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13 MMA and UFC Olympic Gold Medalists and Those Who Fell Short

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterJuly 30, 2012

13 MMA and UFC Olympic Gold Medalists and Those Who Fell Short

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    An Olympic gold medal is the ultimate goal for most of the world's best amateur athletes. It's awarded just once every four years, making it one of the rarest and most sought after of all athletic achievements.

    Winning one takes years of hard work, perseverance, guts and more than a little good fortune. Like it or not, the Olympics serve as a measuring stick for who mattered most and where you stand in your own sport's annals. A world championship is great. An Olympic championship equals immortality.

    Mixed martial arts is not yet an Olympic sport. It may never be. But its athletes have competed in four Olympic competitions. And while Olympic pedigree is far from a guarantee of MMA success, amateur success is certainly a good building block for a career in MMA.

    Thirteen Olympic gold medalists have tried their hand at professional mixed martial arts. So have a host of other medalists and also-rans. Few have found lasting success.

    Can you name them? You'll be able to after this, so let's get started!

The Olympians (Non-Medalists)

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    Olympians have had mixed success in MMA. Some, including Dan Henderson, have been among the best fighters of all time. Mark Coleman was a UFC champion and Daniel Cormier, too, seems on the road to greatness.

    Others, like Yoshiaki Yatsu, were embarrassed badly in their brief and painful careers. Olympic pedigree isn't a golden ticket. If you don't focus on MMA specific skills or, more likely, your Olympic career has ravaged your body, success may not come easily, or ever.


    Yoshiaki Yatsu
    Year: 1976
    Country: Japan
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: 10th, LHW
    MMA Career: Punching bag for Gary Goodridge


    Mark Coleman
    Year: 1992
    Country: USA
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Seventh, HW
    MMA Career: Former UFC champion and the innovator of ground and pound.


    Dan Henderson
    Year: 1992, 1996
    Country: USA
    Sport: Greco Roman Wrestling
    Finish: 10th, MW; 12th, MW
    MMA Career: Pride champion in two weight classes and a true great of the sport.


    Dolgorsürengiin Sumyaabazar
    Year: 1996, 2000
    Country: Mongolia
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: 10th, HW; 13th, SHW
    MMA Career: Famous in Japan because he is the brother of sumo legend Asashoryu. His career includes a loss to Bob Sapp, which says a lot about his success in MMA.


    Hector Lombard
    Year: 2000
    Country: Cuba
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: 27th, MW
    MMA Career: Feasted on unknowns in Bellator, but struggled in his UFC debut.


    Kazuyuki Miyata
    Year: 2000
    Country: Japan
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: 13th, LW
    MMA Career: Miyata faced the best of the best early in his career. He held his own and currently owns a record of 11-9.


    Rhadi Ferguson
    Year: 2004
    Country: USA
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: 14th, HHW
    MMA Career: The cousin of Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson, Rhadi has three MMA wins in three tries. At 37, however, it may be too late for him to test himself against the best.


    Rick Hawn
    Year: 2004
    Country: USA
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: 23rd, HMW
    MMA Career: The Bellator star has found success with power punching, not judo throws or submissions.


    Daniel Cormier
    Year: 2004, 2008
    Country: USA
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Fourth, HW; DNC (Injury)
    MMA Career: The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion, Cormier has the potential to be one of the best fighters in the world.


    Ben Askren
    Year: 2008
    Country: USA
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Seventh, MW
    MMA Career: Askren has dominated the competition in Bellator but has faced criticism due to his wrestling heavy style some call "boring."

Bronze Medalists

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    Bernhard Spijkers
    Year: 1988, 1992
    Country: Netherlands
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: Bronze medal, MW; ninth, MW
    MMA Career: Famous for an early bout with Renzo Gracie. Spijkers was able to throw Gracie, but on the mat the jiu jitsu player dominated, stepping on Spijkers' neck after the bout for good measure.

    Eldar Kurtanidze
    Year: 1996, 2000
    Country: Georgia
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Bronze medal, LHW; bronze medal, HW
    MMA Career: In his one career bout, the two-time medalist was outstruck and embarrassed by Japanese pro wrestler Kazayui Fujita.

    Ronda Rousey
    Year: 2004, 2008
    Country: USA
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: 18th, HMW; bronze medal
    MMA Career: Undefeated and unchallenged, Rousey is the face of women's MMA.

Silver Medalists

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    Naoya Ogawa
    Year: 1992, 1996
    Country: Japan
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: Silver medal, HW; fifth, HW
    MMA Career: One of the most popular fighters in Japan, Ogawa struggled to find MMA success. He beat Gary Goodridge in a controversial match tainted by allegations that it was fixed and lost famously to the great Fedor Emelianenko. Match with fellow judoka Hidehiko Yoshida among the most watched combat sports bouts of all-time.

