Recently the IOC reported that wrestling would be dropped from the 2020 Summer Olympic games. The decision was responded to with some backlash. While this doesn’t mean that combat sports will be dropped from the Olympics altogether (there is still Judo and Tae Kwon Do, Boxing), it was a bit of a blow to the recent notion that perhaps mixed martial arts has a place in the world’s oldest organized sporting event. The question I ask myself now, with wrestling being eliminated from the Olympic games, is whether or not there is a place for MMA in the Olympics?
Relative to other major sports, including those currently included in the Olympics, MMA is relatively young. The first major organized MMA tournament didn’t occur until 1993 at UFC 1 – and this tournament wasn’t necessarily even a true MMA event – it was a match-up of martial artists from different disciplines. Everything said, since UFC 1 the sport has evolved both in terms of definition and popularity. Should novelty of a sport dictate whether or not it is included in the games? Not a chance. While the concept of “mixed martial arts” is relatively new, the components of the sport are amongst the oldest in the world. Wresting itself is one of the oldest forms of sport known to man, harkening back to the original Greek games. Jiujitsu, karate, boxing to name a few have all been practiced in countries across the world for hundreds of years – much longer than other mainstay staples in the Olympics such as, Hockey, Bobsleigh, Skiing, Sailing and Basketball. MMA is simply a newer hybrid of a number of different older sports.
Some people argue that the violence of MMA will hinder it from making the Olympic stage. I tend to disagree with these voices, and contest that they have never watched an Olympic Jiujitsu or Boxing match. People are knocked-out and bloodied all the time – no different than what you see at a Saturday night MMA event. I think saying the sport is “too violent” is ridiculous. People are hurt and injured in every sport, just maybe with not so much dramatic flair as you see in MMA (ask Greg Louganis).
With wrestling being eliminated from the Olympics it does create something of a paradox for the potential addition of MMA to the itinerary. Given that wrestling is a critical element of MMA, there must be some allowance for this if MMA is ever to become a sanctioned Olympic sport. Knowing that wrestling is a blended element within the sport of MMA and not the sole component – I really don’t see how one could argue that it should not be included based on the disclusion of another sport. That being said, I don’t Wrestling being excluded from the Olympics for long.
The other roadblock is the “professional” vs. “amateur” argument. Would Dana White let all of his top-level athletes take the risk of being injured to compete on the stage of international sport? Everyone remembers the infamous contract roadblock between the UFC and M-1. Dana White was trying to get Fedor Emilianenko into the UFC; Fedor would not come to the UFC (originally) because the UFC would not allow him to participate in international Sambo tournaments if he was obligated to the UFC. Well, I personally think White/ZUFFA would allow for their fighters to compete in Olympic sport. Let’s be honest, it’s great exposure for the sport, and having the top athletes show the true beauty of the sport to millions around the world would do nothing but benefit the world’s largest promotion of the sport (re: the UFC). Dana White has also been an outspoken advocate of introducing MMA into the Olympics more recently. Even in the Fedor case, White eventually changed his stance (although to no avail).
One final argument is the scheduling of events. The current typical MMA athlete only fights three or four times a year, given the intense physical pressures of the sport. Could an MMA fighter handle fighting three times potentially over a few weeks? Why the hell not?! In the original UFC tournaments, Royce Gracie fought three times in one night – you’re telling me today’s well-conditioned MMA athletes couldn’t do the same over a few weeks? Yes, injuries would likely happen – but, there is no good reason that the vast majority of top-level MMA fighters couldn’t fight up to three or four times in a few weeks. The pride of your country will drive you to many different lengths.
MMA is a sport with more international appeal than almost 80% of the sports currently in the Olympics (warning: unsubstantiated statistic). How many other sports do you see generate high level competitors from across world competing on the same stage? Soccer – maybe. Even with Soccer you don’t necessarily see the same high-level of talent produced from so many different nations around the world; being a Canadian this is a very sad reality for me. MMA you see high-level competitors and champions from every corner of the globe. It’s a sport that doesn’t require a particular season to compete in, or a ton of personal equipment (re: Hockey, Football). It requires a gym and trainers, and dedication.
If all of this isn’t enough to convince you, here’s something that may surprise you – MMA used to be an Olympic event! Pankration was/is a sport that involved, kicks, punches submissions, take-downs, all very much in line with what is seen today in contemporary MMA. Very few have probably ever heard of the Pankration event from the original Olympics that were held in 648 BC, but it used to be extremely popular. While Pankration was never re-instated into the modern-day Olympics it is part of the history of the event that cannot be forgotten – and is still practiced by many today.
Obviously, I have made it clear that I support MMA being introduced into the Olympics – and I think there is enough evidence that would make the case for it having a place there. Will it ever actually happen? I’m not so sure. There is still a lot of resistance to the sport globally, and I believe there are a number of walls that need to be broken down before the sport becomes mainstream and accepted by ALL of the masses. I do hope that we see MMA in the Olympics one day, if for no other reason, than that my home country of Canada is a lightweight at the games, and seeing Georges St. Pierre have a chance bring home a gold would be the greatest achievement this country could hope for!
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Photo Credit: RON SOMBILON MEDIA, ART and PHOTOGRAPHY