: USA lightweight competitor, Quitin Thomas 

By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran
Photography by Jorden Curran

As the nation at the forefront of mainstream MMA, the USA is subject to interminable expectation for success. Despite competing among the highest level of amateur competition in the world, the USA national team has never failed to achieve a gold medal at the IMMAF World Championships, since its inception in 2014.

At last year’s IMMAF World Championships in Manama, Bahrain, Team USA once again secured titles, in the Men’s Lightweight brackett, in addition to retaining the Welterweight world title for a third consecutive year; Will Starks being the former title holder winning back-to-back gold medals in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s been very nice to have a winning tradition,” USA coach Rob Hulett commented. The long serving coach and mentor has worked with the UMMAF team in each IMMAF World Championships to date. In previous years he corned alongside Bob Schirmer, but for 2017 was joined by team newcomer and wrestling specialist, David ‘Bubby’ Mitchell

Hulett gave high praise for his new coaching partner: “Bubby was a very good coach and a big help.  He has more of a wrestling base than I do, so we made a good combo.  I look forward to seeing him next year with his athlete, Chase Boutwell, who is only 18-years-old and has a bright future.”

Chase Boutwell – the youngest ever UMMAF national champion – secured his place in Bahrain as one of the event’s most eagerly awaited newcomers. The young contender put on a wrestling clinical in out-pointing UK veteran Kiru Sahota, however, ahead of the quarter-finals, he was dealt his first ever loss at the amateur level by Kazakhstan’s Olzhas Moldagaliyev, the eventual silver medalist.

Selected by the USA Mixed Martial Arts Kick International Federation (UMMAF) through its national qualifying championships, a total of 9 athletes represented their country as part of the nation’s most promising squad to date heading into the World Championships, contesting 7 of the 14 IMMAF weight divisions.

“I thought the USA team did very well,” Hulett added, “for only being able to bring nine fighters to the Worlds.  Those nine represented the USA very well, not only in their wins, but in their humble and respectful attitude toward the other athletes.”

In total, the nation earned four medals at the 2017 Worlds, the first time in which the event took place outside of Las Vegas, USA. The USA’s gold medal duo were that of Quitin Thomas at 155lbs and Benjamin Bennett who extended the team’s grip on the Men’s 170lb title. David Evans (Men’s Featherweight, 145lbs) and Sean Stebbins (Men’s Flyweight, 125lbs) each took home bronze.

Pictured: Quitin Thomas celebrates victory in the 2017 IMMAF World Championships final, alongside coaches David Mitchell (left) and Robert Hulett (right)

Pictured: Quitin Thomas celebrates victory in the 2017 IMMAF World Championships final, alongside coaches David Mitchell (left) and Robert Hulett (right)

“The Worlds has gotten tougher every year. I truly believe this team would have won four golds or more, if the competition was the same as last year.  That tells you how much the world is stepping up their game. The winners this year were as good as most mid-level pros.

“I am very proud of this team and how they came together.  They all gave everything they had, even in their losses.  They listened very well to Coach Bubby and I and we look forward to seeing them next year.”

The nation’s collective success saw the team place 3/48 in the championships medal table and the United States begin 2018 as the sixth highest ranked nation in the IMMAF world rankings. In addition, Bennett jumped to number-one in the individual Men’s welterweight rankings.

Coach Hulett described Benajmin Bennett as: “One of the most driven fighters I’ve ever met.” The offers for him to turn professional have since began ‘pouring in’, reported by IMMAF.org in December – click here for the full article.

Hulett expressed equal excitement for IMMAF’s newly crowned lightweight world champion, Quitin Thomas. The 25-year-old, now enjoying a 10-fight win streak, made his international debut with the UMMAF team in Bahrain.

Thomas accumulated 15 rounds of productive experience as he bested 5 opponents from November 13-18. Throughout the campaign, Thomas showcased supreme determination across every minute of every round.

Regardless of strengths and weaknesses pertaining to himself or his opponents, the South Carolina standout displayed the mindfulness of a developing amateur with a dedicated, rounded approach to each contest. With alertness, swift movement and athleticism, Thomas sought to out-work each rival through diverse striking, yet his wrestling would cut down the opposition whenever called upon by Coach Mitchell, should the exchanges become overly threatening, bearing in mind that the sweetness of victory is short lived before advancing to the next day’s round of bouts and pending medical clearance.

When it’s go time, the smiling and approachable Thomas tunes into a separate state of mind: ‘The silent Assassin’. with a far different look in his eye, he produces an intensity exclusive to the field of play. It is this which fuels his unrelenting commitment to performing at full capacity, urging himself to never yield, not even for a moment.

Thomas roars as he faces down semi-final opponent Ermal Hadribeaj of Albania

Pictured: Thomas roars as he faces down semi-final opponent Ermal Hadribeaj of Albania.

For this particular trio of athlete and coaches, the dynamic was vivid. While the inner fire of Thomas took him all the way to a gold medal, it was artfully managed by the U.S. corner team. The technical refinement of Coach Mitchell would reign in their athlete, if he was to over-engage. In the tough later stages of bouts, Coach Hulett energized their man with stimulating motivation to see through the final stages. Thomas was never alone and his ears never distracted, adjusting with accuracy for each vocal instruction.

Pictured: Canada's John Nguyen feels the force of Thomas' powerful wrestling offence

Pictured: Canada’s John Nguyen feels the force of Thomas’ powerful wrestling.

The effects of this support were incredibly clear as Thomas progressed. Coach Hulett recalled: “I don’t think I ever had a young man listen and adjust his game as well as Quitin.  This is extremely hard to do, to pick up new skills in a one-week period, and then put them to use immediately. Coach Bubby and I had team workouts every evening and helped him work out these adjustments. This young man will probably be back next year and better than ever.”

On the back of their World Championships success, UMMAF wasted no time in announcing the 2018 National Championships taking place at the Isle of Capri Casino in Boonville, Missouri, from 1-3 February.

“The UMMAF is gathering more interest every year. We are seeing steady growth as word gets out about what the UMMAF and the IMMAF are doing, especially as fighters who have competed in Worlds go on to have great careers.”

You can read UMMAF’s 2017 end of year report at ummaf.org.

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