How IMMAF created a visual definition for amateur and Olympic MMA

By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran

If you have ever wondered what amateur mixed martial arts could look like at the Olympic Games, or more specifically, the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, look no further than the 2016 IMMAF World Championships as the event which first showcased the official IMMAF competition gear.

As all athletes were equipped with the primary red and blue gloves, shorts, shinguards and rashguard, the sport instantly inherited a visual representation that could be recognized anywhere on Earth as MMA at the amateur level. In addition, the use of mouthguards and groinguards are essential for all competitors.

A simple Google search of amateur boxing, kickboxing or wrestling will show you a consistent visual image that is synonymous with amateur competition. Through experience as Olympic veterans, IMMAF president Kerrith Brown and Chief Executive Densign White decided that amateur mixed martial arts lacked this same consistency and that the window was left open for confusion among the worldwide audience.

Alongside renowned equipment developer, Green Hill, IMMAF developed enhanced safety specifications for competition apparel of which makes the sport instantly recognizable, in tune with the visual sensation of World and Olympic level combat sport. Male MMA athletes do not typically wear rashguards but the decision was made that both men and women would do so in IMMAF competitions with respect to gender equality and maintaining the visual brand.

“We wanted to define amateur MMA and what it could be at the Olympic level,” Alistair Pettitt explained, Director of International Events. “With Green Hill we have a partner that has great experience in the values of amateur combat sport and the development of equipment. On the surface we have succeeded in establishing the visual definition of amateur MMA, but our commitment to cutting edge safety and athlete satisfaction is continuously evolving for constant improvement through user research and reviews. We have so far developed 2 variations for improved shin guards and this year’s World Championships in Bahrain will see the latest 7oz glove design.”

The latest design variation for protective equipment and apparel first featured at the 2017 European Open Championships

The latest design variation for protective equipment and apparel first featured at the 2017 European Open Championships

In addition to its distinct contrast to the professional level, the augmented protective gear with shinguards and substantial gloves brings a level of safety well suited for decreasing injuries and thus complimenting the IMMAF tournament format that sees athletes compete healthily and safely on back-to-back days throughout the international championships.

Under the governance of IMMAF member federations, national level contests are now beginning to adopt the red and blue colour scheme worldwide following the example set by international IMMAF championships.

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MMA is the Decathlon of Olympic combat sports, says IMMAF Director and former Olympian Stewart Brain

IMMAF Board Member - Stuart Brain

IMMAF Board Member – Stewart Brain

Australia’s Stewart Brain was elected to the IMMAF Board of Directors in 2015. Following IMMAF setting its sights on the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles for MMA’s debut, he puts forward the concept that mixed martial arts is the decathlon/pentathlon of Olympic combat sports and martial arts, and what development of the sport means in Oceania.

As a former Olympian himself, Brain has competed internationally in Judo since 1974, reaching the quarter finals of the Seoul Games in 1988 in the 73 kilo category.

Representing Oceania, he has been involved in sports administration since 1985 and has served as National Administration Coaching Director, National Sports Commissioner and National Secretary for the Judo Federation Australia. He established the Kokodan Commission and Kata Commission of Australia and was also the Judo National Team coach.

Why should MMA be in the Olympics?

MMA is a culmination of many existing Olympic sports, namely Taekwondo, boxing, judo and wrestling. It seems only fitting to have an Olympic champion that can master all of these disciplines similar to decathlons or pentathlons. To have amateur athletes showing their combat skills as an overall sport on the greatest stage of all seems a very logical step. I’m certainly not suggesting removing any of the existing combat sports from the Olympic program; MMA as an Olympic sport can enhance the profile of others and show the world the best combined combat athlete.

What would Olympic inclusion mean for MMA?

Most importantly for me would be the acceptance of MMA as a sport in its own right, a sport which has evolved from scratch worldwide, that has matched criteria from international agencies including anti-doping, organisation and approved world data bases for athlete safety including weight management, medicals, competition history, national membership, athlete participation, world and continental championships and all with a worldwide viewing audience.

What would it mean for MMA in your region?

Amateur MMA is a fast growing sport in Oceania given that we have so many small islands as independent countries  which compete at the Olympics in many combat sports. It would give those smaller countries a great opportunity to compete in yet another Olympic discipline thus no doubt increasing all combat sports participation across all of Oceania. This is the one of the prime aims of IMMAF, to increase athlete participation in combat sports culminating in MMA’s Olympic representation.

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IMMAF to introduce Junior MMA Championships and Talent Development

This past week, IMMAF’s President Kerrith Brown, has spoken of IMMAF’s ambition to see MMA debut in the Olympics in 2028. The Olympic Dream is IMMAF’s founding vision, but central to this is the development of a safe, structured pathway for MMA students from entry level through to amateur and then professional.

Junior MMA

Junior MMA competition in Northern Ireland under the Ulster Amateur MMA Association

It goes without saying that the majority of participants in any sport are not elite level athletes, but people (including children) who train for fitness and social purposes, or who might compete on the local amateur circuit but go no further. It is the responsibility of governing bodies to ensure that structures are in place that make their sport safely accessible to all, and this applies equally to MMA.

