Pro offers ‘pouring in’ for new IMMAF world champion Benjamin Bennett

By lead writer, Jorden Curran
Photography by Jorden Curran

“And the pro offers come pouring in, amazing offers,” IMMAF world champion Benjamin Bennett revealed on social media.

At the 2017 IMMAF World Championships in Manama, Bahrain, Bennett earned the welterweight division gold medal and picked up five victories in the tournament from 13-18 November, extending his current win streak to 11 consecutive triumphs with an incredible overall amateur record of 30-3.

“He is getting offers now from several big pro promotions,” team USA coach Robert Hulett confirmed. Bahrain’s own Brave Combat Federation is believed to have shown a particularly keen interest in signing the 23-year-old American talent.

Brave is fast establishing itself as the leading platform for professional MMA in the Middle East. Since the promotion’s debut in September of 2016, Brave has already expanded internationally with events in UAE, Brazil, India, Kazakhstan and Mexico. Hosted during Bahrain International Combat Week from 12-19 November, the 2017 IMMAF World Championships coincided with Brave 9: The Kingdom of Champions, on the November 17 rest day, and welcomed the plethora of international amateur teams to attend.

Bennett, who has also found international success in amateur boxing, began his 2017 IMMAF World Championships campaign with a unanimous decision victory over team Bahrain boxing specialist, Abbas Khan. The Alaska native went on to force a second round TKO stoppage over New Zealand’s Pat Hamer before securing another unanimous decision in the quarter-finals against Oskar Biller – Sweden’s European Open silver medalist.

Bennett advances through the semi-finals over Issa Isakov

Bennett advances through the semi-finals over Issa Isakov

In the semi-finals Bennett went the distance with the highly talented Issa Isakov. The Belgian all-rounder entered the World Championships and added three dominant performances to his own resume after gaining prominence with standout performances at the European Open, only losing out via a split-decision to champion Nikolay Nikolov.

Bennett secured another unanimous points triumph over Isakov to set his place in the gold medal finale of the welterweight bracket against Sola Axel.

Bennett’s competitive journey to the IMMAF World Finals was far from a direct path, it is a story of setbacks and personal development, both physically and mentally, that dates back to 2015.

His sights were first set on the IMMAF World Championships that year. Bennett first pursued qualification for the USA national team via the USA MMA Federation (UMMAF) National Championships. Bennett lost out in the quarter-finals of the qualifying event, dropping a unanimous decision to Brendan Allen who went on to represent the nation at the 2015 IMMAF World Championships in Las Vegas. Allen won the world middleweight title and subsequently became the world’s inaugural pound-for-pound top ranked amateur upon the launch of IMMAF’s world rankings.

Bennett secured his place the following year upon reaching the national championships finals. In the domestic title decider he was edged out via split-decision, a distinguishing result considering his opponent: two-time IMMAF world champion, Will Starks.

At the 2016 Worlds in Las Vegas Bennett secured a pair of victories, in what would be his first meeting Sweden’s Oskar Biller followed by triumph over Italy’s Gianluigi Ventoruzzo. The young hopeful was eliminated in the quarter-finals, another painful denial via split-decision, this time at the hands of Canadian Alexander Martinez – the eventual two-time world silver-medalist after a memorable encounter with Starks in a rematch of their 2015 title decider.

For Bennett, the process started over. Once again he aimed to qualify for the World Championships, this time taking place in Bahrain, and did so with victory back at the UMMAF Nationals.

“I was made fun of for my lack of wrestling and ground game my whole life,” he recalled.

“Five years later, at the world games, all guys would do is talk about ways to avoid going to the ground with me or how to not get taken down, even the purple belts and ex college wrestlers.”

Bennett and Axel go toe-to-toe

Bennett and Axel go toe-to-toe

Having remained undefeated since that fateful bout with Martinez, Bennett arrived to finally place one hand on the crown. He is just one victory away from the pinnacle of amateur MMA.

“Ben is one of the most driven fighters I’ve ever met,” coach Hulett explained. “He moved from Alaska to train with Hulett House for a year (in Missouri), just so he could win this event.”

