The IMMAF European Championships

The IMMAF European Championships – a showcase of the best amateur mixed martial artists on the continent. Ross Patterson was on hand to report.

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) is the world governing body of amateur MMA. IMMAF has created a unified ruleset, is working to have MMA internationally recognised as a sport (it’s still technically entertainment, not a sport), and regularly delivers huge tournaments like the European Championships which were held in Italy last week.

More than three hundred athletes from thirty-two countries competed in the five-day tournament – all vying for a coveted IMMAF medal. Ukraine finished first on the medals table, France second and England third. Belgium was a break-out talent, winning three medals and finding a potential superstar in Patrick Habirora.

Gold medallist for England, George Staines, said:

“It means a lot to be the European Champion… This is the creme de la creme, this is the best. And until you’ve done an IMMAF, or won an IMMAF, you are not the best. And I have proved I’m the best in Europe and one of the best in the world, undoubtedly.”

IMMAF competitions are an incredible spectacle. It takes extensive planning, communication and coordination needed for a competition so large to run safely and smoothly. For five days, athletes battle through the round of 16 to the quarter-finals, semis, and then finals. This gruelling format is unique to IMMAF. Usually, a fighter will have months to prepare for a single opponent, taking time to study their style and develop an appropriate game plan. With IMMAF, however, you find out your opponent the day before you’re competing, and if you win, you must recover and prepare to go again the next day, and the next, and the next.

Patrick Habirora had competed in two IMMAF Junior Championships before this year’s Euro’s. He’d lost in the first round at both, so wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a medal hopeful. However, Patrick was a freight train on his way to the Welterweight final, finishing four opponents in a row via KO (watch here) or TKO. He was the clear favourite against Wales’ Ioan Harriss, however, Patrick was denied his gold medal when he was choked out with a beautiful von-flue choke by Harriss. Now a European silver medallist and feared knock-out artist, Habirora’s IMMAF return is highly-anticipated.

England’s Millie-Rae Vardy stole the hearts of many after an emotional interview she gave with Joe Leigh. She said:

“I’ve had some issues with believing in myself. I think everyone does. Everyone puts on that bravado. Obviously, you’ve got to be confident, but you don’t see the vulnerable side to people in this sport… I’ve had a really big struggle in believing in myself recently so to be here at the

European Championships with the best amateurs in Europe and get the win just means the world.”

Millie went on to win the gold medal in the Lightweight division. Reflecting on her performance, she said:

“Two wins in two days has really boosted my confidence and I’m finally starting to believe in myself. If I can do that without believing in myself, just imagine what I can achieve when I come home as a European champion.”

In the male Lightweight division, George Staines made his IMMAF debut. Coming into the competition George was undefeated at 9-0. He won all four of his fights, secured the gold medal and protected his perfect record, now 13-0.

George’s coach, Dan Cassel said:

“They always say about great athletes and great teams is that they can win on perhaps not their best days. The first two fights I don’t think were half of George Staines’ full potential, the last two fights he was absolutely there. He’s a real talent and he’s been an absolute pleasure to work with.”

It’s an exciting time for amateur MMA. Every sport needs a robust framework to develop young athletes. The 2022 IMMAF European Championships showcased the best talent the continent has to offer, in a safe, well-regulated competition. Bring on the World Championships (expected early 2023).

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