As the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts grows, people all over the world are starting to see it as a legitimate sport.
Other than a few of the prehistoric talking heads on ESPN, the majority of the sports world has accepted that MMA is well on its way to surpassing boxing as the premier combat sport in the world as the sport becomes more mainstream, and it seems that the inevitable push to get MMA added to the Olympics is well on its way to getting started.
Like everyone else, the idea of MMA’s best fighting for a gold medal every four years sounds like a dream come true for me. But sadly, the realist in me knows that any form of MMA on the biggest stage in the sports world will be a letdown.
There are just too many obstacles the Olympics would have to overcome if they wanted to truly crown the best fighter in the world at the Summer Games.
Ironically enough, the very promotion that made MMA big enough to even be considered for the Olympics is the same one that would kill any chance of an Olympic MMA event reaching its full potential.
For years, one of the things that has made the UFC such a powerful organization is its unwillingness to let its fighters compete under any other banner other than its own.
The most well-known example of this policy actually comes from the infamous Fedor Emelianenko’s contract talks a few years ago, when Emelianenko reportedly requested that the UFC allow him to compete in sambo tournaments if he signed with the company.
The UFC balked at the idea, and it is one of the many reasons UFC President Dana White could never sign the MMA legend.
Anyone that thinks that Zuffa would allow guys like Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones take valuable months out of their prime is insanely optimistic. Not only would letting the best fighters signed to the promotion compete in such an event put many of the UFC’s biggest earners in serious risk of injury, but every fight card the organization tried to put on that summer would be severely damaged due to the top talent fighting elsewhere.
The most likely result for an MMA Olympic event would be a tournament featuring a combination of up-and-coming amateur fighters and UFC castoffs that haven’t signed with a major promotion since being released. I don’t know about anyone else, but a fight between Todd Duffee and Andrei Arlovski for an Olympic gold medal would be a major letdown for me.
Even if the Olympic committee somehow convinced Dana White and Co. to let their guys fight in the games, it would be nearly impossible for them to treat MMA like every other sport.
The days of fighting twice a night are over, and with the number of high-level athletes competing in modern MMA, that’s a good thing. There’s no way a guy like GSP should have to go out and fight Thiago Alves and Josh Koscheck in the same week, let alone the same day, so the fighters would be forced to fight in Olympic qualifying fights months and even years before they even made it to the Games.
Realistically, only the finals could actually be broadcasted live with the rest of the games. A light heavyweight final between Jon Jones and Lyoto Machida would be awesome for the Games, but if Jones had to defeat Rashad Evans and Alexander Gustafsson to get there, the fans would be robbed of two big fights on prime time.
But I’m willing to play the optimist once again.
Let’s say the UFC and the Olympics reach some sort of deal where they get the qualifying matches on pay-per-view and everyone goes home happy. We still can’t ignore the rising number of injuries occurring daily on the MMA scene.
This summer’s stacked UFC lineup got hit by entire battalion’s worth of injury bombs, with top fighters like Brian Stann, Michael Bisping, Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz all pulling out of high-profile bouts just a month or two before they were set to take place.
How would the Olympics deal with fighters getting injured months or even weeks before the big event?
Sure, they could have an alternate in place to make sure they have themselves covered, but any gold-medal fight featuring an alternate would feel like it needed an asterisk.
As fast as the sport is growing, it’s probably only a matter of time before MMA is added to the Olympic roster. And while I’m sure that I’ll be thrilled when it’s first announced and follow whatever sort of tournament they put in place every four years, I also know that there’s no way that we’ll get to see the best in the world fighting for the biggest prize in sports.
Photo: Dan Henderson (Sherdog)