IFMA World Championships – The best competition no one is talking about!
UK Number one and Muay Thai Blog contributor Juan Cervantes recently ventured out to the IFMA World Championships and upon his return he felt the need to post something covering his experiences and feelings. The competition out there is incredible and I won’t delve in to it too far because I want Juan’s article to hit home just how important the IFMA World Championships are. But… to put how tough the competition is at the IFMAs then let me tell you this… the only time Juan has lost in the last 3 years has been at the IFMAs, and that’s an 11 fight win streak in between including some of the best in the UK.
Muay Thai Blog will be writing a follow up article about the UKMF and entrance into the Junior Championships that are taking place on 3rd June in Cheshire! Juan speaks more about the UKMF and who they are and what they do so make sure you give this awesome feature article a read!
Once a year, there’s a tournament where top fighters from all over the world come together, representing their respective countries. They compete over 10 days, and depending on the draw and the amount of fighters in their weight category, fight up to 5 or 6 times to get to the final. Some of the best fighters in the world compete, yet no one in England talks about this tournament. Perhaps it’s because there’s no money in it, and as we all know, Thai boxers in England earn a fortune. Or, perhaps it’s because you have to wear shinguards, elbow pads and headgear, and as we all know in England, fighting in head guards and shinguards is for the softies.
It’s called the IFMA World Championships. Now, technically, it’s amateur world championships, but it’s far from amateur. Thailand had Superbon Banchamek and Thonchai Sitsongpeenong on their team. Belarus have superstars who’ve dominated the IFMAs as well as the professional scene over the last 5-10 years, such as Andrei Kulebin, Dimitri Varats and Dimitri Valent, regularly fighting in the IFMAs. Kulebin wasn’t fighting this year, but Varats and Valent where.
If you want one of the biggest challenges in this sport, then the IFMAs are for you. You’ve got no idea who you’ll be fighting, but it could well be one of the world’s greats. The first few days are torture as the draw is so hectic you often don’t know whether you’re fighting the next day until about midnight. It’s same day weigh-ins 7-9am in the mornings, so you can’t cut a lot of weight, especially in a tournament format where you’d have to repeat this process multiple times in a week. The padding is pretty thin so you’re still fairly banged up after a tough fight, and if you win you might have to fight again the very next day. To add more to the unknown, you can never know exactly what the judges are looking for, as you’ve got different judges from all over the world who might be looking for slightly different things, so to ensure you win you have to go out and make sure it’s seriously convincing. When you consider all this, and imagine doing this 4-5 times over 7-10 days, fighting some of the best in the world in your weight category, surely a gold medal at the IFMAs has got to be one of the biggest achievements in Thai Boxing.
You get some mismatches in the first few days, which can’t be helped. Like any tournament of this scale, there are some countries, and their fighters, which might be a bit behind. Semi-final and final days, however, are awesome! I’ll always remember the 91+ semi-final between Belarus and Iran. Early on it looked like the athletic heavyweight Belarusian was going to walk through the shorter, chubbier man. But the Iranian showed huge heart, slowly pulling the fight back and winning by stoppage in the 3rd with a left body shot, right hook to the chin combo which sent the crowd wild. Other memorable fights were Dimitri Varats v Thailand in the 67kg final, and Thoncghai of Thailand v Dimitri Valent of Belarus in 81kg final. Both fights could’ve been on the main event of any pro card around the world.
With the recent IOC recognition of MuayThai, and the links IFMA has with the IOC, there are some exciting times ahead. It looks fairly certain MuayThai will be a demo sport in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games, and the IFMA world championships are a great representation of what it could, and should in my opinion look like. It’s tull Thai rules, just with a little padding, it’s not watered down. 3×3 minute rounds makes for a fast exciting pace. You have to fight with urgency from the start. There’s no walkout, you just jump in the ring when your name is called, quickly seal the ring, are encouraged to do your wai kru quickly if you want to do one, and get on with it. All of this is essential for the bigger picture in making the sport more mainstream and entertaining for the casual fight fan. The casual fight fan doesn’t really want to watch a wai kru, and definitely doesn’t want to watch the first 2 rounds of fighters tapping their feet, pulling their shorts up, pouting and throwing the a couple of teeps or body kicks per minute. The casual fight fan wants to see 2 people relentlessly punch, kick, knee, elbow and clinch each other. He/she doesn’t care about the scoring system influenced by gambling in Thailand, where the first 2 rounds don’t score and apparently whoever wins round 4 wins the fight. He/she wants to see on the board who wins each round with he 10/9 system. If you win 2 out of 3 rounds you win the fight, it’s basic maths that anyone can understand.
Another good thing about the IFMA rule set is it gets everyone fighting full Thai rules earlier. Many countries just have an amateur and pro system, with amateurs fighting IFMA rules with head guards etc, and pros fighting A Class as we know it in the UK. This is far better than the C, B and A class system most shows at home use. Let’s be honest, C and B Class are closer to kickboxing than MuayThai. I remember having my first A Class fight after about 15 C and B Class fights, and the introduction of elbows changed everything. Fighters would be much better prepared for full Thai rules with and amateur and pro system. I know there are a few shows adopting variations of the IFMA rules, but I’d like to see more.
There are a number of reasons why the UK has never really had a strong team out at the IFMAs as of yet. A lack of funding doesn’t help, but this is sure to change with IOC recognition increasing the chance of Sport England funding. There’s also the absence of a universal governing body in the UK. The UKMTF is the governing body IFMA uses. They are now working tirelessly to pull this together to get a fully funded team out to Cancun in May 2018. Regional trials will be starting across the country soon, leading to national finals later down the line, so keep an eye out. I’d urge anyone who believes they’re a good Thai Boxer or hot prospect to turn up to their regional trials and have a go. The more people turn up, the more money is raised and the bigger and better team the UK can send out.
If you make the team, you won’t get paid to fight at the IFMAs, but bar a few exceptions, fighters in the UK are fighting for pennies anyway. What you could get is a fully funded trip to the IFMAs in Cancun next year, and a priceless opportunity to fight in one of the best tournaments in the world, and be part of the movement that is pushing for Muay Thai in the Olympics.
While we’re at it, imagine Muay Thai does get into the Olympics, by which time the UK has a strong team and gets a bunch of medals. That, ladies and gentlemen, is when the mainstream money could start flowing into the professional game, with sky broadcasts and everything else that has to come with the big money and popularity. Or we could carry on as we are and get left in the dark by the countries that take the IFMAs seriously.