Cape Town — It’s still “all systems go” for Team South Africa ahead of the IMMAF World Championships in January next year.
Despite some nations taking bold steps to impose travel bans on South Africa after the country’s scientists alerted the World Health Organisation to the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, Mzansi’s finest and most fortunate amateur mixed martial arts stars can still get excited about representing SA at the 2021 International Mixed Martial Arts World Championships in Abu Dhabi next year.
The long-awaited championships were rescheduled after plans to host it in Kazakhstan in November this year fell through due to ongoing Covid-19 pandemic complications.
Now, after successfully proving their mettle at the nationals in March earlier this year, a group of SA athletes will fly to the IMMAF World Championships, which are now set to take place from 24-29 January at the Jiu-Jitsu Arena in Zayed Sports City near Yas Island — the famous home of the UFC’s Fight Island.
Despite the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States and several other nations placing travel bans to and from South Africa, Abu Dhabi will welcome a team of 18 SA mixed martial artists, who will put their skills to the test against the world’s best amateur athletes in the men and women’s junior and senior categories.
A big feather in the cap of Mixed Martial Arts SA is the development of more female athletes.
“In 2019, we had a single female athlete in Ceileigh Niedermayr (now an undefeated professional) at the worlds — this year, we have five deserving female athletes in the team. The growth of mixed martial arts is huge and we are excited to see how widespread the reach has become,” said head coach William Oberholzer, who forms part of a four-man and woman team that includes Maria Brown (team manager), Michael Mouneimne (coach) and Dallas Jakobi (coach).
The five female athletes include Nicole van Wyk (junior), Demi-lee van Zyl (junior), Carissa Botha (junior), Peyton Letcher and Mischka Laubscher (senior).
“It is great that we now have a set date and confirmed venue for the world champs. The past 18 months have been very challenging — the pandemic threw all the previous plans and time frames out the window,” said Oberholzer.
“For these young athletes to experience competing overseas against the best the world has to offer is an incredibly exciting privilege and honour. Preparing over the festive season is going to be challenging, but the squad is focused on performing come January 2022.”
With the 2020 world championships being called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Vuyo Jula and Francois Meyer are the only current squad members who formed part of the Bahrain 2019 squad.
“We are fortunate to have athletes like Francois and Vuyo, who have both been before and come with a wealth of experience (both also won gold at this year’s SA national championships),” said Oberholzer.
The opportunity to compete at the world championships is a huge one that could open many doors.
“Every year at worlds you see the level of competition increase with new standards continuously being set. There is a reason why many of these amateur athletes get signed to major promotions like the UFC and Bellator once they turn professional,” Oberholzer said.
One of SA’s biggest challenges is the lack of funding, though.
MMA SA is a non-profit organisation and association appointed by Sascoc and affiliated to MASA (Martial Arts SA), and with mixed martial arts still battling to get funding from government, athletes need to find their own funding and sponsors to make trips to events happen.
Oberholzer confirmed that each athlete would need roughly R30 000 to cover all costs (food, accommodation, flights, travel insurance and fight-gear for the trip).
* Should you wish to sponsor or want any further details please contact either Oberholzer on 082 929 9279 or Brown on 071 889 7983.
You could also use these banking details should you wish to assist: Mixed Martial Arts FNB — Menlyn Park Branch code: 252645 Account number 62409831204