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, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, 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.
Its lack of individual success notwithstanding, Mexico has a rich Olympic history on which to hang its hat. The country served as host for the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, where George Foreman captured the gold medal in heavyweight boxing and paraded around the ring waving a small American flag that was dwarfed further by the massive cinder blocks he called hands.
Mexican athletes have combined to win 62 medals in the Olympics and have struck gold in various events, from equestrian, diving and boxing to swimming and weightlifting. Diver Joaquin Capilla Perez is credited as the nation’s most decorated Olympian of all-time, having medaled on four occasions: a gold, a silver and two bronze. Perez, then 27, was awarded his gold medal in the men’s 10-meter platform in 1956. Horseman Humberto Mariles Cortes remains the only Mexican to win multiple gold medals. He stood atop the equestrian podium twice at the 1948 Summer Games in London.
What if Mexico were to field an MMA team? In a hypothetical scenario that allowed for the formation of such a squad for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the country would have a relatively shallow talent pool upon which to draw. There are some gems among the diamonds in the rough. Former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez spearheads the make-believe team from South of the Border, as he pays homage to parents who immigrated to the United States from Mexico prior to his birth. Invicta Fighting Championships women’s strawweight sensation Alexa Grasso joins the American Kickboxing Academy rep as one of the Mexican roster’s pillars and one of its primary hopes for a medal.
Entram Gym trainer Raul Arvizu and Lobo Gym coach Francisco Grasso will share the coaching duties, overseeing a staff that includes UFC veteran Roger Huerta, World Extreme Cagefighting alum Olaf Alfonso and former World Series of Fighting women’s strawweight champion Jessica Aguilar, who continues to recover from a knee injury.
2016 Mexico National MMA Team• Heavyweight: Cain Velasquez
• Light Heavyweight: Jorge Gonzales
• Middleweight: Augusto Montano
• Welterweight: Erick Montano
• Lightweight: Efrain Escudero
• Featherweight: Yair Rodriguez
• Bantamweight: Marco Beltran
• Flyweight: Brandon Moreno
• Women’s Bantamweight: Irene Aldana
• Women’s Strawweight: Alexa Grasso
HEAVYWEIGHT: Velasquez gives Mexico perhaps its best chance for gold. Before transitioning to mixed martial arts, he was a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Arizona State University, where he won back-to-back Pac-10 conference championships. The Salinas, California, native was widely regarded as MMA’s premier heavyweight before he was sidetracked by injuries, his resume buoyed by victories over Junior dos Santos (twice), Antonio Silva (twice), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Ben Rothwell and Brock Lesnar. A submission loss to Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188 in June 2015 cost Velasquez the heavyweight championship, snapped his four-fight winning streak and raised questions about his long-term viability. He answered his detractors at UFC 200, where he wrecked Travis Browne with first-round ground-and-pound. Velasquez, 34, was the Sherdog.com “Fighter of the Year” in 2010 and is a three-time selection to the Sherdog All-Violence Team. Alternates: Oscar Ivan Cota, Eduardo Alvarado Alarcon
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: Mexico has little depth upon which to draw at 205 pounds. That benefits Gonzalez. Anchored at the Academia Diosdado de Artes Marciales in Mexico City, he started his pro career 8-0 with eight first-round finishes before he ran into Vinny Magalhaes at an Xtreme Kombat event in July 2014 and submitted to a rear-naked choke from the 2011 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist. The loss sent Gonzalez into a bit of a tailspin, as he dropped three of his next four bouts. He last appeared at Combate Cotas MMA 2 in June, when he delivered an 11-second knockout on Pablo Chazarreta. Alternates: Hugo Lezama Inurreta, Ricardo Aguilar
MIDDLEWEIGHT: Montano won 15 of his first 16 fights -- his lone defeat had come to former Maximum Fighting Championship titleholder Sam Alvey -- before losing a unanimous decision to Cathal Pendred at UFC 188 in June 2015. Afterward, the 31-year-old Bonebreakers Team export tested positive for PEDs and received a one-year suspension. “Dodger” has delivered all 15 of his professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, including 53-, 57-, 69-, 71-, 76-, 80- and 98-second finishes. Montano has won titles inside the Xtreme Fighter Society, Xtreme Fighters Latino and Xtreme Kombat organizations. Alternates: Roman Alcantar, Marcos Rodriguez
