Mixed Martial Arts is expected to reach the next level in the UAE after the national team’s gold medal-winning debut at the International MMA Federation’s Youth World Championships in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE bagged one gold, a silver and two bronze medals in their first appearance at the championships that drew a record 486 athletes from 41 nations.
Jasem Al Hosani became the UAE's first world champion in the Youth Worlds. Abdulla Al Darmaki clinched silver while Zayed Al Hammadi and Zayed Al Dhabari took home a bronze each during the championships that were held at the Jiu-Jitsu Arena from August 17 to 20.
Mohammed Al Hosani, secretary general of the UAE MMA Committee, drew similarities between the Youth Worlds and the inaugural Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
Back in 2009, jiu-jitsu star Faisal Al Ketbi struck gold, with President Sheikh Mohamed attending the event. That moment heralded the rise in popularity of jiu-jitsu in the UAE, with more than 200,000 Emiratis in all age groups and levels practising the martial art now.
“That was the first time His Highness attended a jiu-jitsu event and it gave the legitimacy to the martial art sport to explode in the country, region and across the world,” Al Hosani told The National.
“We had three weeks to prepare a national team comprising 27 boys and a girl for the IMMAF Youth Worlds and next year we plan to have the maximum two athletes entered in every age and weight division of this championships.”
Abu Dhabi has signed a three-year deal with the IMMAF to stage the Youth World Championships until 2024 and Al Hosani is confident both quality and quantity will improve next year.
The Youth Worlds is the second IMMAF event to be staged after the World Senior and Junior Championships that were held in January after Kazakhstan couldn’t host the tournament due to the pandemic.
According to Al Hosani, plans for next year's competition are in place.
“We want to conduct a few local tournaments, arrange more conditioning and training camps, select a bigger pool of athletes to have them ready for the 2023 Youth Worlds,” he said.
“We have a massive pool of athletes in various combat sports in the country and the good thing is that everyone has a place in MMA. We only need to have the cooperation of all the federations and work as a team.
“At the end of the day we all have a common goal in raising the flag of the UAE, no matter in which discipline.”
Al Hosani is aware no federation wants to lose their athletes to another discipline. However, he believes that given the large pool of athletes in combat sports, some can easily make the switch to MMA.
“For instance, we have more than 200,000 athletes practising jiu-jitsu and only the elite can go on to represent the national team,” Al Hosani explained.
“There are a lot of talented fighters in jiu-jitsu who can’t find a place in the national team. What do we do with these guys?
“Let’s get them into MMA. Let us get them busy while they wait for their turn to get into the national teams. There is a lot of room for those who can’t make it into the elite level and they certainly can find a place in MMA.
“Jiu-jitsu has proved to us that there is no rivalry in encouraging their athletes to cross over to MMA. Those who won medals for the UAE at the Youth Worlds are from the jiu-jitsu production lines.
“In future, we believe we can come to some sort of compromise to allow athletes from other combat sports to move into MMA. We can’t bring all these federations together but we can certainly coordinate and come to an understanding.
“It’s a very sensitive subject to bring these combat sports together because the world governing bodies of these sports don’t want to lose their athletes to another discipline.”
Al Hosani has been a big fan of MMA from his childhood days and was the Arabic commentator during the inaugural Abu Dhabi World Pro. The following year, he called the first UFC fight card in Abu Dhabi.
“We didn’t have many Arabic speaking people to commentate on the complicated moves in MMA sport. The UFC provided me that opportunity and I have been involved in MMA until today,” he said.
Ukraine topped the medals table at the Youth World Championships with eight golds, 14 silvers and 10 bronze medals followed by the USA (8g, 6s, 13b) and Tajikistan (7g, 5s, 9b).