The Amateur MMA scene produced a wealth of diversity on a global scale in 2016, with standouts from around the world establishing themselves on the competitive platform of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF), the international governing body of Amateur MMA.
With an abundance of names to choose from, we have listed just 10 of the most exciting Amateur MMA prospects worth watching out for in 2017.
Top 10: Amateur MMA prospects to watch out for in 2017
10. Akonne Wanliss (UK)
Achievements: BAMMA/UKMMAF National Welterweight Tournament winner (2016)
Midlands man Akonne Wanliss burst onto the national scene last year, blitzing three opponents in two days with clinical ferocity in the Welterweight division of the BAMMA/UKMMAF National Championship Tournament.
In July the exciting talent represented Team UK at the 2016 IMMAF World Amateur Championships in Las Vegas. After securing two stoppage victories, including a submission of 2015 European Open Bronze medalist Jorgen Indsetviken, Wanliss suffered his first loss in the quarter-finals, falling victim to the leg kicks of Irish kickboxing specialist Cian Cowley.
With time Wanliss will benefit greatly from amateur experience before one day starting fresh and ready as a pro. Post Vegas he wasted no time in making his way to Dublin having been welcomed to train among the SBG Ireland ranks, and has worked extensively on the holes that were exposed.
Wanliss is set to return to action on February 25th having recovered from an injury that saw him miss out on IMMAF’s 2016 European Open in Prague.
9. David Fogarty (Republic of Ireland)
Achievements: IMMAF World Flyweight Silver medalist (2016), IMMAF European Open Flyweight Silver medalist (2016), IMMAF European Open Flyweight Bronze medalist (2015)
Having been forced to settle for Silver twice in 2016 at the IMMAF Worlds and European Open Championships in highly competitive battles, Irish Flyweight David Fogarty will no doubt be one of the most determined amateur competitors heading into the 2017 calendar as he pursues the elusive Gold.
As an accomplished BJJ practitioner Fogarty has proven himself to be highly dangerous on the ground and will gladly pull guard with great instincts for setting up triangle chokes and armbars in addition to having the awareness to pounce for a transition at any opening. In September Fogarty took a short break from his duties as a fight photographer for BAMMA to compete on the promotion’s Dublin card in what was highly publicized amateur appearance.
8. Egill Hjordisarson (Iceland)
Achievements: IMMAF European Open Light-Heavyweight Champion (2016)
Light-Heavyweight Egill Hjordisarson embodies the fierce viking passion that lies within the calm exterior of Iceland’s National Amateur MMA team. “The White Walker,” alongside all Icelandic competitors, is a product of the famed Mjölnir MMA gym, the nation’s sole training facility for MMA. After a strong start to his amateur career, going 3-0 on shows in Italy and the UK, he entered the 2015 IMMAF European Open.
Top Bulgarian competitor Tencho Karaenev defeated Hjordisarson via submission in the second round of the 205lb tournament, but the 2016 European Open produced a rematch in the semi-finals where Hjordisarson avenged his only loss with a Brabo Choke submission. Hjordisarson went on to claim the Gold with a rear-naked-choke submission over heavy hitting Polish rival Pawel Zakrzewski.
7. Byron Chivers (New Zealand)
Accomplishments: IMMAF World Middleweight Champion (2016)
Middleweight competitor Byron Chivers swept through Las Vegas like a hurricane at the 2016 IMMAF World Championships, snatching Gold at just 19 years of age. With experience in amateur Muay Thai, the fiery young prospect bested opponents from Poland, Ireland and the UK as he progressed.
He turned heads in the semi-finals with a TKO victory over Sweden’s 2015 European Open champion, Rostem Akman. In the World Championship final, taking place at the UFC 200 Fan Expo, “Young Blood” fought like a man possessed in securing a Unanimous Decision victory over the USA’s Dallas Jennings.
In the moments leading up to the final, Chivers was honored by the entire New Zealand team with a performance of the Haka in front of the IMMAF medal podium where the iconic Nogueira Brothers stood watching. Earlier this month it was revealed that Jennings failed his post-fight drug test, and admitted to use of multiple PEDs, thus making Chivers’ unrelenting performance that much more impressive.
6. Gabriella Ringblom (Sweden)
Accomplishments: IMMAF World Flyweight Champion (2016), IMMAF Africa Open Flyweight Champion (2016), IMMAF European Open Flyweight Silver medalist (2016), IMMAF European Open Bantamweight Silver medalist (2015), No.1 ranked Amateur pound-for-pound, No.1 ranked Women’s Flyweight
The top ranked pound-for-pound fighter in Amateur MMA, Gabriella Ringblom showcased fine form as a Flyweight in 2016 following the disappointment of just falling short of Bantamweight Gold at the 2015 European Open.
Throughout 2016 Ringblom was relatively untouchable. As a well educated boxer who stays on the move and changes angles, she switched it up at the 2016 World Championships and showcased her wrestling.
Ringblom advanced to the final by forcing her opponents against the fence and keeping them well and truly pinned to the mat; a disciplined tactic that ensured she remained fresh throughout the week long tournament format before out-performing Finland’s Anette Osterberg in the final. She would later win the Africa Open crown in Johannesburg.