    Matt Ghaffari
    Year: 1992, 1996
    Country: USA
    Sport: Greco Roman Wrestling
    Finish: 16th, SHW; silver medal, SHW
    MMA Career: An obese Ghaffari lost to Ogawa in his highest profile (and, thankfully, only) fight.

    Townsend Saunders
    Year: 1992, 1996
    Country: USA
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Seventh, LW; silver medal LW
    MMA Career: An early UFC competitor, Saunders lost both of his fights before calling it quits in 1999.

    Dennis Hall
    Year: 1992, 1996, 2004
    Country: USA
    Sport: Greco Roman Wrestling
    Finish: Eighth, BW; Silver Medal, BW; 14th, FW
    MMA Career: Hall, amazingly, came back after losing a pro fight to Noboru Asahi in Shooto and made the Olympic team for a third time in 2004. 

    Min Soo Kim
    Year: 1996
    Country: South Korea
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: Silver medal, MW
    MMA Career: Brock Lesnar's first opponent. Kim hasn't seen his judo skills translate well into MMA, where he has compiled a record of just 3-7. 

    Aleksey Medvedev
    Year: 1996, 2000
    Country: Belarus
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Silver medal, SHW; sixth, SHW
    MMA Career: At 6'8" and more than 255 pounds, Medvedev hadn't competed with many men bigger than he is. Imagine his surprise when he came face to face with the 6'11" Semmy Schilt? The two fought to a draw in 2001.

    Jung Bu-Kyung
    Year: 2000
    Country: South Korea
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: Silver medal, ELW
    MMA Career: Couldn't manage a single win in four professional fights.

    Katsuhiko Nagata 
    Year: 2000
    Country: Japan
    Sport: Greco Roman
    Finish: Silver medal, WW
    MMA Career: Brother of professional wrestling great Yuji Nagata, Katsuhiko has often been undersized in his MMA career.

    Matt Lindland
    Year: 2000
    Country: USA
    Sport: Greco Roman
    Finish: Silver medal, MW
    MMA Career: Once a UFC middleweight challenger, Lindland will be remembered for his epic feuds with Phil Baroni and the UFC brass. One of the founders of the legendary Team Quest fight team in Portland, Oregon, Lindland is involved in spreading the sport worldwide.

    Stephen Abas
    Year: 2004
    Country: USA
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Silver medal, BW
    MMA Career: Named one of the fifteen best NCAA wrestlers of all-time, the three-time NCAA champion has run up a 2-0 record in his burgeoning MMA career.

    Hiroshi Izumi
    Year: 2004, 2008
    Country: Japan
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: Silver medal, LHW, 15th, MW
    MMA Career: Izumi has had some success in his career, but lost his highest-profile fight to Gegard Mousasi last July in the Japanese Dream promotion.

    Sara McMann
    Year: 2004
    Country: USA
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Silver medal, MW
    MMA Career: Undefeated, McMann is a logical opponent down the road for the face of women's MMA Ronda Rousey.

     

    Yoel Romero
    Year: 2000
    Country: Cuba
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Silver Medal, MW
    MMA Career: After losing in his U.S debut for Strikeforce, Romero has won his first two fights in the UFC.

1960: Cassius Clay

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    Cassius Clay 
    Year: 1960
    Country: USA
    Sport: Boxing
    Finish: Gold medal


    Clay, by then fighting as Muhammad Ali, competed in one of the earliest professional MMA bouts on record, going to a draw with wrestler Antonio Inoki in 1972.

    Ali was promised $6 million for the fight, the highest payday of his career. Inoki expected the bout to make him a worldwide professional wrestling star. Neither got what they desired from the match, which originally was supposed to be a pro wrestling contest:

    At the time, the show was considered a disaster. It bombed at the box office and Inoki's reputation was in shambles in his home country of Japan. Eventually he would rehabilitate his image, adding other legitimate combat sports athletes to his list of victims in worked fights, and go down in history as one of the fathers of MMA. But that would be in time.

    Ali never collected his six million. He had to settle for $2.1 million and was lucky to get even that considering the financial losses. Worse, physically he was never the same. Inoki's 65 leg kicks took their toll. Ali was hospitalized after the fight and was never the same boxer again. His legs were gone—his mental faculties would soon follow.

1984: Mark Schultz

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    Mark Schultz
    Year: 1984
    Country: USA
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Gold medal, HW

    Schultz filled in for an injured Dave Benateau on short notice, beating journeyman Gary Goodridge in a memorable fight at UFC 9. Schultz had always been curious about MMA, once engaging Rickson Gracie in a legendary grappling match that lasted more than half an hour.

1984: Jeff Blatnick

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    Jeff Blatnick
    Year: 1984
    Country: USA
    Sport: Greco Roman Wrestling
    Finish: Gold medal, SHW

    Blatnick never competed in MMA but was the UFC's long-time colorman.

    A great broadcaster, Blatnick was also instrumental in devising the UFC's rules and making the sport palatable for state athletic commissions. The rules he created, along with UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and referee John McCarthy, serve as the foundation for the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts used widely today.