The would be champion went the distance one last time, in his closest encounter of the tournament, against France’s Sola Axel. The Frenchman provided Bennett with his greatest challenge of the campaign, forcing the American team to adjust their approach for a back-and-forth striking contest. Their efforts paid off with a split-decision nod from the judges to clinch the prestigious gold medal.

ben decision

Coach Hulett added: “In his last fight, his opponent came out fighting differently than we expected and this put Ben on his heels. But Ben did what great fighters do, he adjusted and pulled out the win. He has had adversity his whole life and fought through it.  I just helped him focus his drive.”

2017 IMMAF World Championships, welterweight podium: Benjamin Bennett (gold), Axel Sola (silver), ISSA Isakov and Cody Barnwell (bronze)

2017 IMMAF World Championships, welterweight podium: Benjamin Bennett (gold), Axel Sola (silver), Issa Isakov and Cody Barnwell (bronze)

Look out for more social media updates from Benjamin HERE.

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Swedish team leader reviews 2017: Another golden year for the world’s top ranked nation

Pictured above: SMMAF Swedish National Amateur Team 2017.

2017 was another golden year for Sweden, operating under the Swedish MMA Federation (SMMAF) as the world’s leader in international amateur MMA. Despite increased threat from the surging Bulgarian and Kazakhstan national teams; Sweden, the world’s no.1 ranked nation, further extended its lead atop the international IMMAF rankings.

Sweden topped the medal table at both the 2017 IMMAF World Championships and Asian Open, in addition to having the highest total medal count at the European Open.

The nation’s 2017 success was summarized in the post below, written by Christer Ringblom, team leader of the Swedish national squad:

pictured above is the Swedish MMA National Team for 2017. If we look back, I have to stress that it has been an excellent success.

From 29 March-2 April we competed at the IMMAF European Open Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, with 16 athletes. 13 took a medals.

Gold Medal:
Fannie Redman – Women’s Flyweight
Cornelia Holm – Women’s Bantamweight
Anton Turkalj – Light-Heavyweight
Irman Smajic – Super-Heavyweight

Silver Medal:
Anna Astvik – Women’s Flyweight
Tobias Harila – Men’s Lightweight
Oskar Karlström Biller – Welterweight
Khaled Laallam – Light-Heavyweight

Bronze Medal:
Anja Saxmark – Women’s Flyweight
Eva-my persson – Women’s Bantamweight
Higher Salih – Men’s Featherweight
Axel Karlsson – Welterwegith
Heytham Rabhi – Middleweight

11 athletes competed from 12-16 June in Singapore at the IMMAF Asian Open Championships. 9 athletes took medals.

Gold Medal:
Gabriella Ringblom – Women’s Flyweight
Tobias Harila – Men’s Lightweight
Heytham Rabhi – Middleweight
Irman Smajic – Heavyweight

Silver Medal:
Anja Saxmark – Women’s Flyweight
Renato Vidivic – Men’s Bantamweight
Anton Turkalj – Light-Heavyweight

Bronze Medal:
Daniel Schälander – Men’s Featherweight
Axel Karlsson – Welterweight

At the IMMAF World Championships in Bahrain, 12-19 November, we were 15 athletes strong. 5 took a medal in competition that was of the highest class of all time. The world cup contained 248 athletes from 51 nations.

Gold Medal:
Anna Astvik – Women’s Flyweight
Serdar Altas – Men’s Flyweight
Khaled Laallam – Light-Heavyweight
Irman Smajic – Heavyweight

Bronze Medal:
Anton Turkalj – Light-Heavyweight

In addition, Khaled laallam was awarded as the tournament’s best Male athlete.

The National Team is currently ahead of all other MMA teams worldwide (IMMAF national team rankings):

top 10 teams

See full nations ranking list HERE.

In the current individual athlete world rankings, we have the no.1 rated athlete in 7 of the 14 weight divisions, and 6 of the world’s top 10 athletes in the pound-for-pound rankings:

top 10 p4p

See full pound-for-pound rankings list HERE.

