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.
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.”