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I’ve seen all the cute Olympic mixed martial arts stories over the past week or two and I have to tell you, I’m not a fan at all. I know there is a certain type of validation the sport might receive if somehow it ended up being an official Olympic event but to be honest, I don’t think I could handle watching whatever bastardized version of this sport was palatable for the International Olympic Committee.
I’ve talked about this topic many times in the past and like clockwork, it comes up again every four years, as another country sinks millions upon millions of dollars into the sinkhole that comes with being the host of an Olympiad. Every time the narrative goes something like this: “Man, wouldn’t it be great if MMA was in the Olympics? Just think how great it would be for all the athletes who would get to represent their country.”
My reply? Hell no. I don’t want to see fighters who belong at their local hillbilly hoedown show in a saloon or some casino somewhere wearing Old Glory like they’re the be all and all of American MMA.
I know “MMA in the Olympics” sounds special and grand, but let's not forget that in all likelihood, we’re not going to be getting a Conor McGregor-Jose Aldo rematch for the 145-pound gold medal; the UFC isn't going to give its athletes away to the Olympics every four years. Your gold medal contestants are going to be American kids from an amateur show you’ve never heard of, fighting Brazilian kids from a favela that you also haven’t heard of.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got my fill of unwatchable, unspectacular MMA to watch already and I don’t need anyone to tell me the guy who just won a gold medal is going to be the next big thing when he couldn’t even get on the 387th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Let’s face it: MMA is just not ready for the “Olympic treatment.”
Look at other combat sports already recognized by the IOC. Judo, Tae Kwan Do, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling and amateur boxing are all sports that place Olympic competition at or near the pinnacle of their sport’s accomplishments. Truthfully, if MMA fans really wanted to make a push for including a martial art, it would make way more sense to put forward Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It is a sport that already has an international sanctioning body and could feasibly send its best athletes to compete without having to effectively redesign the entire structure of the sport.
I don’t want to watch guys who are so bad at fighting they have to wear head gear and can’t use some of the techniques, like elbows and knees or ground-and-pound, that make MMA the sport it is. If you’re hoping to see MMA in The Games, you better be ready for that watering down.
Screw it, let’s say promoters like the UFC or Bellator MMA decide that letting their fighters head off to compete every four years on an international stage is good for business, despite the fact that could lose or be injured, hurting their drawing potential. Sure, there will be some champs that could steal mainstream spotlight from the traditional sports stars from track and field, swimming or gymnastics, but chances are any fighter getting shine at the Olympics is already one of the sport's most visible, well-known fighters. The one real advantage would be reaching the millions of fans that might never ever watch an MMA match if they didn’t see it in the Olympics. It's too bad they’d be watching a diluted version of MMA, a sport that can already be boring with proper rules and would be even more banal with the restrictions that would surly be placed on it in the Olympics.
So, in our fantasy land, pro MMA fighters represent their countries and travel across the globe in search of corporate, err, Olympic glory. What might that look like? Not pretty if you ask me. Can you imagine someone like “Jacare” Ronaldo Souza or Demian Maia -- two shoe-ins for any potential Brazilian team -- trying to use their legendary grappling on the canvas with head gear, big gloves, elbow pads and shin guards? Yeah, me neither.
I know there are plenty of fighters who would jump at the chance to represent their country, but how many of them would be banging down the door for that chance if the competition only somewhat resembled this sport at all?
This isn’t like hockey, where professional players have made it clear that they value playing in the Olympic Games enough to force their owners to allow their league to be shut down for two weeks every four years. They also have the luxury of negotiating their Olympic participation through their union, something MMA fighters don’t have. And the game itself, save for a bigger ice surface in some host cities and a few minor rule changes, is pretty much the same game played with the same gear by the best competitors each country has to offer.
If you could assure me that we could get Olympic MMA matches fought under the Unified Rules, with perhaps some small adjustments, by the best fighters from each country, of course, I’d be receptive. The problem is that these conversations are all pipe dreams, proposed by people naïve or just not smart enough to realize it is never going to happen.
Maybe next week, we can talk about cross-promotion and undisputed, unified MMA champions regardless of organizations; those things are about as likely as quality Olympic MMA.
Greg Savage is the Executive Editor of Sherdog.com and he can be reached by email or via Twitter @TheSavageTruth.