Before Dana White joined Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta in acquiring the organization in January 2001, the UFC and MMA as a whole was looked upon as a freak show of sorts. The sport was illegal in many states and was nearing the point of complete failure.
At that point in time, White would have been laughed into oblivion if he had made the following comment.
"We rebuilt this industry, we rebuilt the fight business," White said in June 2008. "And we think we have the right plan and the right strategy over the next five years, and I think mixed martial arts and the UFC is going to be the biggest sport in the world. Bigger than soccer, bigger than football, bigger than anything."
Even when White made that lofty declaration only four years ago, it seemed like a major stretch to think MMA could be mentioned in the same breath as the mammoths of the sporting world. While MMA is still far from matching football in North America, it has seemingly surpassed the sport on a global scale. Soccer is still much more popular than MMA across the planet, but there are certainly less people laughing at White's goals for global domination.
In the United States, the UFC is now televised alongside the NFL on the Fox network. The universal language of fighting has also allowed MMA to explode in several other countries, prompting some to push for the sports inclusion in the Olympics.
That may be years away, but the sport will inevitably find itself in the Summer Olympics as long as it continues its infectious growth. Would MMA have been included in the London games over the coming weeks, a competition including the following fighters would have been incredible to watch.
Author's note: Due to the year-round nature of the sport, Olympic MMA would more than likely feature amateur and lower-level professional fighters, as is the case with Olympic boxing. As the headline suggests, the teams in this article are purely fantasy.
Heavyweight: Cheick Kongo
Light Heavyweight: Christian M'Pumbu
Middleweight: Francis Carmont
Welterweight: Karl Amoussou
Lightweight: Arnaud Lepont
Featherweight: Johnny Frachey
Bantamweight: Olivier Pastor
With UFC veteran Cheick Kongo and Bellator light heavyweight champion Christian M'Pumbu, France would field a formidable MMA team in the Olympics. However, the up-and-coming Francis Carmont would probably provide France's best chance of earning a medal in the sport.
A training partner of Georges St-Pierre, Carmont has won eight consecutive fights and is looking to become a contender in the UFC's middleweight division.
Heavyweight: Sergei Kharitonov
Light Heavyweight: Sultan Aliev
Middleweight: Alexander Shlemenko
Welterweight: Rashid Magomedov
Lightweight: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Featherweight: Rasul Mirzaev
Bantamweight: Azamat Gashimov
Flyweight: Ali Bagautinov
Without recently retired Pride legend Fedor Emelianenko, the Russian MMA squad appears thin on talent. However, Sergei Kharitonov is a challenge for anyone willing to stand with him and Khabib Nurmagomedov would have a legitimate shot at capturing a medal in the lightweight division.
While the UFC has done a great job of spreading MMA's popularity in countries across the globe, its cantankerous attempts to diminish the career accomplishments of Emelianenko may have stalled growth in Russia.
Young Russian stars like Nurmagomedov and M-1 Global champion Rashid Magomedov can get the sport's momentum going again in their country, but Russia has quickly fallen behind some other major sporting countries when it comes to MMA.
Light Heavyweight: Simon Carlsen
Middleweight: Mikkel Parlo
Welterweight: Martin Kampmann
Lightweight: Kenneth Rosfort-Nees
Featherweight: Ayub Tashkilot
Martin Kampmann has been training in the United States for such a long time that it's easy to forget he was born in Denmark and is a former kickboxing champion in that country.
Right now, Kampmann is probably the only Danish fighter who would be capable of earning a medal in the Olympics, but MMA could explode in the European country if Kampmann is able to capture a UFC title within the next year.
Heavyweight: Sang Soo Lee
Light Heavyweight: Jong Dae Kim
Middleweight: Dongi Yang
Welterweight: Dong Hyun Kim
Lightweight: Yui Chul Nam
Featherweight: Chan Sung Jung
Bantamweight: Kyung Ho Kang
Flyweight: Nam Jin Jo
With three UFC-level fighters on its roster, it is clear why South Korea is one of the UFC's next targets for expansion. The country produces excellent grapplers and could be home to one of the next featherweight title contenders in Chan Sung Jung.
Having finished his past three opponents, Jung is closing in on a title shot and would be more than capable of capturing a bronze medal in the Olympics. The continual growth of MMA's popularity in South Korea could depend on Jung's prolonged success.
