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