By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran
From 2014 to 2017, no Russian athlete had stepped foot on the IMMAF World Championships medal podium, not for gold, silver or bronze. This year, the Russian national anthem was heard on no less than 10 occasions as they took the 2018 IMMAF-WMMAA Unified World Championships by storm.
With the 2018 Junior and Senior World Championships taking place concurrently from 11-18 November in Bahrain, Russia fielded its most substantial national squad to date with a total of 26 amateur MMA standouts; 15 seniors, 11 juniors.
With over 370 competing athletes from across 50+ nations, a combined total of 26 world titles were up for grabs after four days of back-to-back competition and a rest day for eventual finalists. 15 Russian athletes progressed to the finals; 8 seniors, 7 juniors. The feat set an inaugural junior world championships record and edged out Sweden’s record of 7 senior finalists set in 2016. Russia’s 5 senior gold medals also tops Sweden’s 2017 record of 4.
With national teams permitted to enter two athletes per weight division, Russia’s overall dominance was further highlighted at junior middleweight and senior light-heavyweight where the gold medal decider was contest by Russian athletes facing off.
Under the IMMAF affiliated MMA Federation of Russia, Russian athletes had previously earned medals on the Continental Open circuit, but the nation had lagged far behind the likes of Sweden, Bulgaria and Ireland, and were sat 17th in the national rankings prior to this year’s World Championships.
“We are feeling overwhelmed,” Russia’s team delegate Boris Burdziev expressed. “It was an incredible tournament level and such a success, of course we are happy!”
So what changed? As the amalgamation of the International MMA Federation (IMMAF) and World MMA Association (WMMAA) saw the two world governing bodies come together, to unify MMA’s Olympic movement, the door was opened for athletes affiliated under respective IMMAF & WMMAA national federations to compete under the same World Championships banner for the first time.
The most substantial effect of this was seen within Russia, the birthplace of WMMAA and home of the government affiliated Russian MMA Union who account for a significant portion of the country’s top amateur talent.
“We actually had a very difficult moment this year,” Burdziev added. “We started selection in January according WMMAA rules and in the spring got news about the united world championships.”
The IMMAF definition of ‘Amateur’ and subsequent eligibility criteria, which differs from that of WMMAA, was upheld for all nations competing at the Unified World Championships. For a number of WMMAA federations, this created a hurdle in athlete selection, but Russia and others nonetheless sourced all-amateur teams with gold medal potential.
Familiar face Svetlana Kotova, who competed at strawweight for the 2016 IMMAF European Open, returned for the World Championships in the new women’s atomweight division, earning a hard fought bronze medal. However, much of the Russian talent in attendance was welcomed to an IMMAF setting for the first time, either as team newcomers or WMMAA championship veterans, such as the Satiev brother’s, Ruslan and Imran, both former WMMAA Youth champions for Russia, plus Islam Bagomedov, Sharapudin Magomedov and Magomed Shakhrudinov who entered as a former WMMAA world champion.
Other nations who’s athletes earned gold in the Junior World Championships included: the UK, Ireland, India and Canada. In the Senior World Championships, athletes from Ireland, Bahrain, Ukraine, Germany, Romania, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Hungary and the USA also won gold.
In the first mass coming together since the IMMAF-WMMAA amalgamation, team Russia showed that it has truly arrived on the unified stage and will be hot on the heels of Sweden and Bulgaria, who since 2015 have been long standing front runners in the nations ranking list. As a country, Russia has now shot to first place in the junior team world rankings and third in the senior team rankings.
Commenting on Russia’s potential future in the competition, Burdziev simply concluded, “It’s harder when they chase you, than when you are chasing.”
For results and medalists by division click HERE.