Above: Super-Heavyweight Dorobantu Mihai wins gold, pictured with George Stanciu (left) and Amatto Zaharia (right)
By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran
The honour of hosting IMMAF’s 2018 European Championships presented a catalyst for this year’s host nation; the motivational boost saw Romania emerge as one of the standout successes of the international showcase, achieving a record third place finish in the senior event’s final medal table.
In recent years, Romania had been in the shadow of its surging European counterparts. The majority of the nation’s prominence on the IMMAF competition platform had been supported by Women’s Strawweight mainstay, Raluca Dinescu, who twice battled to a European silver medal in 2015 and 2016, and World Championships bronze in 2016.
In 2017, Romania failed to medal at the European Championships, yet Bucharest, the nation’s capital, was set to serve as the host city for 2018, welcoming the presence of the Romanian Sports Ministry for the second largest event on the IMMAF circuit. In addition, The historic event saw the introduction of IMMAF’s all new European Youth Championships for Junior athletes age 18-20.
The objective to make a strong impression on home soil was set out for the Romanian MMA Federation, its President Amatto Zaharia and RMMAF Director George Stanciu.
Flying the flag for Romania was a national team of 10 athletes: 2 Juniors and 8 Seniors. In the Senior championships, 6 of the nation’s representatives found their way to securing a podium position.
Dinescu led the team as Romania’s most decorated veteran and national pioneer of Amateur MMA. The 32-year-old earned bronze upon being eliminated in the semi-finals by Swedish newcomer Nina Back. Dinescu’s trademark clinch and grind approach was enough to see her go the distance, but the work rate of Back saw Sweden advance to the Strawweight final via a unanimous decision. 20-year-old Ghita Lulia Luiza, opting to enter the Women’s Senior Flyweight division, also landed third place via a decision loss to Finland’s Janika Antinmaa.
Men’s Lightweight standout Iorga Cristian earned himself a bronze medal at the 2016 World Championships in Las Vegas. Now battling on home soil, he went on the charge and cemented himself early on as one to watch with exciting performances, clinching decision victories over Bulgarian Iordan Marinov and Spain’s Enrique Hecher Sosa with an energetic and explosive offence, picking his moments with calculated strikes.
Cristian’s exit from the tournament also came at the semi-final mark, dropping a unanimous decision to eventual champion, Ukraine’s Pavel Senchenko. Nevertheless, the Romanian’s performances will see him stand as a dark horse among the top seeds in tournaments to come.
Romania’s first silver medalist of the event came in the form of 19-year-old Atomweight, Ana Maria Mavru, who brought the local audience to its feet in the semi-finals by snatching a Guillotine choke submission at just 31 seconds into the opening round to best Ireland’s Aeilish O’Hanlon. In the Senior Atomweight finals, it was Finland’s 25-year-old Jenna Horto who grabbed the holeshot stoppage, overwhelming Mavru with a forceful flurry to swiftly snatch a first round TKO triumph.
Silver medalist Radu Zarioiu is perhaps Romania’s most promising new export to the IMMAF platform, as he looked to take the Middleweight division by storm, accumulating three TKO wins and energizing the crowd en-route to the gold medal decider where he met Italy’s defending European champion, Dario Bellandi.
A narrow striking battle ensued in the opening round, Zarioiu as the aggressor with Bellandi looking for counter shots reminiscent of his knockout victory in the 2017 final. However, the contest was decided in the second round, this time via submission as Bellandi sunk in a Guillotine choke and pulled Zarioiu into his guard to complete the hold.
With several athletes reaching the final and semi-final stages, Romania’s respectable medal tally thus far had been the best to date. A final chance for the country to achieve a gold medal was in the hands of Super-Heavyweight finalist, Dorobantu Mihai.
The 26-year-old super-heavy contender advanced to the finals with a arm-bar submission over Bulgaria’s Ivan Ivanov, and displayed his tactful ability to trade heavy blows before taking his opponent to the ground in an instant and finding a submission window without delay. This same awareness was showcased once again in the championship final, against Austria’s Damian Visenjak, where Romania’s last hope at crowning a first European champion secured another arm-bar submission early in the opening round, making history and cementing a new legacy for the host nation.