Pictured above: Gase Sanita competes at #MMAWorlds2018 wearing the official Green Hill gold kit for reigning champions
By IMMAF.org lead writer/photographer Jorden Curran
New Zealand’s Gase Sanita made history in 2018 as the first woman to win a second Amateur MMA world title, as she successfully retained the women’s lightweight gold medal at the IMMAF-WMMAA Unified World Championships back in November.
Following the 2017 IMMAF World Championships, the amalgamation of the International MMA Federation (IMMAF) and World MMA Association (WMMAA) saw the pinnacle of amateur MMA return to Bahrain for a second year, now hosting both IMMAF and WMMAA on a unified front, marking the biggest amateur world championships to date with a over 350 athletes from across 50+ nations, also featuring the inaugural World Junior Championships for athletes age 18-20.
28-year-old Sanita first competed on the IMMAF platform in 2017 to claim the women’s lightweight division title. In the semi-finals, she upset Germany’s title favorite Julia Dorny after a thrilling back-and-forth encounter, winning a split decision before moving on to the finals (pictured below) where she would submit the UK’s Kaycee Blake by securing a second round arm-bar.
The reigning senior world champion returned this year, and after initial plans to contest the featherweight bracket, a late change saw her stick to lightweight with aims of defending the crown. Prior to 2018 no female athlete had won a second world championships gold medal.
Last year we saw how Sanita adapted her shorter stature against much taller 155lb opposition, confidently managing the reach difference with a pressing boxing offence to keep opponents on the back foot with the door open for takedowns.
There was something even more imposing come the end of this year’s world championships, with Sanita having denied each opponent the chance of a second round. Setting up her chosen gameplan against experienced Chinese striker Yudan Bao, Sanita remained busy in the standup exchanges with level changes and controlled the distance with speed before clinching up and hoisting Bao into the air for a high-crotch takedown. From there, both hooks were deployed setting up the rear-naked-choke submission with forceful hip pressure leaving Bao no choice but to tap with her feet.
In the 2018 gold medal final, Sanita met towering Russian Polina Kobzeva who had advanced through the semi-finals with an assertive performance of her own, also via first a round rear-naked-choke. Team Russia carried significant momentum into the day of the finals as the most dominant team of the 2018 championships.
Under the IMMAF banner, a new tradition has formed that for now three straight years has seen a New Zealand team performance of the spine tingling Haka, paying tribute to their finalist. The performance was first first seen for middleweight champion Byron Chivers in 2016, as the likes of MMA’s legendary Nogueira brothers looked on.
Once again, Sanita’s supreme strength was evident, particularly within her clinch-game. Tying up Kobzeva with double underhooks after an early onslaught of strikes from the Russian, a certain look of assurance and perhaps even a smile proceeded the outside trip that forced Kobzeva on to her back.
Calmly, Sanita worked to secure an arm-triangle choke and finished the maneuver with astonishing effectiveness. Without the need to pass Kobzeva’s half guard, a slight yet perfect adjustment of posture generated incredible pressure to render her opponent unconscious, capping off a history making performance for Amateur MMA and the New Zealand national team.
Subsequently followed by men’s featherweight champion Delyan Georgiev (Bulgaria) later that day, upon victory over Kobzeva, Sanita was just the fourth athlete to retain a world championships gold medal, and the first woman to join the iconic list of two-time amateur world champions, alongside Jose Torres (USA), Will Starks (USA) and Irman Smajic (Sweden).
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