Las Vegas-Some of the members of Team Canada after the tournament. Pictured: (from left to right) Top row-Kyle Francotti, Vince Gentile, Bill Mahood, Kajan Johnson, Lee Mein, Shane Weaver and Luis Martinez. Bottom row-Sambath Khun, Jarrett Vornbrock, John Nguyen and Alex Martinez. Photo by Buckley Smith.
Las Vegas-The recent 2016 IMMAF Amateur MMA World Championships in Las Vegas wrapped up this past Sunday, July the 10th. And for Team Canada, the tournament ended much the same way it went for them all week; in heartbreak.
With only one fight on the final day, as Alex Martinez had advanced to the gold medal match in his weight class, all eyes were on Martinez.
In a rematch of last years gold medal bout against William Starks of the USA, Martinez put up a great fight but ultimately fell short for a second straight year.
After a first round in which he dominated by keeping his opponent at a distance and working his superior striking game, the tables turned in the second round as Starks took things to the ground.
This seemed to expose a weakness in Martinez’s game, as Starks really took the match over, giving Martinez no chance to play to his strengths.
The match ended up going the full three rounds, and the judges decision was ultimately given unanimously to Starks, giving him his 2nd straight gold medal at the World Championships.
There was definitely no shame in losing for Martinez, as he had lost to the best of the best in his weight class, and in fact, Starks actually signed on to a pro contract just days after his fight with Titan FC (for an article on that click here).
But despite the lack of good results, the tournament was a great experience for all involved, and to a man each fighter expressed that they had learnt a great deal from fighting in it.
“It was great, I learnt a lot from fighting in this tournament,” said Team Canada fighter, Brittney Allan. “It just gave me a little more insight into the details, and gave me a perspective of what i need to work on before i fight again.”
And while many of the fighters discovered things in their physical game that needed improvement, more widespread was the awareness of a need to improve their mental game, something one of their coaches, Kajan Johnson, preached highly.
“To perform under this vast amount of pressure, I would say just really try to let all that extra stuff go,” said Johnson, who also fights in the UFC and was a former contestant on The Ultimate Fighter: Canada versus Australia. “Let go of any of the hopes you have of what you may achieve, any of the people surrounding you that are gunning for you in this tournament. None of that really exists once you get in there. If they can achieve that, then they are just doing martial arts.”
Kyle Francotti, a heavyweight fighter for Team Canada, explained why he thought this tournament plays in well when fighters are trying to learn how to block out those distractions.
“Normally at a fight there is so much production value and time spent into hyping up the fan, that a fighter can actually get themselves pretty worked up,” said Francotti. “At the IMMAF tournament there are so many fights going on, and it is so busy, that you only have to focus on yourself and your warm up.”
Not getting as far as she would like, and hoping to come back next year and do better, this point was not lost on Allan.
“I’ve learnt I kind of have to block people out,” said Allan.” I don’t know if I was as focused as I should have been right off the bat.”
And Allan was not the only one to voice these concerns, as John Nguyen of Team Canada felt much the same way.
“Its a learning experience. I mostly need to improve on the mental game,” said Nguyen. “I have just got to tune something in my head.”
Las Vegas-Alex Martinez (far left) stands on the podium beside his fellow medal winners. Photo by Buckley Smith.
For fighters on Team Canada returning to this tournament for a second time, like Alex Martinez and Sambath Khun, they said they could already feel a difference in their mental game from one year to the next.
“I used to be very emotional and very passionate and I used to have this fear that tells me that I suck. It always used to give me a big pump before my fight and I used to fight very rough,” said Martinez. “Now I’m so calm and I don’t get that pump. But do I need that pump to win? Do I need that fear to win? Now I’m just becoming very experienced and I’m starting to feel comfortable, almost like I’m just training.”
While it might seem obvious that doing something a second time would help you improve, Kajan Johnson could not stress enough the importance of being able to participate for a second time.
“Anytime you experience something once, it’s usually much easier the second time, unless the first time was a very traumatic experience. But both of them (Alex Martinez and Sambath Khun) had very positive experiences in this tournament,” said Johnson. “They have been here, they have had the hype leading up to this, they have seen the crowd, they have been at fight week, they have experienced Las Vegas. That plays wonders, and it just helps you let go of all that stuff much easier.”
Along with improving their own talents through the experience of the tournament, the fighters that were coming back for a 2nd time were more than happy to pass that knowledge along to their fellow brawlers, which Francotti found quite useful.
“I had a pretty good understanding of how big it was going to be from Alex Martinez, Luis (the father and coach of Alex Martinez) and Bill Mahood (the president of the Canadian Combat Alliance as well as a coach for the team) sharing their experience from last year,” said Francotti. “But I was still incredibly impressed when I saw it for myself.”
For some fighters participating in this tournament against the best the world has to offer can be a bit of a reality check. Francotti says it can be a true measure of what the competition out there is like.
“The IMMAF World Championships is the closest that an amateur MMA fighter is going to get to the Olympics,” said Francotti. “And the winners truly are the best in the world.”
Truly understanding the skill that the world has to offer and experiencing the level of competition on the world stage can sometimes change a fighters mind on his decision of when to go pro, as it did with Jarrett Vornbrock.
“Coming into this tournament I was thinking that I would come here and rock it and then look to go pro right afterwards,” said Vornbrock. “But this has kind of changed that for me. Now I feel I should work on coming back next year better than this year, and we will see about going pro after that.”
Despite all the lessons that could be learnt from this event, it is also important to note that you can learn something even more vital: trusting in the skills you already have.
“This tournament has taught me that I am capable of competing on a world class level,” said Vornbrock. “And that I should be confident in my skills.”
Not satisfied with their single medal, a silver for Martinez, Team Canada is aiming to come back next year for some more medals, hopefully including some golds.
So with better representation hopefully (more on that later), as well as the fighters they do already have going through the experience this tournament has to offer, Canada can look forward to a team next year that will be stronger, better and more ready to kick some ass then ever before.