WELTERWEIGHT: The younger brother of Augusto “Dodger” Montano, this 30-year-old Bonebreakers Team standout made his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut at UFC Fight Night “Magny vs. Gastelum” on Nov. 21 and took a unanimous decision over Enrique Marin to win Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America.” It marked the first time he had gone the distance as a pro. Montano has six first-round finishes to his credit, including a rear-naked choke submission on UFC vet Polo Reyes two years ago. That propensity for sudden offense would make him an interesting play in a tournament setting where limiting damage and conserving energy could prove invaluable. Alternates: Edwin Aguilar, Ivan Castillo
LIGHTWEIGHT: Escudero brings a wealth of experience -- 35 fights of it -- and a powerhouse training camp to the table. The 30-year-old MMA Lab representative won Season 8 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series and holds wins over Drew Dober, Cole Miller, Phillipe Nover, Dan Lauzon and Louis Palomino. Escudero has secured more than half (13) of his 24 pro victories by submission, having shown a particular affinity for chokes. A state champion wrestler at Cibola High School, he earned All-America honors at Pima Community College before turning to mixed martial arts. Alternates: Akbarh Arreola, Marco Polo Reyes
FEATHERWEIGHT: Rodriguez has the wind of a six-fight winning streak at his back and has become an emerging star at 145 pounds. The 23-year-old Chicago-based featherweight burst on the scene by winning Season 1 of “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America,” capping his tournament run with a unanimous decision over Leandro Morales at UFC 180 in November 2014. The taekwondo black belt has since rattled off victories over Charles Rosa, Dan Hooker and Andre Fili, his flying head kick knockout on Team Alpha Male’s Fili allowing him to take up permanent residence on UFC highlight reels. Rodriguez has spent considerable time training at the Jackson-Wink MMA camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Alternates: Gabriel Benitez, Martin Bravo
BANTAMWEIGHT: A semifinalist on Season 1 of “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America,” Beltran has followed a three-fight losing streak on the regional scene in Mexico with three straight wins inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The 30-year-old last competed at UFC Fight Night “Dos Anjos vs. Alvarez” on July 7 in Las Vegas, where he submitted Reginaldo Vieira with a second-round rear-naked choke. His other two UFC victories came at the expense of Guangyou Ning and Marlon Vera. Beltran has delivered six of his eight career wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission. Alternates: Erik Perez, Jose Alday
FLYWEIGHT: A World Fighting Federation champion, Moreno trains out of the Entram Gym, where he sharpens his skills alongside Ultimate Fighting Championship vets Akbarh Arreola, Alejandro Perez, Enrique Briones and Marco Polo Reyes. The 22-year-old has authored six finishes during his current eight-fight winning streak, as he has begun to live up to his moniker. “The Assassin” last appeared at WFF 27 in April, when he submitted Isaac Camarillo with a rear-naked choke inside the first two minutes. All three of Moreno’s career defeats came by decision while he was still a teenager. Alternates: Ivan Hernandez Flores, Ivan Lopez
WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHT: Aldana, 28, has yet to go the distance in her brief but successful eight-fight career. The Lobo Gym export fought for the vacant Invicta Fighting Championships bantamweight crown in July 2015 but failed in her bid to capture promotional gold, succumbing to fourth-round ground-and-pound from Tonya Evinger. Aldana rebounded at Invicta 16 in March, as she needed a little more than three minutes to put away Jessamyn Duke with first-round punches. The Culiacan, Mexico, native holds other noteworthy victories over Colleen Schneider and Peggy Morgan, having submitted both women with rear-naked chokes. Alternates: Karina Rodriguez, Viridiana Gonzalez
WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT: A superstar in the making, Grasso owns a perfect 8-0 record and has already established herself as one of the top 115-pound fighters in the world. Operating out of the Lobo Gym in Guadalajara, Mexico, the 22-year-old returned from a 17-month absence in July to put a three-round beating on Jackson-Wink MMA rep Jodie Esquibel under the Invicta Fighting Championships banner. Since joining the Invicta roster in 2014, Grasso has bested Esquibel, Japanese prospect Mizuki Inoue, decorated American judoka Alida Gray and “The Ultimate Fighter 23” alum Ashley Cummins. Imagine the possibilities with UFC champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and countrywoman Karolina Kowalkiewicz also in the strawweight draw. Alternates: Montserrat Ruiz, Ruby Escarcega
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• United States
• Great Britain