Now, the official team is dissolved following the IMMAF World Championships (ahead of selections for 2018 competition).

Thank you to all the athletes who have been in the championships, training and sharpening your ability in hope of competing at IMMAF competitions.

I would like to emphasize that without the competition we have at home, we would not be able to perform as we do in away events, all of which are needed for us to be the best in the world. Coaches, trainers and club leaders nationwide – you are part of the amazing development that makes team Sweden the world’s best national team,
we are all part of our achievement.

Right now we’re loading up everyone for SM (SMMAF National League Championships & national team qualifiers). I’m excited to see the outcome there – how will the National Team 2018 look? I’m waiting with anticipation. What I know is we’re going to be as strong as we were 2017, it is because we have such good structure and competition at home.

To you, the athletes and the coaches who stand in the SM, I say, good luck. To those that go another way: thank you for the time I had to experience with each and every one of you and good luck.

Finally, I would like to thank all the supporters who followed the MMA team @MMAlandslaget.
Keep following us, ’cause there’s more!

Christer Ringblom,

For more information on the Swedish Mixed Martial Arts Federation (SMMAF) visit

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Iceland’s Bjorn Lúkas reflects on thrilling form at IMMAF World Championships

By lead writer, Jorden Curran
Photography by Jorden Curran

Iceland’s Bjorn Lúkas Haraldsson fiercely made his way to the finals of the 2017 IMMAF World Championships. Despite missing out on the prestigious gold medal, Haraldsson paved his way with marvelous execution.

Hailing from the small town of Grindavik, The 22-year-old Mjölnir MMA product entered this year’s IMMAF Worlds as a relative unknown and newcomer to the premier international amateur platform. Competing among the plethora of new faces, established amateur contenders and champions, Haraldsson inherited a certain mystique as his nation’s only representative in the championships alongside coach Hrolfur Olafsson.

“Ah man, it was amazing,” he stated. “The support I felt from home was incredible. I come from a small town and everyone was watching and cheering me on. The people at Mjölnir are the best! Every one in the gym was willing to take time out of their day and risk their body to help me get ready to fight in Bahrain. I cannot say one bad thing about the event. You would not be able to guess that it was an amateur league. From the pick-up at the airport to the day we left, we were treated like royalty.”

In addition to being one of the world’s most impressive training facilities, the Mjölnir gym serves as the nation’s one and only developer of MMA talent. Iceland are no strangers to success under the IMMAF banner – the national team’s biggest triumph to date came at the 2015 European Open Championships that saw Women’s Flyweight Sunna Rannveig and Welterweight Bjarki Palsson each secure gold medals.

Haraldsson (6-1) took just over 2 minutes to secure an arm-bar and dispatch of Spain’s Ian Kuchler in the opening round of bouts in the 185lb bracket. The final 16 served up a compelling narrative as famously allied gyms, Mjölnir and SBG Ireland, faced off with Haraldsson taking on Ireland’s Fionn Healy-Magwa. The SBG product himself advanced to the final-16 with a split-decision victory that eliminated the reigning Africa Open champion, Eliezer Kubanza.

Haraldsson submits Ku

Haraldsson submits Kuchler

Haraldsson tested the Irishman extensively in the opening round, his varied striking giving some hint of an extensive martial arts background. Another headkick thrown early in round 2 sent his opposition to the canvas for a TKO. The impact and ensuing roar meant that Haraldsson, this modestly sized middleweight, was now on everyone’s radar as Iceland’s one-man raiding party.

Haraldsson was perfectly prepared for a potential 5 days of back-to-back competition, 5 weigh-ins included. Competing as a natural middleweight in every sense, he remained at his normal size. Comfortable and operating at full efficiency, he produced triumphant performances and took on minimal damage.

Haraldsson's striking shuts out Healy-Magwa

Haraldsson’s striking shuts out Healy-Magwa

“I was around 81-82 kg (178-180lbs) throughout the week,” Haraldsson told “I was in great shape and did not have think about my weight the whole week. It was crazy to see how much weight some people were cutting every day.” 

