Pictured: Ulster MMA’s Gerard (left) and Jack Corr (right)
By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran
2018 Is the year that IMMAF begins implementation of its all new and ground breaking youth-development platform, beginning first with the IMMAF European Championships for Junior athletes, age 18-20, providing a safe an even field for young talent to develop.
IMMAF’s Junior championships are set to develop and grow with further anticipated divisions featuring tailored rule sets for young athletes age 12 and upwards.
For Northern Ireland, this future will provide inspirational opportunity for years to come. Norther Ireland is fast establishing itself as a world leader for youth development programmes through Mixed Martial Arts, and thus is ahead of the curve in aiming for generational progress from the pre-cadet level to Senior championships.
The Fight to Unite programme, run in conjunction with UAMMAs Danny Corr and the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, has produced fruitful relationships with local councils and community groups enabling access to elite training facilities and funding that has opened the door for young MMA standouts in the future.
The unique programme has helped MMA become visible to the wider government community and provides coaches and mentors for the youth of Belfast, who in turn are showing up in incredible numbers for free classes and personal development opportunities available to ages 5 to 24, with the key aim to tackle social troubles.
Over the past two years, athletes representing Northern Ireland on the IMMAF platform, chosen by the Ulster Amateur MMA Association, have primarily been age 18-22. The now 24-year-old Leah McCourt made history in 2015-2016, winning IMMAF World and European titles before turning pro.
Most recently, 18-year-old firecracker, Courtney McCrudden, gave a sign of things to come as she stormed to a silver medal at the 2017 IMMAF World Championships.
This month, Northern Ireland makes its first stop on the 2018 IMMAF circuit at next week’s European Championships in Bucharest, Romania, taking place from 17-23 June. For the first time, the nation’s representatives will be split between the Senior and Junior competitions.
Competing in the Men’s Senior featherweight bracket will be Ulster team mainstay Gerard Corr, 21, now entering his third European Championships. The elder of the Corr cousins will be accompanied at 145lbs by 2015 European Open veteran, Ciaran Breslin, age 22, plus 22-year-old Ciaran Mulholland of the Belfast MMA Academy, who has already made a name for himself with the acquisition of several notable promotion titles.
Gerard told IMMAF.org of his plans to get back to winning ways in Bucharest, after an early exit from the 2017 World Championships in Bahrain, where he lost out on the scorecards to eventual gold medalist, Delyan Georgiev.
“I now have three IMMAF events under my belt, so I’m getting more experienced and accustomed to the tournament format. In those past events, I have faced two European bronze medalists and most recently the current European and World champion. I learnt from those bouts and gained knowledgeable experience from that level of opponents. Going into this year I am now solely focused on winning some silverware and I am fully confident in my abilities that I can do so.”
His cousin, 19-year-old Jack Corr, enters the Junior Men’s bantamweight bracket, with plans for a busy year to contend in both the Junior and Senior World Championships, taking place respectively in months to come.
“I’m planning on entering both Junior tournaments (European & World),” he revealed, “and hopefully the Senior Worlds in Bahrain as well. I’m looking forward to competing in three competitions this year, if we can raise enough money. It will be my busiest year to date, but I feel with every bout I am getting more relaxed and getting closer to what I know is my full potential. This year I’m also thankful that my University (UUJ) has given me a strength-and-conditioning programme specifically for MMA.”
As one of the youngest to have competed under the IMMAF banner, Corr immediately identified with the benefits of a unique talent pool, exclusively for athletes of a similar age.
“I was very pleased,” Jack expressed, “as I have been one of the youngest in every tournament with IMMAF and my previous two fights at the worlds I think there had a age gap of 8 or 9 years, so this will give me the chance to compete against people with similar experience. It should be a good chance for me to get a medal; I should be one of the most experienced juniors, with two European and the World Championships previously.
“It will be good for all young athletes’ development as, even though you could be as or more skilled than an older opponent, they are still going to be more developed physically and have more experience. Therefore, I feel that the junior tournaments will allow youngsters to gain that experience at a world class level before they jump into the deep end and start competing against people in their late 20s early 30s.”
Access to Olympic level performance facilities, courtesy of local government, has enabled Jack to further his training while the young duo has already shown promise at the international level; Jack advanced to the quarter-finals of the 2016 Euros in Prague, and made it to the round of 16 at last year’s World Championships. At the 2017 European Open in Sofia, Gerard produced one of the event’s highlight striking performances, resulting in a headkick knockout complete with a sporting walkaway.
Gerard expressed his expectations for Northern Ireland in the years to come: “I believe that in the years to come, team NI will be challenging for the no.1 spot on the rankings, with the number of fighters from our gym alone that are on the brink of turning 18 and are ready to compete. Adding the cadets into the mix will only gain the younger athletes more experience in a competition format and put them in good stead for the future.
“Danny and the UAMMA are planning to start a novice league for all ages that will work on having monthly bouts. This league will give younger competitors that ‘competition’ style feeling without the pressure that comes with IMMAF tournaments. With this system I fully expect team NI to have medalists across all IMMAF events in the near future.”
Jack, who is currently employed as an MMA youth worker, agrees that grass roots development within communities is something that will give his country an edge for generations to come.
“I am currently employed with the Northern Ireland Youth Forum as an MMA coach on a programme called Fight to Unite. I feel this will help provide a conveyor belt of young athletes and coaches coming through like Gerard, Courtney and myself. For example, one of the groups I work with is a peer mentor group who are training in MMA while also becoming leaders and coaches at the same time, and I can see many of them competing under IMMAF in the coming years.”