1988: Ray Mercer

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    Ray Mercer
    Year: 1988
    Country: USA
    Sport: Boxing
    Finish: Gold medal, HW

    Mercer may have had a disappointing pro boxing career compared to the Olympic champions of Ali's era,, but MMA fans will always love him for his hilarious 2009 knockout of a lumbering Tim Sylvia.

1988: Kenny Monday

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    Kenny Monday
    Year: 1988, 1992, 1996
    Country: USA
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Gold medal, WW; silver medal, WW; sixth WW

    A great takedown artist, Monday showed plenty of potential in the sport of MMA. In his lone bout, he beat up and finished jiu jitsu ace John Lewis. The sport wasn't for him, though, and Monday, already 35 years old at the time of his MMA debut, retired after his lone bout.



1992: Kevin Jackson

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    Kevin Jackson
    Year: 1992
    Country: USA
    Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
    Finish: Gold medal, MW

    Jackson started his career with a bang, winning two fights in the beloved Extreme Fighting promotion. That early success earned him a shot at the UFC middleweight title in Japan, but Frank Shamrock stymied Jackson's title hopes with a quick armbar win.

    Jackson left the sport in 1998 to coach the Army team, eventually going on to coach Team USA for eight years. He's currently the coach at Iowa State University.

1992: Hidehiko Yoshida

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    Hidehiko Yoshida
    Year: 1992, 1996, 2000
    Country: Japan
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: Gold medal, HMW; fifth, MW; ninth, MW

    Yoshida is one of the most popular fighters in MMA history. Long past his prime by the time he started fighting, Yoshida was still able to compete against some of the best fighters in the sport, including Wanderlei Silva.

    Yoshida's bouts with fellow Olympians Rulon Gardner and Naoya Ogawa were ratings bonanzas in Japan, drawing tens of millions of viewers.

1996: Pawel Nastula

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    Pawel Nastula
    Year: 1992, 1996, 2000
    Country: Poland
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: Fifth, HW; gold medal, HW; 26th, HHW

    Nastula didn't have an easy path when he ventured into the world of MMA. He fought a string of tough fighters, including the great Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and former UFC champion Josh Barnett. Now in his early 40s, Nastula has made a return to MMA, winning two 2011 bouts in his native Poland.

2000: Makoto Takimoto

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    Makoto Takimoto
    Year: 2000
    Country: Japan
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: Gold medal, HMW

    Despite a winning record, you'd have to characterize Takimoto's MMA career as a bit of a disappointment. Since losing to Kiyoshi Tamura in 2005, he's fallen to almost every top opponent he's faced. Only a win over former UFC champion Murillo Bustamante, long past his prime by that time, stands out in a career that can only be described as mediocre.






2000: Rulon Gardner

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    Rulon Garner
    Year: 2000, 2004
    Country: USA
    Sport: Greco Roman
    Finish: Gold medal, SHW; bronze medal, SHW

    Rulon Gardner's stunning upset of Alexander Karelin made him an instant Olympic legend. Cashing in for the big bucks, Gardner agreed to a fight with Hidehiko Yoshida in Japan. It was one and done for Garner. He won his fight but didn't care for being punched in the face. He's never fought again.

2004: István Majoros

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    István Majoros
    Year: 2000, 2004
    Country: Hungary
    Sport: Greco Roman
    Finish: 18th, BW; gold medal, FW

    Majoros was brought in as a name for Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto to beat up in Japan's K-1 promotion. He had no training, no striking background and no chance against Yamamoto, who was also a top amateur wrestler.

2004: Karam Ibrahim Gaber

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    Karam Ibrahim Gaber
    Year: 2004
    Country: Egypt
    Sport: Greco Roman
    Finish: Gold medal, HW

    Gaber dominated the competition at the 2004 Games, winning his semifinal match 11-0 and the gold medal by a 12-1 score. He seemed like a wrestler with the potential to dominate the MMA scene but instead ran into trouble in his first bout.

    Kazayuki Fujita may not have been Gaber's equal as a wrestler, but the Japanese star had an iron jaw and packed a solid punch. It was the latter that did Gaber in. He was knocked out in just over a minute.

2008: Satoshi Ishii

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    Satoshi Ishii
    Year: 2008
    Country: Japan
    Sport: Judo
    Finish: Gold medal, HW

    Ishii was the last great hope for Japanese MMA. Fans needed someone they could embrace after the sport was nearly killed in that country when a mafia scandal rocked both Pride and K-1.

    Instead, he lost his first fight, a bout with ancient fellow Olympian Yoshida that he was expected to win. He also lost a high-profile bout to Fedor Emelianenko. It's his wins that have told the real story so far, though. Even when he has his hand raised, it is often in decidedly unspectacular fashion.

    It's too early to close the book on Ishii. At just 25, he still has the potential to make something of his career. But it seems most likely he will be just another disappointing Olympian, a gold-medal failure in a long line of them.

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