By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran
Following the climax of the 2017 IMMAF World Championships, two standout gold medalists received additional honors awarded by the Bahrain MMA Federation (BMMAF), presented by Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, First Deputy President of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports in the Kingdom of Bahrain and Honorary President of the BMMAF.
Recipients of the standout athlete awards included Sweden’s Middleweight 2017 IMMAF world champion, Khaled Laallam (Best Male Athlete), and New Zealand’s 2017 Women’s Lightweight gold medalist, Gase Sanita (Best Female Athlete). In addition, Sweden received the best team award – the nation retained its no.1 position in the IMMAF world team rankings and topped the medal table with four golds and one bronze.
Laallam first competed on the international IMMAF platform this year at the European Open Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he picked up the silver medal after going the distance in the 185lb bracket final against Italian Dario Bellandi.
At the 2017 Worlds, Bellandi found himself eliminated via decision in the quarter-finals courtesy of the UK’s Christian Leeroy Duncan. Duncan then faced Laallam in semi-finals where the Swede showcased his refined strengths. Mindful of the Brit’s unorthodox striking, Lallam battled to out-work his opposition on the ground.
Upon clinching his second unanimous decision win of the middleweight tournament, Laallam advanced to the finals where he faced off against Iceland’s Bjorn Lukas Haraldsson – the sensational first time IMMAF competitor had dispatched of all four preliminary opponents via stoppage, picking up three submissions along the way including an arm-bar submission over Australian standout Joseph Luciano, plus a second round TKO of SBG Ireland’s Fionn Healy-Magwa.
In the opening round of the middleweight finale, Haraldsson showed presence with his striking and high-kick attempts and near arm-bar finish. However, it was Sweden’s day as Laallam sought to pin down and nullify the Icelandic hopeful. Laallam made efficient use of his size and strength in maintaining top control, evading submissions and dropping heavy strikes to secure a unanimous decision as his fellow finalist remained unable to solve the puzzle.
IMMAF newcomer Gase Sanita took the gold back to New Zealand in the Women’s 155lb bracket. The stocky Lightweight challenger broke through in the semi-finals to take a split-decision win over 2016 World and European silver medalist, Julia Dorny, who stepped up a division following years of cutting to make 145lbs.
Sanita’s intensity proved ever effective as she worked relentlessly to box smart and break through the reach of Dorny – the much taller athlete. While Dorny was kept on the back foot in round one, the German adapted to control Sanita on the ground in round two. In the final round the pair went back and forth standing up, but it was Sanita’s offence that pushed the pace for an exciting last round. Despite taking some counter shots along the way, her never relenting forward momentum and threat level scored well in the eyes of the judges.
In the World Championship finals, Sanita faced the UK’s Kaycee Blake who had previously stormed through both the quarter and semi-finals with first round TKO stoppages.
Sanita’s entrance was accompanied by a spine-tingling Haka from the New Zealand team, reminiscent of Las Vegas 2016 as Byron Chivers received the same tribute ahead of his intense finals performance against the USA’s Dallas Jennings.
Like Chivers, Sanita carried the energy to produce an overwhelming performance, never taking a step back and forcing Blake to the ground in round two where she clinched the gold medal and best stoppage award by forcing a submission via arm-bar.