For some young MMA athletes, finding the time to devote to training is one of the biggest hurdles stopping them from pursuing a career in the sport. For others, like Irish amateur Darren “The Dazzler” Kirwan, ensuring they find the time simply makes them stronger.

“Given that I had a full-time job and two young kids, it was a challenge sometimes to make the time to train as much as some others, but if you want to do something, then you will make the time,” says Kirwan, who will be one of over 100 athletes competing at this week’s GAMMA European Championships in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Kirwan, who fights out of the Shaolin MMA club in his hometown of Galway, is excited to be taking part in the Europeans and credits GAMMA for providing the structure and opportunity for amateur MMA athletes around Europe and across the globe.

“It’s really important to have a solid amateur federation such as GAMMA around these days for future fighters coming through in their development,” he says. “It’s a huge help and good motivation for athletes, especially with the lack of national shows going on in Ireland within the last two years due to COVID restrictions.”

The 32-year-old says he first became interested in mixed martial arts when he stumbled across a bout featuring American middleweight champion Nick Diaz on TV. Kirwan was instantly transfixed and says he was curious to find out more about the sport, which eventually led him to take up the sport of boxing. After a few years as a fledgling pugilist, Kirwan made the transition into MMA, where he continues to hone his craft despite his heavy workload and family commitments.

The Irish amateur says he appreciates the support GAMMA Ireland has provided young athletes like himself, in particular with platforms such as national championships that not only provide a solid goal to work toward but can act as a great springboard into other events such as the GAMMA European and World Championships, among others.

“I would definitely recommend this type of competition to young aspiring athletes as it is a chance to gain some great experience against top competition from all over Europe,” he says. “So it’s a great opportunity to test yourself and grow as a fighter and as a person.”

Having been in combat sports for a dozen years, Kirwan now plays a mentorship role with younger athletes just getting into MMA. Having persevered through many difficulties of his own and refused to make any excuses, his advice to his more youthful peers is succinct and to the point.

“My advice to young talents coming through these tougher times would be: Keep going, never give up, trust the process and most importantly, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!”

The GAMMA European Championships will take place from 5-9 November in Kyiv. Over 120 athletes from 15 countries have already registered, making it the largest amateur MMA event in Europe since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A month later, from 7-11 December, the world’s best amateur MMA athletes from over 100 countries will converge on Berlin for the GAMMA World Championships.