Heavyweight: Alistair Overeem
Light Heavyweight: Gegard Mousasi
Middleweight: Melvin Manhoef
Welterweight: Danny van Bergen
Lightweight: Duane van Helvoirt
Featherweight: Ben Boekee
Iranian-born Gegard Mousasi could be a dark horse for the Netherlands in the light heavyweight division, but Alistair Overeem would probably be Holland's only hope to medal in Olympic MMA. First, though, Overeem would have to pass Olympic drug testing that is more strict than the Nevada State Athletic Commission-administered test he failed in April.
While it currently lacks depth in the lower weight divisions, Holland has produced some of the world's best kickboxers, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the strength of this roster improve over the coming years as MMA continues to grow in popularity.
Heavyweight: Phil DeFries
Light Heavyweight: Jimi Manuwa
Middleweight: Michael Bisping
Welterweight: Paul Daley
Lightweight: Paul Sass
Featherweight: Jason Young
Bantamweight: Brad Pickett
Flyweight: Kris Edwards
Previously known for producing one-dimensional strikers, Great Britain is quickly becoming a destination for well-rounded fighters. Michael Bisping would have a great chance to medal in the middleweight division, while bantamweight Brad Pickett would also be expected to stand on the medal podium.
Undefeated up-and-comers Jimi Manuwa and Paul Sass would also be capable of turning heads, but they would need to mount an upset or two in order to capture an Olympic medal.
Heavyweight: Satoshi Ishii
Light Heavyweight: Tatsuya Mizuno
Middleweight: Yushin Okami
Welterweight: Kazuo Misaki
Lightweight: Shinya Aoki
Featherweight: Tatsuya Kawajiri
Bantamweight: Takeya Mizugaki
Flyweight: Yasuhiro Urushitani
Regardless of their disappointments in United States organizations, Japanese fighters remain among the best in the world.
In the Olympics, Yushin Okami and Shinya Aoki would give the country excellent opportunities to have their flag hang above the medal podium. At featherweight and flyweight, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Yasuhiro Urushitani would also have outside shots at taking hardware back to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Heavyweight: Mike Hackert
Light Heavyweight: Ryan Jimmo
Middleweight: Rory MacDonald
Welterweight: Georges St-Pierre
Lightweight: Mark Bocek
Featherweight: Mark Hominick
Bantamweight: Ivan Menjivar
Flyweight: Mike Davis
Canada is home to one of the largest fan bases in MMA, but it is still in the process of developing fighters to match across all divisions.
Of course, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre would be a favorite to take home gold, but this squad would need some luck to score any extra hardware at the Olympics. Moving Rory MacDonald to middleweight would give the country a better shot at 185 pounds than it would have with Nick Ring, but St-Pierre's training partner would still have a difficult path to even secure bronze.
Heavyweight: Junior dos Santos
Light Heavyweight: Mauricio Rua
Middleweight: Anderson Silva
Welterweight: Thiago Alves
Lightweight: Gleison Tibau
Featherweight: Jose Aldo
Bantamweight: Renan Barao
Flyweight: Jussier da Silva
Brazil would arguably boast the strongest team heading into Olympic competition, but they do have some relative weak links in their lineup at welterweight and lightweight. I use the term weak lightly because Thiago Alves and Gleison Tibau would still be medal contenders in their respective divisions.
Junior dos Santos, Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo and Renan Barao would all make strong bids for gold at the Olympics. However, each of them would face difficult challenges against respective United States fighters Cain Velasquez, Chris Weidman, Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz.
Like the United States, Brazil would have good chances of medaling in every division. However, Alves and Tibau would have difficult paths to the podium. Alves would likely have to avenge a loss against Danish fighter Martin Kampmann or pull off an upset over interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit. Meanwhile, Tibau would probably have to exact revenge for a recent controversial loss against Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov in order to earn bronze.
Heavyweight: Cain Velasquez
Light Heavyweight: Jon Jones
Middleweight: Chris Weidman
Welterweight: Carlos Condit
Lightweight: Benson Henderson
Featherweight: Frankie Edgar
Bantamweight: Dominick Cruz
Flyweight: Joseph Benavidez
A hotbed for wrestling and boxing talent, it should come as no surprise that the United States would be considered one of the strongest MMA teams in the Olympics. In fact, it would probably be viewed as a disappointment if the country failed to medal in every weight class.
Jon Jones, Benson Henderson and Joseph Benavidez would be heavy favorites to take home gold in their respective divisions, while a number of other United States fighters would also have excellent opportunities to stand at the top of the podium at the end of the competition.
Moving former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar to featherweight would strengthen the roster by providing a probable improvement over former 145-pound top contender Chad Mendes. Still, either fighter would be expected to take home silver in the worst-case scenario.