Team England has had its most successful IMMAF competition ever, winning two gold, two silver, and four bronze medals at the European Championships. The eight-medal haul places England third out of thirty-two countries.
George Staines won gold in the Lightweight division with a near-flawless performance. The all-England final between Millie-Rae Vardy and Lisa Zimmo was sadly cancelled due to a knee injury. And Summer Onley lost via armbar to Cecilie Bolander – an IMMAF veteran.
Head Coach, Paul Kelly, said:
“Eight medals – two golds, two silvers, four bronze… Now we have the best in Europe, and will hopefully go on to be the best in the world.”
Finals day began with the disappointing news that Millie-Rae Vardy and Lisa Zimmo would not meet in the Lightweight final. Lisa injured her knee in her match the day before and was limping badly. Coupled with a bad cut to her face, the IMMAF medical team prevented her from stepping into the cage. This meant Millie-Rae won the gold medal by default. Millie said:
“I’m a bit disappointed, but I secured the gold in my first IMMAF competition, so I’m super proud of myself. Two wins, two matches, fighting twice in two days – I’m chuffed to bits.”
Millie gave an emotional interview earlier in the week, sharing her struggles with self-belief. After winning gold, she reflected:
“Two wins in two days has really boosted my confidence and I’m finally starting to believe in myself. If I can do that without believing in myself, just imagine what I can achieve when I come home as European champion.”
After winning her semi-final bout via armbar, Summer Onley set up an exciting final between herself and Cecilie Bolander – the IMMAF World Featherweight silver medallist. Unfortunately, the fight didn’t last long. After clinching against the cage, Bolander used a beautiful Judo throw and isolated Summer’s right arm. She quickly transitioned to an armbar and Summer was forced to tap. In a beautiful display of humility on her way out of the cage, Summer said with a smirk, “I guess I’m not the armbar Queen.”
Then it was time for George Staines’ Lightweight final. George was a medal favourite coming into the competition and had dominated in his semi-final bout. He faced Ivan Kurelaru from Ukraine, the Prague World Cup gold medallist. Kurelaru’s game plan was clear – wrestle. George spent three rounds fending off a variety of takedown attempts and had to work hard to stay off the cage. George had a clear advantage while striking, landing consistently and doing damage. After three rounds of tense action, George’s hand was raised in a unanimous decision.
In his post-fight interview, he said:
“It means a lot to be the European Champion… This is the creme de la creme; this is the best. And until you’ve done an IMMAF, or won an IMMAF, you are not the best. And I have proved I’m the best in Europe and one of the best in the world, undoubtedly.”
George’s Dad Paul (the man in the incredible photograph by Lee Hamilton-Cooper) has supported George throughout his MMA career. The father and son shared an emotional embrace after the result was read. Through tears, George shared what he said:
“I said ‘I f***** love you.’ He helps me so much. I just want to make him so proud…”
Paul Reed, the EMMAA Vice President, was in George’s corner for all of his fights over the week. He said:
“He’s done the team proud… He came through a tough fight, and probably the last round he made a couple of tiny errors, but apart from that, the lad’s been inch perfect all the way through. He deserves the gold all day long. It’ll be interesting to see where his career goes now.”
Also in George’s corner was EMMAA coach Dan Cassell. Dan commented:
“They always say about great athletes and great teams is that they can win on perhaps not their best days. The first two fights I don’t think were half of George Staines’ full potential, the last two fights he was absolutely there. He’s a real talent and he’s been an absolute pleasure to work with.”
Head Coach Paul Kelly lead this English team to their most successful IMMAF competition ever. He reflected on the competition as a whole:
“For us to have an IMMAF Champion at the European level is obviously very important. We’re out there, and these guys are fighting as individuals, but you can see today from England that it’s all about the team. Everybody out there shouting behind George, shouting his name, shouting support for him – that’s what this team is about. Eight medals – two golds, two silvers, four bronze… Now we have the best in Europe, and will hopefully go on to be the best in the world.”
At the end of his interview, George Staines, the greatest amateur Lightweight in Europe, had a word of wisdom to share with us all:
“Let’s go. And may the force be with you.”
(Image by Lee-Hamilton Cooper.)