With the 2016 Summer Olympics scheduled for Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sherdog.com staff and contributors sat down to put together hypothetical MMA Olympic teams for the following countries: United States, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Poland, Australia and Sweden. This 10-part series will map out the yellow brick road to Rio de Janeiro for the men and women who call the cage home, Zika virus be damned.
Great Britain’s Olympic history dates back to the very first Olympic Games, which took place in 1896 in Athens, Greece. It is one of three nations, along with France and Switzerland, to compete in every Summer and Winter Games since then. Some of its most decorated athletes in the Summer Games over the years include Chris Hoy (six gold medals in track cycling), Steve Redgrave (five golds in rowing) and Ben Ainslie (four golds and one silver in sailing). As far as the combat sports, Great Britain has won a total of 53 medals in boxing, 18 in judo, 17 in wrestling and three in taekwondo. With a hypothetical squad full of recognizable names, the 2016 MMA team would have at least a fighting chance of reaching the podium, perhaps multiple times, in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
The centerpiece of the team, of course, is Michael Bisping, who would lead the United Kingdom into Brazil riding the momentum of his upset victory over Luke Rockhold that earned him the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title at UFC 199.
“I’ve always knew I was at this level. I’ve had my ups and downs and I’ve lost some fights along the way,” Bisping said after he dethroned Rockhold. “I don’t want to get into the whole performance-enhancing drugs thing, but that was kind of an issue over the years; but I still believed. I still always dusted myself off and built myself back up. I know I’ve had a lot of detractors and a lot of people didn’t believe I was at that caliber. I want to thank those guys, as well; they fueled me on and lit that fire inside me. I always knew I could do this. I always knew I had punching power. I always knew I had the ability. Tonight, of course, I got to show everybody.”
Now imagine the sound bites that would emerge if the 37-year-old “Count” could capture more gold for his home country in the same calendar year. Even more interesting is the possibility of a third meeting against Rockhold with a medal on the line; whoever ended up with a lower spot on the podium -- if both made it there -- would undoubtedly hear it from his rival.
Of course, this is not exclusively about Bisping. The Great Britain squad features another champion in Bellator MMA light heavyweight king Liam McGeary and a lineup blended with experienced veterans and talented up-and-comers. Depth is lacking in a few areas, however, including heavyweight, women’s bantamweight and men’s flyweight. To help shore up deficiencies in a couple of spots, the British Olympic Association convinced UFC veterans Rosi Sexton and Phil Harris to come out of retirement and compete. Love of country still carries plenty of weight, after all.
While some of the team’s most prominent athletes, Bisping included, have ventured stateside to hone their skills, the coaching staff will feature names from some of the United Kingdom’s most prominent camps: London Shootfighters co-founder Paul Ivens will serve as head coach, with Dean Amasinger, Jack Mason, James Doolan and Nathan Leverton also on the staff.
Note: The British Olympic Association includes not only England, but the other nations of the United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, athletes from Northern Ireland can also choose to compete for Ireland at the Olympics.
2016 Great Britain National MMA Team• Heavyweight: Oli Thompson
• Light Heavyweight: Liam McGeary
• Middleweight: Michael Bisping
• Welterweight: Paul Daley
• Lightweight: Ross Pearson
• Featherweight: Arnold Allen
• Bantamweight: Brad Pickett
• Flyweight: Phil Harris
• Women’s Bantamweight: Rosi Sexton
• Women’s Strawweight: Joanne Calderwood
HEAVYWEIGHT: Thompson certainly won’t be the most intimidating talent in the Olympic heavyweight field, but “The Spartan” has something many recognizable big men from the U.K. do not: momentum. Thompson has won five of his last six bouts, a second-round technical knockout loss to Matt Mitrione at Bellator 158 on July 16 the only blemish. Still, the 36-year-old has experience competing on a variety of stages, including stints in the UFC and KSW. Prior to his MMA run, Thompson made a name for himself by winning multiple titles on the English strongman circuit. Alternates: James Mulheron, Mark Godbeer
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: McGeary has been winning professional MMA fights since 2010, but he did not truly have his breakout campaign in Bellator until last year, when he outpointed Emanuel Newton to capture 205-pound gold and then successfully defended his title with a first-round submission of Tito Ortiz. Prior to that, the Team Renzo Gracie product was a wrecking machine in the California-based promotion, finishing his first six opponents inside of a round. While Jimi Manuwa has faced overall stronger competition in the UFC, McGeary’s versatility -- he owns five wins apiece by knockout and submission -- and champion’s status give him the edge over his heavy-handed countryman. Alternates: Jimi Manuwa, Linton Vassell