European Open Gold eluded Ringblom once again at the 2016 final in Prague where she suffered a shock defeat to Hungarian Alexandra Kovacs. It will be compelling to see how the World Champion responds in March at the 2017 European Open in Sofia, Bulgaria.
5. Cornelia Holm (Sweden)
Accomplishments: IMMAF World Bantamweight Champion (2016), IMMAF European Open Bantamweight Champion (2016), Swedish National Bantamweight Champion (2016), IMMAF European Open Featherweight Silver medalist (2015), No.1 ranked Women’s Bantamweight, No.3 ranked Amateur pound-for-pound
There are many Swedes who could have featured on this list (Smajic, Altas, Akman, Schalander, to name a few), but Cornelia Holm rocked the world of Amateur MMA in 2016 with an undefeated year spanning seven fights.
Holm reached top form as a Bantamweight competitor and only grew stronger as the year progressed. Whether she’s applying the pressure as an in-your-face grinder or moving in and out on her feet, Holm will break down her opponents. Last May she showed diversity against familiar foe Camilla Mannes, first battling the top Norwegian standout under the banner of UK promotion BCMMA where a mostly striking duel was ended as Holm pinned Mannes against the fence and landed a crippling knee to the body.
The duo faced off for a second time in the Women’s Bantamweight final of the IMMAF Worlds where Holm took over with takedown after takedown. The Swede has displayed a solid chin and remains impressively focused on her goal, never shying away from a shot in order to get on the inside.
4. Alexandra Toncheva (Bulgaria)
Accomplishments: IMMAF World Strawweight Champion (2016), IMMAF European Open Strawweight Champion (2015, 2016), No.1 ranked Women’s Strawweight, No.2 ranked Amateur pound-for-pound.
The success of Bulgaria on the IMMAF platform has seen their national team honored with sports awards and media appearances on national television. Like the Swedish, there are several Bulgarian champions worth mentioning (Osmanov, Galabarov, Nikolov), however the whirlwind of Women’s MMA, Alexandra Toncheva, has led the way as the nation’s most decorated star remaining undefeated with three consecutive Gold medals and no signs of slowing.
Toncheva possesses and energy like no other, she first took Gold at the 2015 IMMAF European Open and showcased a thrilling gas tank and wildness reminiscent of Clay Guida with a constant pace that simply couldn’t be matched. In 2016 she harnessed a more predatory grappling offence, overwhelming her opponents on the ground and forcing submissions from the dominant position to take Gold at both the World and European Open Championships.
3. Leah McCourt (Northern Ireland)
Accomplishments: IMMAF World Featherweight Champion (2016), IMMAF European Open Lightweight Champion (2015), No.1 ranked Women’s Featherweight, No.9 ranked Amateur pound-for-pound
Another fighter whose amateur accomplishments prompted recognition from national mainstream media; Northern Ireland’s Leah McCourt has established herself as one of the biggest emerging prospects in the world. After winning the 2015 European Open Gold at 155lbs in the UK, McCourt entered the 2016 IMMAF Worlds, representing the Ulster Amateur MMA Federation, in the much deeper Featherweight division.
Once again McCourt showed off her classy BJJ skills en route to earning Amateur MMA’s biggest prize. Belfast’s top prospect missed out on the European Open in November, instead she picked up no-gi grappling Gold at the IBJJF World Championships in San Francisco. McCourt could well be the next big Irish star, but for now her hiatus from MMA competition continues and we eagerly await her next move.
2. Alexandra Kovacs (Hungary)
Accomplishments: IMMAF European Open Champion (2016)
Kempo veteran Alexandra Kovacs stunned the world of Amateur MMA in just her first appearance on the IMMAF platform. With Sweden’s Ringblom considered as the out and out favourite for the Women’s Flyweight title at the European Open, Kovacs remained under the radar even when plowing through France’s Danni Neilen with a first round rear-naked-choke submission following a perfectly executed throw. She further impressed in the semi-finals by out-pointing Finnish standup enthusiast and World Silver medalist Anette Osterberg.
In the final, Kovacs’ powerful striking offense stifled Ringblom’s rhythm. In the second round she peppered the Swede with a series of uninterpreted shots followed shortly after by an imposing counter right hand. The force stunned Ringblom and left the world champion unable to regain composure before falling to a TKO stoppage. Having given a taster of her power, Kovacs is arguably the most compelling name to look out for in March.
1. Will Starks (USA)
Accomplishments: IMMAF World Welterweight Champion (2015, 2016), USA National Champion (2015)
Will Starks is the USA’s biggest amateur prospect since the trailblazing Jose Torres. His transition to professional MMA is all but set in stone as he prepares for a pro debut on January 21 under the banner of standout US promotion Titan FC, a notable feeder platform to the UFC. Starks is one of just two athletes to win back-to-back IMMAF world titles (the other being Torres), and did so with a rounded display showcasing athleticism in his striking, but with the difference maker being his forceful takedowns and wrestling.
After advancing to the 170lb final in each World Championship, Starks faced off against top Canadian amateur Alexander Martinez in tremendous bouts that went the distance. You can watch their 2015 final on Youtube.