Following a breakthrough performance at the 2017 IMMAF European Open Championships, amateur Flyweight gold medalist Sanan Safarli (pictured above) was recently honored by the Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
2004 Olympic wrestling gold medalist and head of the National Sports Department, Mr. Farid Mansurov, praised Safarli, his team mate Mahammad Aliyev and the Azerbaijani team for their participation at the IMMAF European Open in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“The Ministry of Youth and Sports highly evaluates and supports the cooperation between the IMMAF and Azerbaijan MMA League (Azerbaijan’s national regulatory body to IMMAF), which is a full member of the IMMAF. We are happy that within this short time of cooperation, the team of Azerbaijan MMA League was able to participate at the IMMAF organized international events, and even achieved the gold medal at the IMMAF 2017 European Open Championships. This is very inspiring. I wish our gold medalist Sanan Safarli all the best in his future career,” the former World and Olympic champion stated.
Safarli made his debut on the international IMMAF platform at the 2016 European Open in Prague where he finished in the bronze medal position. This year, the 20-year-old broke through to claim a first ever gold medal for his nation in the competition with a trio of victories, each more impressive than the last on his route to the final.
In the Men’s 125lb bracket, Safarli bested Lebanon’s Roland Yacoubian in the opening round of bouts via a Unanimous Decision on the judge’s scorecards. Upon progressing to the semi-finals he was set to face off against Kazakhstan’s Berik Shinaliyev who also earned bronze alongside Safarli in 2016. In Sofia, the determination and unpredictable striking of Shinaliyev saw him triumph over Ireland’s Dyaln Kennedy in the quarter-finals.
The two semi-finalists went the distance in a back-and-forth contest but it was Safarli who edged a hard fought split-decision victory with a busy grappling approach as frequent takedowns and submission attempts nullified the movement of his unorthodox opponent.
His crowning moment came in the tournament final against Bulgarian home favourite, Nikolay Ivalyov. The young Safarli showcased huge advancement in asserting himself as a finishing threat, hitting the ground with Ivalyov early on from where he latched on a triangle choke with little delay to force a submission stoppage at 1:44 of the opening round.
When discussing his triumph, the newly crowned IMMAF European Open champion stated, “I am very happy to be on the first place in my weight category at the IMMAF 2017 European Championship. I have to say that this gold medal is a result of my hard and serious training. I participated at the IMMAF 2016 European Championship as well, however I was a bronze medalist there. My trainers and I were working on general improvement of my sports capacity, as well we were focusing on the mistakes and weak points based on my previous bouts. I will keep going and will try to do my best also in future occasions. The IMMAF opens very good opportunities for young sportsmen and it is very nice to be a member of the IMMAF family.”
With no prior wrestling background Safarli developed his fondness for grappling when venturing into mixed martial arts and has seemingly excelled in a short space of time at the school of Kenan Mammadov who also serves as President of the Azerbaijan MMA League.
Mr. Mammadov highlighted the commitment of the national body towards building a worldwide unification for amateur and grass roots MMA, in addition to evolving the national scene through approved regulation practices and competitive success. He stated, “The Azerbaijan MMA League, complying with IMMAF rules and regulations, pays special attention to international cooperation. IMMAF helps to be on an international arena, to be involved in an international MMA community, to gain better practices and to apply them back in the country. At the same time the League tries to do its best to contribute to further development of IMMAF and promotion of MMA worldwide. Sanan’s victory has encouraged young sportsmen training within different clubs of the country. The number of people interested in MMA is increasing.”
By IMMAF.org lead writer and website manager, Jorden Curran