In the quarter-finals it took just just 76 seconds for Haraldsson to submit New Zealand’s Stacy Waikato, again via arm-bar. Three bouts in and Haraldsson was even more the enigma and looking impossible to predict. Would his semi-final bout provide another classy knockout or swift submission?

“I started with judo at the age of 6,” he revealed, “and taekwondo at 13.” That explained it, and that was just for starters. Upon setting his sights on MMA Haraldsson dedicated himself meticulously to an education in several martial arts disciplines.

“I saw some MMA fights and thought that it was something I wanted to do since I could be a good striker and a good grappler. I wanted to get a strong grip on each aspect of MMA before eventually making the jump. I then started BJJ and became a multiple Icelandic champion in all of these disciplines and even multiple Scandinavian champion in judo. when I became a blackbelt in judo and taekwondo and wanted to have a boxing match to be my last step before giving MMA my full attention. After winning the match by knockout I moved to Reykjavík to train at Mjölnir full time and haven’t looked back since.”

Haraldsson passionately announced himself on the world stage

Haraldsson passionately announced himself on the world stage

By advancing to the semi-finals Haradlsson and Iceland were guaranteed a bronze medal at the very least. Now in the final-4, he came up against Australian standout Joseph Luciano. Luciano returned as a prominent contender of last year’s World Championships in addition to the 2017 Asian Open. In Manama he had already eliminated Northern Ireland’s Paddy Henderson, in addition to ending the two-year undefeated streak of Malaysian Invasion champion Theebaan Govindasamy. In the quarter finals Luciano bested USA national champion Darian Weeks via unanimous decision.

Astonishingly, the much anticipated collision ended in the opening round – Haraldsson secured his third arm-bar submission of tournament at the 2:44 mark. He was now one half of the middleweight world championship final.

Heading into the IMMAF finals Haraldsson was undoubtedly the most impressive performer of the 250+ who had been in action throughout the week.

“That is an honor to hear because the talent pool was so deep. I am very happy with my performance at the World Championship, I did my best and was very ready to compete. I think the best part is that in all 5 of my fights there was not a lot of damage, when I came home I could start training immediately.”  

Haraldsson’s dominance of the bracket was eventually halted by Sweden’s Khaled Laallam. Laallam had first competed on the international IMMAF platform this year at the European Open Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he picked up the silver medal.

Laallam controls the distance against unorthodox UK striker Leeroy-Duncan

Laallam controls the distance against unorthodox UK striker Leeroy-Duncan

At the 2017 Worlds, Laallam had evidently refined his strengths. After opening his campaign with a unanimous decision over Bulgaria Rusi Minev, he advanced to out-perform exciting British up-an-comer Christian Leeroy Duncan with another scorecards victory.

In the opening round of the middleweight final, Haraldsson made his presence felt with his striking and high-kick attempts. In the early moments, one final, incredible, arm-bar finish looked to be within reach as Haraldsson scrambled for the hold against the cage fence.

Near finish early in the final vs. Laallam

Near finish early in the final vs. Laallam

However, it was to be Sweden’s day as Laallam escaped the submission attempt and proceeded to nullify Haraldsson on the ground. Laallam made efficient use of his size and strength in maintaining top position, evading submissions and dropping heavy strikes to secure a unanimous decision as his fellow finalist remained unable to solve the puzzle. The Swedish gold medalist and now world champion went on to receive the championship’s ‘Best Athlete’ award, presented by the Bahrain MMA Federation.

Laallam kept the pressure on Haraldsson from top position.

Laallam kept the pressure on Haraldsson from top position.

“I did not feel any different in the finals,” Haraldsson replied as he reflected on the outcome. “The warm up was great, the confidence was at an all time high, I had not taken any damage through the week. The simple truth is that  Khaled was better than me and beat me fair and square. I even think he was the smallest guy I fought in the tournament.”

