5 Reasons Olympic Wrestling's Demise Won't Open the Door for MMA
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The MMA world was up in arms shortly after news broke of the International Olympic Committee's decision to boot wrestling after the 2016 Games in Brazil.
One man, however, saw this as an opportunity. That man was UFC President Dana White, who believed that wrestling's demise could signal the inclusion of MMA on the grandest international stage. Even though his feelings on the issue were ripped by famous wrestlers of past and present, fans were, once again, teased with the idea of seeing their favorite sport in the Olympics.
As exciting as the idea sounds, nobody should get excited quite yet. There is no way that MMA gets into the Olympics at any point in the near future.
Looking at recent trends in IOC decision-making, the format it uses in other combat sports and past MMA tournaments, you can see why it would look elsewhere when considering new sports to add.
Much of Europe Hates MMA
The IOC represents a lot of countries where MMA is less-than legal.
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Time and again, it has been shown that the best way for a sport to get thrown out of the Olympics is for European countries to be less-than-big on it. This was likely a major factor in the dismissal of wrestling and, in fact, has been the case with nearly every other discontinued Olympic sport (golf, rugby, baseball, softball and lacrosse were consistently dominated by North American countries).
Ironically, Europe is a major player in all the other combat sports (fencing, Taekwondo, Judo) but many countries remain staunch opponents of MMA. MMA is not allowed on French television. In Germany, minors cannot attend events, and again, broadcasting the sport is banned. In Serbia, it is completely illegal.
The IOC is predominantly made up of European representatives and they are unlikely to get behind a sport that is taboo in their country. Obviously, banning MMA is a silly thing to do, but that is ultimately a non-factor in this discussion.
Unless Europe cedes its stranglehold on the Games, or they experience a sudden infatuation for the sport, it is unlikely to even come close to having a shot at making a plea to the IOC.
MMA Has No Governing Body, No Unified Rules
Each promotion around the world has its own different rules.
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Whether you have been following Olympic wrestling for a long time, or just started following since the news, you have probably heard the name “FILA” dropped more in the last few weeks than ever before. FILA, as you know, is the governing body behind wrestling in the Olympics, and is a major influence on the sport across the globe.
Every Olympic sport has a governing body, from the ones you only hear of every four years like Curling (WCF), all the way up to sports that have globally-popular leagues like basketball (FIBA) and ice hockey (IIHF). These governing bodies set rules in their sport and, in many ways, are at the mercy of the IOC.
Traditionally, they are at the beck, call and whimsical impulses of the IOC, who use the veiled threat of booting their sport out of the Games to enact rule changes. Judo's IJF and Taekwondo's WTF, for example, both implemented sweeping rule changes when they found out their sports may be on the chopping block.
With no single, global governing body, MMA rules differ from country to country. From cage to ring, from elbow strikes to soccer kicks, from banned submission holds to limits on how long the fight can remain on the ground, there is no consensus on the rules in a sport that is decades old.
That is unlikely to change at any point in the near future and that is a major detriment to any hopes of the sport making it to the Olympics.
The IOC Hates Amateurs
The IOC demands the best of the best in each sport, and the UFC wouldn't allow this.
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In 1998, for the Nagano Winter Olympics, the IOC threw the doors open for NHL players to play on Olympic teams. In 2005, the doors were slammed in the face of baseball players the world over, in large part due to MLB's staunch refusal to accommodate the Olympics' schedule. In 2012, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban alluded to the end of the “Dream Teams” which could easily spell doom for basketball in the Olympics.
The IOC wants ratings. For ratings, you need big names. For big names, you need to get the professional organizations to lend their players. Does anybody anticipate the UFC lending people to the IOC?
Seriously, does anybody think that the UFC would be willing to lend Georges St-Pierre to the Olympics? With nothing in return? So he could have a gold medal fight with somebody like Johny Hendricks? For free? On NBC?
While most fans would still tune in to watch amateurs go at it, seeing anything other than the greatest in the world undermines the idea of the Olympics. That is a serious disincentive for the IOC.
MMA Does Not Lend Itself to Quick Tournament Format
Olympic combat sports can call for up to five fights per day.
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Read this article I wrote during the London Games.
Judo is one of the most physically trying sports there is. It forces you to work your core, your back, your limbs and your neck like none other. Rightful medalist Travis Stevens had to fit five matches into a few hours' time and, when it came time for a medal match, he had just 45 minutes to recover from a bout that went to and through overtime.
At the Olympics, a tournament in a weight class all happens within a day and it's absurd to expect that from fighters. Yes, yes...from 1993 to 1997, the UFC functioned entirely in a tournament format.
That said, UFC 1 featured eight fighters. Men's 81 kg Judo had 34.
Similar numbers can be found in an average season of The Ultimate Fighter (seasons had up to 32 fighters). That said, a season of The Ultimate Fighter is taped over the course of six weeks. The Olympics runs for less than three.
In order to fit into the Olympic format, the sport would need to be pruned down to the point where it just wouldn't seem like MMA anymore.
The Olympics Lineup Is Set for Years to Come
The Olympics' lineup will be locked through 2024 this May.
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Seriously. The next Summer Olympic Games is in 2016. 2020's lineup will be finalized this Summer. After that, the nearest Games is 2024.
That, obviously, is 11 years away and the IOC may or may not be willing to add sports between now and then. Once again, even if they look to add sports, there are no guarantees MMA would even be able to plead their case to the IOC.
As such, there is no real reason to get excited over the idea of Olympic MMA at any point in the near future. In ten years, maybe, but right now? No.
Even then, the problems of today will likely remain.