The European amateur MMA championships are taking place in Rome this week. Ireland is sending out a 31 strong team to this year’s competition. I caught up with Team Ireland head coach Andy Ryan as he was heading to the airport to meet up with the athletes and coaches before flying out to the Italian capital later in the day.
Ireland Team Selections
Injury has reduced the size of the Irish team above, the most notable absentee this week will be current European and World Heavyweight champion Ryan Spillane.
The European championships are taking place under the banner of the World governing body IMMAF. IMMAF are the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation and are probably the largest international body for amateur MMA in the world. They certainly seem to be growing rapidly and each year their world and european championships are growing significantly in numbers.
This year’s championships were originally supposed to take place in Belfast but were switched to Rome earlier in the year. The uncertainties surrounding Brexit were cited as one of the reasons for the city swap. I wasn’t convinced of that excuse at the time and as things turned out these championships could easily have gone ahead in Northern Ireland.
One of the difficulties facing the Irish Team this year and every year is financing participation in these dual championships. The athletes and coaches need to raise and pay for the costs themselves. So that switch from Belfast to Rome has hit the pocket of every competitor and coach quite deeply.
One of the points Andy Ryan mentioned to me in addition is that if the championships had taken place in Ireland, he would have been able to involve a lot more local Irish coaches in these championships. The number of athletes on the team would have been more too due to a lessening of the financial constraints. These two points, in and of themselves would have increased Ireland’s medal hopes. Not that Ryan is worried on this score. He is very excited about the team he has at his disposal.
The Male/Female split of the team is 25 men and 6 women. The team selections were decide by a coaching panel of 5 and choices were made on the basis of results in various competitions. This year Ryan introduced Irish squad sessions where all members meet and train. Regardless of injury or fitness members are expected to attend these sessions. The purpose is to engender a team ethos and desire in addition to the competitors getting to know and learn from each other.
One of the issues I would have with IMMAF, is the fact, that they currently have World and European championships on in the same year. This puts an undue amount of financial pressure on competing athletes from this country. Each competitor and coach have to pay 400 euro registration fee to compete at the championships. Not to mention costs of travel and accommodation. Now this fee, undoubtedly, contributes to other championship week costs that are involved with running an event of this size and complexity. Nonetheless asking competitors to compete and pay for this cost twice in the same calendar year is a problem that would need to be addressed.
Currently, Irish selections are chosen from Irish MMA clubs that are affiliated with the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA). As a result the Irish team is a little top heavy with competitors from the two largest clubs in the country. Ryan, to give him his due, is always one of the coaches who is not afraid to speak his mind on this issue. He is very much of the opinion that IMMAA is and should be looking to expand it’s club base in Ireland.
Regular readers, will have seen me write ad nauseum about the politics of Irish MMA. I don’t really want to drag up old and recent history in this article. We have 31 athletes representing the country, and I for one would like to support them in their efforts. Whatever disagreements exist have nothing to do with the hopes and dreams of amateur sports people.
Ryan’s view would be that the more independent voices that join IMMAA the better. Change is easier to affect from within than it is from without. My experience of dealing with him has always been that he doesn’t pretend there are not problems. For instance he is of the opinion that there is a big need for more local shows showcasing amateur MMA talent. Particularly at the Clan wars and Cage Legacy level. He has been on record previously with Combat Arena, about the wrongs of shutting down shows like Battle Arena.
Getting back to the championships at hand, The Irish Team will land in Rome this evening. Tomorrow will be taken up with Athlete registration, checking of medicals and the competition draws for each weight category.
The Featherweight, Lightweight and Welterweight divisions are the most hotly competitive. Most of these 3 weight divisions have the full complement of 32 fighters competing. In essence, what this means is that fighters will be fighting 5 days in a row against 5 different opponents. To win gold here will be a superb achievement and obviously the Irish contingent will be hoping injury can be avoided.
ABOUT THE 2019 EUROPEAN & JUNIOR EUROPEAN OPEN CHAMPIONSHIPS
Excerpt taken from the IMMAF website:
Running in parallel, the two five-day, nations tournaments feature 314 competitors from 36 nations across 16 weight categories, from Atomweight to Lightweight for women, and Strawweight to Super Heavyweight for men.
While the Senior Championships is open to all eligible athletes over the age of 18, the U21s Junior Championships gives a platform for competitors of 18, 19 and 20 years only. The Junior events are designed to provide better opportunity for younger rising stars to shine against fellow competitors of a similarly limited range of experience. In line with IMMAF- WMMAA’s ethos, they also create a safer competition environment for younger adults who have not yet reached their physical peak.
Gold, Silver and 2 Bronze medals will be available to win in each division, and competitors will earn ranking points for the IMMAF-WMMAA World Amateur MMA Rankings. Both tournaments take place under the Unified Amateur MMA Rules
One of the IMMAA squad and selection sessions for this years championships.
We will be posting competition results as they happen over the week.