2017 IMMAF World Championships Middleweight podium: Laallam, Haraldon, Duncan and Luciano.

2017 IMMAF World Championships Middleweight podium: Laallam (gold), Haraldon (silver), Duncan and Luciano (bronze).

Mjölnir MMA founder Haraldur Nelson expressed confidence and pride for the man who represented their nation, hinting that we could be looking at Iceland’s next exciting professional export.

“Here in Iceland we are extremely proud of Björn Lúkas and his performance at the IMMAF Worlds in Bahrain. We at his club, Mjölnir, of course knew of his skills, but this was a very strong weight class and even though at young age Björn Lúkas is an experienced competitor in BJJ, Judo and TKD, he had only two amateur fights in MMA before his participation in the Worlds. In my opinion, he is more than ready to go pro if he so chooses and I am convinced that he will make waves in the international MMA scene in the coming years.”

On the question of his future, the Icelandic standout commented: “At the moment I don’t want to say no (to competing in more IMMAF events), but my gut is telling me to go pro.”

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IMMAF World Championships Finals: Athlete Awards

By lead writer, Jorden Curran

Following the climax of the 2017 IMMAF World Championships, two standout gold medalists received additional honors awarded by the Bahrain MMA Federation (BMMAF), presented by Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, First Deputy President of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports in the Kingdom of Bahrain and Honorary President of the BMMAF.

Recipients of the standout athlete awards included Sweden’s Middleweight 2017 IMMAF world champion, Khaled Laallam, and New Zealand’s 2017 Women’s Lightweight gold medalist, Gase Sanita. In addition, Sweden received the best team award – the nation retained its no.1 position in the IMMAF world team rankings and topped the medal table with four golds and one bronze.

Laallam first competed on the international IMMAF platform this year at the European Open Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he picked up the silver medal after going the distance in the 185lb bracket final against Italian Dario Bellandi.

At the 2017 Worlds, Bellandi found himself eliminated via decision in the quarter-finals courtesy of the UK’s Christian Leeroy Duncan. Duncan then faced Laallam in semi-finals where the Swede showcased his refined strengths. Mindful of the Brit’s unorthodox striking, Lallam battled to out-work his opposition on the ground.

Upon clinching his second unanimous decision win of the middleweight tournament, Laallam advanced to the finals where he faced off against Iceland’s Bjorn Lukas Haraldsson – the sensational first time IMMAF competitor had dispatched of all four preliminary opponents via stoppage, picking up three submissions along the way including an arm-bar submission over Australian standout Joseph Luciano, plus a second round TKO of SBG Ireland’s Fionn Healy-Magwa.

In the opening round of the middleweight finale, Haraldsson showed presence with his striking and high-kick attempts and near arm-bar finish. However, it was Sweden’s day as Laallam sought to pin down and nullify the Icelandic hopeful. Laallam made efficient use of his size and strength in maintaining top control, evading submissions and dropping heavy strikes to secure a unanimous decision as his fellow finalist remained unable to solve the puzzle.

Laallam final 2017

Laallam keeps Haraldsson grounded – photo by Jorden Curran

IMMAF newcomer Gase Sanita took the gold back to New Zealand in the Women’s 155lb bracket. The stocky Lightweight challenger broke through in the semi-finals to take a split-decision win over 2016 World and European silver medalist, Julia Dorny, who stepped up a division following years of cutting to make 145lbs.

Sanita’s intensity proved ever effective as she worked relentlessly to box smart and break through the reach of Dorny – the much taller athlete. While Dorny was kept on the back foot in round one, the German adapted to control Sanita on the ground in round two. In the final round the pair went back and forth standing up, but it was Sanita’s offence that pushed the pace for an exciting last round. Despite taking some counter shots along the way, her never relenting forward momentum and threat level scored well in the eyes of the judges.

In the World Championship finals, Sanita faced the UK’s Kaycee Blake who had previously stormed through both the quarter and semi-finals with first round TKO stoppages.

