This week the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) catches up with Finland’s Minna Grusander, the 115lb strawweight gold medal champion of the 2015 IMMAF World Championships of Amateur MMA.
Having not started out in any form of Martial Arts until 2012, the 26-year-old progressed well within a limited period of time, having taken time out early on in her development to raise her children.
Grusander gained a significant confidence boost during the early years of her training. As a budding contender of the lighter Women’s divisions, it wasn’t long before she was eager to test herself against other women of the same size after predominantly training with men.
“I started with MMA in 2012 wanting to find a enjoyable way to stay in shape,” Grusander explained. “Even though I didn’t have any background from any martial arts it was an easy step for me to go and try some MMA because my husband has been training in different martial arts for over a decade. In 2012 I got to train MMA only for a couple of months before we decided to have more kids. I got back into MMA at the end of 2013 and having to train mostly with men at that time, I started to feel the desire to test myself in a ring against another petite female fighter. I had my first fight on April 2014.”
Grusander (8-2) had accumulated an amateur record of 5-2 before securing her place in Team Finland for July’s IMMAF World Championships in Las Vegas. Out in the U.S., she then surpassed a series of three opponents over the four day, single elimination tournament.
On the opening day of her bracket, Grusander defeated Team UK hopeful Amy Omara via TKO in the second round. On day 2, she submitted the USA’s Codie Wareham with an arm-bar in the first round. The gold medal was finally secured after a one-day rest period when she went the distance to claim a unanimous decision win over Maria Vittoria Colonna of Italy.
“The first fight (against Omara) was pretty typical for me; starting out slowly, building up my confidence and getting stronger as the fight went on. It was a good fight to start with helping me to get into a competitive fighting mood, and feeling good about myself to continue the tournament after winning over another skillful MMA fighter.
“After winning the first fight, I felt strong, confident and ready for the second fight (against Wareham) which I ended with the first round submission.”
Both Grusander and Colonna had built great momentum heading into the championship bout and both contenders were cautious of making an error when the top prize was at stake.
“The whole fight started out slowly. I think we both wanted to avoid any major mistakes – at least I did after she had a TKO-win in her first fight at the tournament and knowing she’s a national champion in kickboxing as well. On the other hand, I also knew I would get better as the fight went on, as I did, ending the second round in back mount position, with her being saved by the bell from the tight RNC and finishing strong in the third and final round.
“I think all the fighters I faced were tough and we had a tight and even strawweight division at the tournament.”
Many amateurs have discussed the difficulties of staying strong both physically and mentally throughout the tournament, but Grusander ticked all the boxes. Remaining comfortably within the weight allowance for successive days of competition is the first major hurdle. Secondly, a contender would hope to get through the earlier stages with as little stress as possible in order to remain fresh. Thirdly, as Welsh IMMAF champion Josh Ellis explained in a recent interview, a strong self belief will be your greatest ally.
“I usually start out slowly in my fights so I think it suited me very well to have the first two fights in two days. I felt I was able to continue from the first to the second fight still feeling confident and strong from the victory the day before. I was also prepared to have at least a couple of fights at the tournament and kept the final goal – the gold medal – in mind right after getting out of the ring as a winner the first two times, so it was easy to stay focused and humble in getting ready for the fights still ahead.”
Grusander has been excited by the evolution of IMMAF and the World Championships, and hopes to enjoy the continued efforts of the Finnish Mixed Martial Arts Federation in her own country. She believes that the IMMAF Championship prestige will continue to grow as the various champions go on to achieve success at professional level.
“It was great to see how much, especially the female divisions, had grown from the first year! I’m sure that the IMMAF Championships will keep on growing and the title of Amateur World Champion will build up its value when the fighters turn pro. Also the fights at the IMMAF Championships will become better noticed by the pro organisations in the near future.
“I think that the Mixed Martial Arts federations have done, and they keep on doing, great work for MMA; building it as a safer and more equal sport, for example with the rules, safety regulations and anti-doping policies. It’s nice to see how the federations are there enabling fighters getting better and better, allowing and helping the whole sport to develop.
“It feels as if amateur MMA has been gaining a lot more respect in Finland; especially after the introduction of the worldwide IMMAF amateur rules, which are close to the rules for professional fighters, and since the start of IMMAF Championship events. Still it would be great to have more attention and recognition for the national championships and maybe to have more amateur events co-organized by the local gyms and the national federation.”
Grusander revealed that she plans to turn professional and follow in the footsteps of Finland’s top standouts such as UFC contenders Makwan Amirkhani, Tina Lähdemäki and TeemuPackalén, former Invicta FC Strawweight Champion Katja Kankaanpää and former Cage Warriors champion Toni Tauru.
“Makwan is doing great work getting Finland known in the MMA world and MMA known in Finland! It’s great to see many Finnish fighters, Amirkhani, Lähdemäki, Packalén, Kankaanpää, Tauru, fighting in the world’s biggest organisations such as UFC and Invicta FC. For me personally it’s a huge inspiration to train with UFC veteran Tom Niinimäki and our latest UFC fighter Teemu Packalén at my home gym, Finnfighters’ Gym, every day.”
Grusander plans on dropping to the 105lb atomweight ranks for professional competition. She makes her domestic professional debut in the Autumn and aims to become her countries’ most decorated fighter by adding to her IMMAF strawweight gold with the atomweight title of leading Women’s MMA promotion, Invicta.
“I’m about to have my pro-debut at Fight Night Finland promotions’ FNF 10 fight night in Turku, Finland on October 10th. They were quick to offer me a fight at their next event shortly after I mentioned my plans to go pro. I would love to have professional fights in a good place as I did as an amateur so I’m open for all the fights offered in Finland and abroad. As a professional I’m going to be an atomweight fighter and firmly heading for the Invicta title.”
You can follow Minna Grusander on Twitter @GrusanM[/spb_text_block]