However, the trajectory of how MMA has grown is atypical in sport, as it was born onto a commercial, professional platform, drawing from a myriad of traditions with no singular foundation. Within two decades MMA mushroomed globally with participants world over ceding to a unified ruleset by consensus, and quickly individuals across the globe were training in dedicated MMA gyms. Add to that the UFC selling to WME |IMG for an estimated $4 billion last year, and MMA has without argument established itself as a sport of its own, in a most spectacular manner. Against this backdrop, IMMAF CEO Densign White explained at the recent Sport Integrity Global Alliance Forum in Lisbon where IMMAF’s has its work cut out:

“IMMAF entered in the scene in 2012, born out of the international, grassroots community. Our task has been to work backwards as it were, against the grain of traditional sports development, to put in place governance structures from the grassroots up. This is of course a challenge in a sport that has already spawned an unquantifiable number of participants in private gyms and promotions across the world.”

Despite the size of the task, IMMAF and its Coaching Committee are currently implementing MMA’s first international Talent Development Pathway. With its foundational progression schemes and award system already in place, aimed largely at recreational participants, IMMAF is currently rolling out its Coach Licensing Courses which accredit MMA coaches to train students using the progression scheme.

IMMAF Coaching Committee representative, John Kavanagh, most renowned as Conor McGregor’s trainer, commented:

“This is a big step forward for MMA on its journey for recognition. Having an internationally recognised and standardised course gives assurance to people wanting to learn MMA that they’ll be able to learn in a safe and fun MMA environment.”

The next big item on IMMAF’s agenda is the all important development of MMA for juniors. The IMMAF Medical Committee is has been advising on safety parameters for youths at different stages of puberty, as IMMAF commences its work to create modified, age-appropriate competition rulesets for junior and cadet levels from age of 12 upwards. Alongside this, IMMAF will extend its training progression pathway down to younger years with the inclusion of dedicated safeguarding policies and education. In some regions, IMMAF members have already established youth training schemes and competitions, including in Italy, Northern Ireland and India. IMMAF will be reviewing these existing structures and those of comparative Olympic sports, with advice from its Coaching, Medical and Regulatory Affairs Committees. Excitingly, IMMAF aspires to launch its first Junior MMA Championships in 2018-19.

IMMAF President Kerrith Brown elaborated on IMMAF’s vision:

“IMMAF athletes are remaining longer now in the amateur ranks, and we are seeing multiple return medallists to our competitions including some 2 and 3 times world champions,” said Brown. “As the amateur platform grows, I expect to see future competitors completing full Olympic cycles of 4 years with IMMAF before moving onto pro. The IMMAF Amateur Rules and safety protocol we have in place enables athletes to compete in a technical game 4 times within a week – the same number of times a pro might compete in a whole year – and we are expanding the number of tournaments and opportunities for amateurs to compete year on year. Imagine the calibre of athletes moving into the professional ranks in a few years’ time, people who have never trained in any other discipline except MMA and who have competed through their junior years in world class, international competitions.

“This is why IMMAF is of huge interest to professional promoters, and we are already seeing IMMAF talent scouted onto the top shows. The heads at UFC have been visionary in their support of IMMAF, and in understanding the value to professional MMA of developing the grassroots and Amateur sport, very much in the way football has.”

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Sports fans deserve to see MMA in the Olympics, says IMMAF Director Tom Madsen

Tom Madsen has been a Board Director of IMMAF since it was founded in 2012, with his national federation, the German Mixed Martial Arts Federation (GEMMAF), among IMMAF’s oldest members.

Madsen tells immaf.org why MMA should be in the Olympic Games and what it would mean for the sport.

Tom Madsen - IMMAF Board Director

Tom Madsen – IMMAF Board Director

Why should MMA be in the Olympics?

There is no doubt that in the original Olympics Games, “Pankration” (stand-up fighting with punches, kicks and take downs which then continued on the ground) was one of the most popular sports of all. Pankration has been lost from the modern Games, but it is obvious that its modern incarnation, MMA, remains of interest to mass audiences. MMA offers extra authenticity to the Olympics.

At the same time, the Olympics are evolving and trying to keep up with the development of society but the biggest martial art and fastest growing sport in the world is yet to be part of the Olympic program. MMA, in the way that IMMAF is presents it, brings a new perspective to what MMA can look like, and the sport has the power of attracting a greater number of participants into exciting activity away from playing computer games or merely being spectators.

IMMAF MMA will bring increased safety into the sport and present a regulated way to progress as a participant. Personal development and the entertainment of Olympic fans is a result for MMA competitors to aim at!

Most vitally, this sport is 100% real, is growing and will continue to grow. Sport spectators have the right to watch regulated MMA and the athletes have the right to access a safe pathway to the top of the sport.

What would Olympic inclusion mean for MMA?