Sanita’s entrance was accompanied by a spine-tingling Haka from the New Zealand team, rkeminiscent of Las Vegas 2016 as Byron Chivers received the same tribute ahead of his intense finals performance against the USA’s Dallas Jennings.

Like Chivers, Sanita carried the energy to produce an overwhelming performance, never taking a step back and forcing Blake to the ground in round two where she clinched the gold medal and best stoppage award by forcing a submission via arm-bar.

Sanita lands a strong right hand on Blake - photo by Jorden Curran

Sanita lands a strong right hand on Blake – photo by Jorden Curran

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Ilir Latifi proud to be part of Team Albania at IMMAF World Championships

Pictured: UFC contender Ilir Latifi joins the Albanian team corner at the 2017 IMMAF World Championships.

By lead writer, Jorden Curran

While best know for representing Sweden as the #9 ranked Light-Heavyweight contender in the UFC, Albanian native Ilir Latifi was front and center as the nation’s home-grown prospects, under the Albanian Free Fighting Federation, secured medals on amateur MMA’s grandest stage – the IMMAF World Championships.

When competing at the IMMAF European Open Championships during Prague 2016 and Sofia 2017, the small Albanian team, lead by head coach Arjan Rizaj, picked up single victories through Men’s Bantamweight contender Florian Doskja and Men’s Lightweight Ermal Hadribeaj, prior to being eliminated. Both had displayed some talent in the continental championship, but each missed out on progressing to the medal positions.

The duo returned for the 2017 IMMAF World Championships, taking place from 12-19 November in Manama, Bahrain at Khalifa Sports City Arena. The Albanian team showcased itself as an example of how accumulation of experience and commitment will in turn produce results, even among modest teams, as the talented young prospects raised the bar for their country. Both Doskja, 26, and Hardribeaj, 23, showcased their best and most consistent form to date as each man clinched a trio of victories in their respective brackets to secure bronze medals.

‘I felt very happy and proud of the Albanian team,’ Latifi explained. ‘I am a native of Albania. I was impressed by the performances of our two bronze medal winners, especially Ermal Hadribeaj who pushed through to compete with a broken finger; he has a a future ahead of him.’

Entering with a 1-2 record in IMMAF competition, Hadribeaj showed the world just how far he has come in taking unanimous decision victories over Finalnd’s Jouni Holoppa and Czech prodigy Jakub Tichota, in addition to a second round TKO stoppage against Bahrain’s Nayef Fikey. Hadribeaj lost out in the semi-finals via a unanimous decision to the USA’s Quitin Thomas who went on to achieve the gold medal.

2017 IMMAF Worlds - Men's Lightweight podium

2017 IMMAF World Championships – Men’s Lightweight podium

Meanwhile Doskja, after going 1-1 at this year’s European Open, seized the opportunity to take the Bantamweight division by storm en route to the final 4. Doskja finished each of his three victories via stoppage, starting with Italy’s Alessandro Celadin who submitted to a first round rear-naked-choke. The Albanian progressed to submit team UK’s Ben Miles with a Guillotine choke before stopping Brazilian Carlos Veras via TKO. Doskja clinched the bronze medal as a semi-finalist, only losing out to eventual champion Gamzat Magomedov by way of the judge’s scorecards.

2017 IMMAF World Championships - Men's Bantamweight podium

2017 IMMAF World Championships – Men’s Bantamweight podium

Latifi commented on the overall standard of talent in action at the IMMAF Worlds. While the talent pool of each championships noticeably expands each year, the talent pool of this year’s World Championships reached unprecedented levels.

‘the [IMMAF] organization is the best, the level of the participants is high, this is an excellent level and with a little more experience these athletes can go further.’

Also President of the Albanian Free Fighting Federation, Arjan Rizaj added: “IMMAF is like a family for me and I’m proud to be part of it.

“The Albanian team has progressed significantly and the result achieved is very good for the team. I am very proud of  Maximus Florian Doskja and Ermal Hadribeaj for great performances.

“I thank Mr. Kerrith Brown (IMMAF President), the staff of IMMAF and the legend, Ilir Latifi, for the support he gives us.”

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