MIDDLEWEIGHT: Even if he did not have a UFC belt around his waist, Bisping would be a slam-dunk choice to represent Great Britain. As it stands now, Bisping’s 26 bouts in the Octagon are tied for third most in Ultimate Fighting Championship history and his 19 victories match Georges St. Pierre for the most all-time among UFC fighters. To stick around that long and to be that successful, “The Count” has to be doing something right. Since beginning his UFC tenure in 2006, Bisping has bested the likes of Rockhold, Anderson Silva, Thales Leites, Cung Le, Alan Belcher, Brian Stann, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Chris Leben, to name a few; and at 37 years old, this hypothetical team would likely be Bisping’s last chance to represent his country in the Olympics. Alternates: Luke Barnatt, Scott Askham
WELTERWEIGHT: Daley’s notorious sucker punch of Josh Koscheck following UFC 113 might give some pause at selecting him for such a lofty honor, but the slugger known as “Semtex” has been relatively well-behaved since that ill-fated moment more than six years ago. More battle-tested than the flashy Michael Page and the promising Tom Breese, Daley has won nine of his last 11 fights, as he awaits redemption from a delayed rematch with Koscheck in Bellator. The Spirit Dojo representative figures to face a daunting field at 170 pounds, but his famed knockout power -- 28 knockouts among 38 career triumphs -- always gives him the proverbial puncher’s chance. Alternates: Michael Page, Tom Breese
LIGHTWEIGHT: Although he has experience at both lightweight and featherweight, Pearson currently resides at 155 pounds, which makes it a logical place for him to compete in the Olympics. “The Ultimate Fighter 9” alum has 19 fights in the Octagon and owns victories over the likes of Paul Felder, Sam Stout, Gray Maynard, George Sotiropoulos, Spencer Fisher and Dennis Siver during his promotional tenure. Prior to finding MMA, Pearson trained in taekwondo, boxing and judo. Alternates: Steven Ray, Paul Sass
FEATHERWEIGHT: The 22-year-old Allen is one of Great Britain’s young guns. The BKK Fighters representative has won 11 of his 12 professional fights and debuted in the UFC last year with a third-round submission of Alan Omer before outpointing Yaotzin Meza in his sophomore outing. Allen nearly had two finishes to begin his Octagon tenure, as he dropped Meza with a right hand just as the final horn sounded in their bout. Despite his youth, Allen has shown an ability to remain poised during frenetic action thus far in his career, which would serve him well against some of the more experienced featherweights from other nations. Allen also has fighting in his blood: His father, Pacer Allen, had a short-lived MMA career. Alternates: Mike Wilkinson, Robert Whiteford
BANTAMWEIGHT: Pickett may have admitted to contemplating retirement before his knockout loss to Thomas Almeida a year ago, but a split decision triumph over Francisco Rivera at a UFC Fight Night event in London on Feb. 27 put those plans on hold. The 37-year-old former Cage Rage British featherweight champion has competed a combined 15 times for World Extreme Cagefighting and the UFC, garnering victories over the likes of Rivera, Demetrious Johnson, Yves Jabouin, Damacio Page, Ivan Menjivar and Neil Seery. While “One Punch” had a 1-3 stint at 125 pounds in the Octagon, competing at bantamweight gives him his best chance for success in Rio de Janeiro. Alternates: Brett Johns, Ian Entwistle
FLYWEIGHT: Harris holds the distinction of being the first European flyweight to compete in the UFC. After a five-bout stint within the Las Vegas-based promotion, he announced his retirement late in 2014 at the age of 31. However, Harris also revealed his intent to continue competitive grappling, and his overall experience bests that of any alternative Great Britain could bring to the table at 125 pounds. The 36-bout veteran began his career in 2003 and established himself as a staple of the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship and British Association of Mixed Martial Arts promotions before signing with the UFC. The “Phil Billy” is a black belt in judo with 13 career submission victories to his credit. Alternates: Shaj Haque, Pietro Menga
WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHT: Sexton ended her professional fighting career on a rough note with three straight defeats, but “The Surgeon” is worth coaxing out of retirement thanks to a wealth of experience that includes bouts against the likes of Gina Carano, Roxanne Modafferi, Aisling Daly, Alexis Davis and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. While Sexton did not win them all, she is far more seasoned than the alternatives and she also makes a great representative for the team thanks to her education and career. The networks are sure to love profiling a mixed martial artist who practices osteopathic medicine. Not to worry: Sexton is far from just a puff-piece target; she’s been keeping herself in shape, too. According to her blog, Sexton still practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and enjoys climbing and “lifting heavy things.” However, she does admit, “I spend more time putting people back together than taking them apart.” Alternates: Laura Howarth, L.J. Adams
WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT: Calderwood is an easy choice here, even if her last bout -- an impressive third-round stoppage of former 115-pound title challenger Valerie Letourneau -- came at flyweight. The muay Thai specialist has won three of her four UFC bouts and 11 of 12 overall, with her only defeat coming in an upset against Maryna Moroz during a time of personal tumult. If “JoJo” gets into medal contention, it will give her a good idea of her future title chances at 115 pounds. Alternates: Helen Harper, Bryony Tyrell
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