As the amateur mixed martial arts scene continues to grow around the world under the banner of the IMMAF and its member nations, internationally renowned UFC referee and IMMAF Regulatory Affairs consultant Marc Goddard shared his hopes for the evolution and longevity of Amateur MMA. He expressed a strong desire to see fighters and coaches encouraged towards a considerably longer development of athletes at amateur level than what is currently the norm.
It is common for today’s leading MMA professionals to have had maybe a handful of amateur bouts or even zero recorded amateur experience, while many can boast more extensive amateur backgrounds in other combat sports such as wrestling and kickboxing.
This has perhaps helped create a culture where future hopefuls decline the opportunity to improve their game while at amateur level and opt to turn professional at an earlier stage, experiencing defeats and learning curves that they should have faced while in the amateur ranks. It is true that some exceptional talents have reached their pinnacle with minimal amateur experience. However, is it possible that the overall level and rate of development of athletes is decreased in many countries by lack of opportunity to gain significant amateur experience?
“The most important thing is opportunities,” Goddard explained. “For a while I started promoting amateur only events, and it was about what IMMAF are doing now. It was only local competition whereas IMMAF is international, but it was all about amateurs and experience.
“People talk about longevity of careers as a professional, but the same also applies to amateurs. There’s this horrible notion in MMA, I don’t know where it’s come from, where people think they’ve got 10 amateur fights under their belt and that it makes them super experienced.”
For many years the amateur platform had been unavailable, but professional event promoters are now beginning to take note of successful amateurs with IMMAF world champions Jose Torres, Frans Mlambo and Micol DiSegni having all made the switch to notable promotions in 2015.
Goddard continued, “The international amateur platform wasn’t there when I was younger, but the platform is there now. This is one of the things we can learn from our close relative, boxing and amateur boxing. Some of these guys have records going in to the 100s, yet for some reason in MMA we want to throw them to the lions after going 5-6, or 7-0. In amateur boxing they’ll box week in, week out, and we want the same for amateur mixed martial artists providing they’re healthy, safe, and medically cleared.”
As a two-time IMMAF World Championships gold medallist and United States national champion, Jose Torres stands as the world’s most decorated amateur veteran with a record of 25-1. Following the 2015 World Championships, “Shorty’s” talent was spotted and his professional transition was funded by Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad’s KHK Fight Team in Bahrain where he trains alongside the likes of featherweight world champion Mlambo, in addition to UFC standouts Frankie Edgar and Khabib Nurmagomedov. As a result of his amateur commitment and success, Torres was the first ever 0-0 professional to join Titan FC, a leading feeder promotion to the UFC.
While Torres’ 25-1 amateur record is unprecedented in MMA, Goddard still hopes that this benchmark figure can be surpassed on a global scale with a unified understanding for frequent and safe competition, and this will highlight the full potential and benefits of amateur experience.
“Look at the press and opportunities that have been given since the IMMAF World Championships in Vegas, with Jose Torres, the American bantamweight winner; he’s a two-time IMMAF world amateur champion and he’s had close to 30 amateur fights, which again by definition isn’t a great deal, but we can see he’s an exceptionally gifted, talented and young fighter, and that’s what this sport is all about, recognizing these guys on that platform, and the level is improving all the time.”
The goal is to solidify global opportunity for amateur athletes to compete on a frequent basis with ensured safety and health. IMMAF’s unified amateur ruleset is designed as a foundation for this, and IMMAF Championship tournaments have allowed fighters to stay fresh and compete in multiple bouts over the course of a week with tailored rules and proper medical clearance in place.*
Having experienced the IMMAF platform with his involvement in the 2015 World Championships, and the this year’s inaugural IMMAF European Open, Goddard has continued to spread word of the opportunity for international, world level amateur competition.
“The emphasis is on education and IMMAF getting the message out there. I think age is fairly irrelevent, but if we’re dealing with youngsters coming into the sport, then it’s about emphasising the fact; please don’t rush them. That’s why the unified amateur ruleset is tailored, certain techniques are forbidden; we don’t want amateurs being cut with elbows and knees and having scar tissue by the time they’re 21. We want them to fight as often as they can as long as they’re healthy to do so, that’s why the ruleset, the shin guards and bigger gloves are all there.
“Since I came back from Vegas I’ve been more vocal with gyms and coaches to tell them they’re missing out here, they’re missing out on a great platform.”
As a former fighter himself, Goddard is best know for his efforts as a leading international referee with the UFC and other promotions around the world. From the years that he has dedicated to educating referees and judges, including his most recent commitment of conducting IMMAF certification courses for experienced officials, he has noticed a correlation between the amount of international experience the he hopes for amateurs to accumulate before turning professional, and the amount of experience that developing MMA officials should attain at ascending levels.
He explained, “I saw a Facebook post by (British performance coach) Gary Turner and he was more or less talking about these things; you’ve got people saying they’re a world champion when they’ve never been out of their home city. International and world championships are fought internationally at a world level with fighters from all around the world; you travel and move around, gaining experience. We have to be patient, and slowly but surely the like minded coaches and gyms will see the value in this.
“Aspirations, dreams and targets are healthy, they’re great and should be encouraged; but I get inexperienced people coming to me saying they want to referee in the UFC, like it was something they could do. It got frustrating, what makes you think you could jump to a level like that in any vocation, in any industry? Experience and time cannot be bypassed. Get out there and build a reputation, go to shows and travel, be willing.”
*Under Dr. Mark Banks, the mandatory, minimum suspension recommendations for the IMMAF European Open were from 1 week (for athletes who had competed in at least 1 bout) to 4 weeks (for athletes that competed on multiple days)