The 2021 IMMAF (International Mixed Martial Arts Federation) World Championships begin this week (January 24-29), with the tournament taking place in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The event was originally scheduled to be held last November in Kazakhstan, but the rapid rise in Covid cases in the Central Asian nation forced a change of venue and date.
This week’s event will see athletes from over 30 different nations compete in the IMMAF cage as they each battle for gold. Amateur MMA is still in development, but the competition is getting more competitive every year. Former IMMAF world junior bantamweight champion Muhammad Mokaev will make his highly anticipated UFC debut on March 19 and he appears to be the first in a new wave of IMMAF fighters heading to the professional ranks.
Here are some of the top prospects to watch as the World Championship kicks off.
Gitinov, 24, is the reigning welterweight world champion and a stablemate of Mokaev at KHK MMA. The Dagestan-born fighter competing under the flag of Bahrain is, as one would expect, a skilled wrestler. BRAVE CF super lightweight champion Eldar Eldarov, who coaches Gitinov, has developed the hitting of his young charge. It will be interesting to see what he looks like after dusting off the cobwebs at last year’s European Championships, where he won gold. Gitinov is ranked No. 1 in the IMMAF pound-for-pound list, and it’s hard to see anyone taking that spot from him in the near future.
The 21-year-old Jordanian has been training in martial arts since the age of five and his talent is backed by showmanship. At last year’s World Cup in Prague, Kayali could be seen talking to her opponents and chatting with the camera en route to winning the middleweight gold medal. The BJJ-brown, who speaks four languages, will look to cement his status as a rising MMA prospect with a world championship title.
Sabrina Laurentina De Sousa
De Sousa is the reigning women’s featherweight champion and fights on Team Bahrain. Born in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, De Sousa moved to Bahrain to train full time as a mixed martial artist, and so far the experience is paying off. The 21-year-old is 7-0, and her team at KHK MMA firmly believes she will end up being one of the best fighters in the women’s pro ranks.
Watch out for a potential showdown between De Sousa and New Zealand’s Michelle Montague. The New Zealand fighter is the current lightweight world champion but recently moved up to featherweight. She and Sousa fought in the semi-finals at the European Open, with De Sousa picking up the win. However, Montague was limited in what she could do after a first-round leg injury. A rematch between the two would be one of the most anticipated fights of the tournament.
The two-time strawweight world champion will be looking to make history this week by becoming the first fighter to win three world titles. The mixed martial artist from Kazakhstan is 8-0 and an explosive stand-up game. The 25-year-old won the 2020 IMMAF Senior Male Athlete of the Year award, and after this tournament he will be looking to move up the professional ranks.
If you want to catch all the action this week, head over to IMMAF-TV to see the fights live and in replay.