MMA: 5 Reasons Why It Should Become an Olympic Sport
The Summer Olympics. The pinnacle of world sport.
Originating in Ancient Greece, the modern version of the Olympics features a far more diverse range of sports than before with many more being added due to rising popularity. In the last decade, sports such as BMX, trampolining and Tae Kwon Do have been added to the Olympic programme, giving the Summer Olympics a total of 26 sports and 302 medals.
The fastest growing sport today is undoubtedly mixed martial arts. Nowadays there is an MMA event every week, whether it be UFC, Strikeforce or Bellator. People are now training in mixed martial arts from a much younger age. It is quickly overtaking boxing as the world's most popular combat sport.
Originally MMA was considered by many to be too violent to be a sport, being banned in states such as New York and being referred to as human cock-fighting by many. But with established rules and the creation of weight classes, it has shed most of that reputation and has become popular not just for its violence but also for its technical mastery, with competitors having to show skill in the difference phases of MMA.
Without further ado, here are my five reasons why mixed martial arts should become an Olympic sport...
MMA Is International
In April, the UFC will hold an event in Sweden for the first time, showing just how far reaching MMA's popularity has become. Over the past three years there have been events held in the United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Canada, Australia and even Saudi Arabia. UFC 144 will be held in the home of the former PRIDE organization, Japan. There is no doubt that if MMA were to become an Olympic sport, it would be watched worldwide.
Not only that, but there are a number of different nationalities among the top fighters. The UFC alone features over 30 nationalities, mostly coming from the United States, Brazil and Canada. Fighters like Swede Alexander Gustafsson, Brit Michael Bisping, Cuban Hector Lombard or Dutchman Alistair Overeem show the worldwide spread of fighting talent.
Furthermore, as great as holding a belt is, it's a different experience representing your home country. Fighters like Junior dos Santos and Georges St-Pierre have actually considered dropping MMA to take up boxing and wrestling, respectively, just for a chance to represent their home country in the Olympics, and they're UFC champions. The way fighters fight in their home country shows that effect. Just look at how many Brazilians lost on their home turf at UFC 142 in Rio: Zero. They were fighting for their home crowd. A belt is a win for you, but an Olympic medal is a win for your country.
Lastly, it gives you international bragging rights. Chael Sonnen claimed that those PRIDE fighters who established good records in Japan were overrated, because they fought mainly Japanese fighters who are not as good as American UFC opposition. While Chael is known for making a lot of controversial statements, he does bring up an interesting point: which country has the better calibre fighters? The UFC currently has mainly American and Brazilian champions, but if we had three medals for each weight class, which country would have the most medals? The only way we can guess is by looking at the rankings. Wouldn't it be better to have a tournament to decide the top fighting country in the world, on the biggest stage of them all?
Women Can Fight Too
This may be a bit of a stretch because even Olympic boxing doesn't have female participants.
But Olympic wrestling, tae kwon do, and judo all have women's events and they're arguably just as physical.
Women's MMA may never reach the level of popularity of men's MMA, and let's be honest, most of us just watch it because some of the fighters are freakin' hot. But hot or not, they are still skillful. Miesha Tate is a great wrestler, and her opponent is Olympic judo bronze medalist Ronda Rousey. Other fighters such as the sambo queen Megumi Fuji, Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Kyra Gracie and muay thai warrior Gina Carano show the range of talent in women's MMA.
The modern edition of the Olympics has embraced equality, whether it be race or gender, a far cry from the ancient games where women could be thrown off a cliff for simply watching the games. If women were shown competing at such a high level in a predominantly male sport, on the big stage that is the Olympics, it would be a tremendous display of equality.
Fighters from Different Promotions Can Fight Each Other
One of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport may never ever step into the Octagon because of his management and because of Dana White.
Fedor Emelianenko is arguably the greatest heavyweight in MMA history, but he has never fought in arguably the greatest MMA promotion ever, the UFC. He spent a majority of his career fighting in PRIDE before moving to the Strikeforce. He is clearly on the downside of his career as shown by his recent three fight skid, so his window to fight in the Octagon is closing. Dana White also thinks he's overrated and not good enough to cut it in the UFC.
There are a number of other great fighters who are not or have never been in the UFC. People like Nate Marquardt, Hector Lombard or Shinya Aoki are still considered some of the greatest fighters in the world but are not given as much exposure due to the fact that they aren't in the UFC. If the Olympics had an MMA competition, then these fighters can test themselves against top UFC fighters without having to be signed to a UFC contract.
At an Olympic competition, it will be best of the best, regardless of what promotion the fighter is affiliated with.
It Is Safer Than People Think It Is
Ironic how on a slide about safety there's a video of a man's arm getting broken isn't it?
But what the video shows is not just Sylvia's broken arm, but also Herb Dean's great officiating job. Had he not stopped the fight, Sylvia's arm could've been broken a lot more. People talk about the brutality of the sport, but in reality, it's actually quite safe. Injuries such as above are rare, and almost all fighters will tap before that happens.
There are a number of rules and regulations designed to protect the fighters. Rules such as no kicks to the head of a grounded opponent or no strikes to the back of the head are there to prevent deaths and remove the reputation of mixed martial arts as a bloodsport. They don't have as many rounds as boxing, which means on average they absorb less strikes than boxers. The referees more responsible for stopping the fight to prevent further injuries, unlike in boxing where fighters can come back by being given counts.
People will point out the fact that the gloves are thinner and that the ground and pound aspect of the sport makes it far more brutal than boxing. But the sheer volume of shots to the head in boxing compared to MMA can actually do as much, or maybe even more damage than boxing.
If they still think it is too brutal, there are alternative rules that will be mentioned in this next slide...
It's Been an Olympic Sport Before
In the ancient Olympic games, there was a sport called pankration. The word pankration means "all strengths", referring to the mix of fighting disciplines needed to compete in the sport.
When Pierre de Coubertin established the modern Olympics, he left out the sport of pankration on advice from the Cardinal of Lyon.
Their decision was understandable. Ancient pankration was basically no-holds barred fighting to the death. It had no rules except for no eye gouging and biting. Victory was achieved through submission or death, and by death I mean if you die, you win, because apparently that was better than giving up.
MMA is the closest sanctioned modern sport to pankration. But unlike pankration however it has a lot more rules to protect the fighters and is not a fight to the death. Boxing, wrestling and athletics were all carried over from the ancient games, so why not pankration now that safer rules exist?
If MMA is still too violent, there is actually a modern form of pankration still practiced in Greece. It is fairly similar to MMA, but with more rules to ensure participant safety, disallowing arm strikes to the head and providing a measurable points system based on effective grappling and striking. These rules would provide a more sanitized version of MMA that could be watched by a larger audience.
Either version would be a good way of bringing back an integral part of the ancient games for a modern, less bloodthirsty audience.
The Olympics is the biggest stage for world class athletes. MMA is a sport full of world class athletes who should get a chance to represent their country on the grandest sporting stage.
Maybe as MMA gets more popular and sheds its "bloodsport" label it will receive more consideration for the Olympics. Over the years the rules have evolved to ensure that it is a safe sport that is nowhere near as violent as the original form of pankration in the ancient days.
It's a sport featuring top male and female talent from around the world and it is followed by people from around the world. C'mon IOC, bring back Pankration.
Feel free to discuss in the comments.