When MMA becomes an Olympic sport, it will be easier to regulate the tournaments and create better safety for the athletes all over the world. This because the way of the sport will be defined. The Olympic stamp means access to more coach education and even more anti-doping education and testing. The contemporary sport is, despite its young age, already subjecting itself to research and analysing the effects of participation, so that it can continue to evolve the highest safety standards. Existing martial arts, both Olympic and non-Olympic, can benefit from our data.

On local a level inclusion will mean improved access to sponsorship, as the sport will become more accepted in the business world. Funding is important because the level of safety in training and during the matches is more readily affordable to athletes and their managers. Increased funding will also make the sport more international, as athletes will have more opportunity to travel and challenge themselves. Hence the level of skill and knowledge will increase all over the world.

Through Olympic acceptance, National MMA federations will be enabled to cooperate with other Olympic sports and gain better access to politicians who can help keep the sport clean. Currently many politicians try not to have an opinion or tend to follow the voices of MMA’s opponents, who are afraid of our fast growing sport and have chosen to spend time creating a picture of fear rather than trying to understand this complex sport. It is time that people unfamiliar with MMA get to know the truth and to experience first-hand, how much energy a sport discipline can have and how a sport can be tough, and yet safe for its participants.

MMA promoters will be encouraged to follow the safety and progression of the IMMAF structure to create safe pathways for educated athletes with optimal skills.

What would Olympic inclusion mean for MMA in your region?

Safety, regulation, progression and internationalisation. There are still too many “5 fights and I am pro” athletes in Germany, fighters who have little experience, coaches who are too eager to let their athletes fight in less than safe environments and lack of long term perspective for the athletes.

Cooperation with national Olympic organisations and national recognition will enable us to define rules and talent progression pathways within the sport. It will enable us to improve the level within the sport and assure safer rules and access to medical care for injuries sustained in training and during matches. It will open doors to further education of coaches to improve their knowledge of the sport, training, safeguarding, nutrition and psychological coaching.

On a national level, recognition would provide MMA athletes with a secured pathway into the sport and give significance to progression in training through an attractive end goal at the Amateur level. All of this would be easier to fulfil if MMA were to be a member of the Olympic family.

What would a 2028 Olympic debut mean personally to you?

It is one of the main goals of the IMMAF to be able to send MMA athletes to the Olympic games. Both our athletes and spectators around the world deserve this!

MMA is the number one sport in the world in terms of growth and complexity. There is no other sport with so many facets and so many demands on its athletes as MMA. These fine sportsmen and women surely deserve to be broadcast around the world and for their achievements to be shared with sports fans worldwide!

The IMMAF has worked very hard and against all odds to achieve this vision. As we’ve progressed we’ve always kept the Olympic goal,  as well as safety and athletic progression, in mind. This effort deserves a BIG win! I have always known that it is just a matter of time before the Olympic committee will see the light – if it be in 2028, that’s fine with me.

To unveil Olympic MMA in the USA would be to present it in the sport’s modern birthplace, from where it grew up and got big, the place with the highest density of MMA fans in world. The whole world deserves to watch this unique sport, well regulated and on the Olympic platform.

See you in Los Angeles 2028!

Tom Madsen (3rd right) with the IMMAF Board and CEO, Sofia 2017

Tom Madsen (3rd right) with the IMMAF Board and CEO, Sofia 2017

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2017 Africa Open: India lays out plans for the cream to rise to the top

Above: bronze medalist Siddiq Bin Mahmood (far left) battled his way to the 2016 Africa Open podium

By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran

The nation’s budding MMA talent will be feeling inspired as August 15 marks Independence Day for India. With a widespread network of grass roots development, the All India Mixed Martial Arts Association (AIMMAA) will trial an all new team at the 2017 IMMAF Africa Open Championships, granting run outs to a trio of fresh faced athletes and a new coaching duo set for action in Johannesburg from August 28 – September 2.

The debut trio of Musa Raish (flyweight), Vikram Mysore Nagaraj (featherweight) and Suhaib Logde (light-heavyweight) compete as part of AIMMAA’s progression initiative for both athletes and coaches with contenders spread across three national squads; A,B and C. As each hopeful develops through their hard work, performances and competition experience, the opportunity for advancement becomes greater with the national A-team being set to represent India at the 2017 IMMAF World Championships in November. The 2017 Africa Open team will be under the stewardship of coaching duo Dhruv Chaudhary and Vikas Singh, each with years of professional experience and a dozen bouts to their name competing under the banner of India’s premier organization, Super Fight League.

At the 2016 Africa Open team India secured three bronze medals through Mohammed Tafeez Ahmed Mohammed (bantamweight) and Bhoopendra Kumar (welterweight), plus flyweight contender Siddiq Bin Mahmood who produced one of the nations most encouraging performances as he went the distance in a thrilling effort with Sweden’s Sebastian Gonzalez who edged a split-decision for the world’s number-1 ranked national team.

For further details and team updates ahead of the 2017 Africa Open Championships visit MyNextMatch.com.

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