DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR MMA IN THE OLYMPICS –Kenny Rice
Every four years, for two weeks we become fascinated with feats of athletic grandeur. We admire the extraordinary commitment involved. To the point, at times over the many hours, where sports we don’t think about daily or annually garner some of our attention.
It’s probably our respect for the fact that the vast majority of Olympians compete for true love of their sport and country. There is something that grabs us knowing that for many, all those years of training come down to a few seconds that determine their success.
Around the period of Olympiads MMA fans ponder again, when will our sport become an event in the Games?
Don’t hold your breath, it isn’t going to happen.
The biggest obstacle is actually a simple one: there aren’t enough countries with MMA fighters. The International Olympic Committee sets the criteria for a sport to be valid in the Games if: for men the sport is widely practiced in 75 countries on 4 continents, and for women the sport is widely practiced in 40 countries on 3 continents.
The U.S., Canada, Japan, a dozen or so European countries and of course Brazil easily fit the requirements, but where are the other say 50 countries that widely participate?
And the martial arts are already Olympic mainstays. Judo, boxing, wrestling and Taekwondo enjoy worldwide participation. Over the past two decades participation in these sports has increased among female competitors as well. From this Ronda Rousey and Sara McMann have parlayed their success to embarking on MMA careers.
But let’s offer this hypothetical situation and bypass the requisite number of countries for MMA to become an Olympic sport. What do you think you will see, some kind of dream team? It’s never going to happen.
Michael Phelps and a few more superstars come into the games as multimillionaires with enough endorsement deals to already insure lifetime security. And of course there are the two major sports where the professionals, not just in theory, participate–basketball and tennis.
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, Andy Roddick and Serena Williams don’t need another medal to validate their impact. The basketball and tennis Olympians are the highest paid for their “day” jobs back in the States, still their patriotism and pride are highly commendable because of the risks.
A twisted knee, a broken ankle during the Games and their career is put on hold. It’s understandable that there are a few NBA owners, the most vocal being AXS TV and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who are not in favor of the players they award large contracts to possibly missing a sizable chunk – if not all – of a season because of an Olympic injury.
Which brings us to the next huge hurdle for MMA: Who would fight? These NBA stars make more money in one season than MMA stars make in a career. Can we expect Jon Jones or Jose Aldo or Dominick Cruz to take that chance of a serious injury?
MMA fighters don’t have guaranteed deals while they heal, and their endorsement contracts pale in comparison to what the suntanned beach volleyball goddesses Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings will get in a try for another gold.
The most prominent of the combative sports in the Olympics is boxing. Amateurs only,. Sure some get rewarded in their home country, like Cuba, based on a gold, silver or bronze medal, but you don’t hear Wladimir Klitschko, Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather, Jr. lamenting that pros should be included in their sport just like basketball and tennis players. The last U.S. gold medal winner in boxing at the 2004 Games in Athens, Andre Ward isn’t thinking about foregoing a seven figure salary to ever defend his medal.
If you think Cuban has a legitimate beef in his vociferous statements about NBA in the Olympics, can you imagine what UFC boss Dana White would have to say? Of course you can, it’s ringing in your brain now.
Which leads to the third reason MMA fans shouldn’t even ponder the idea: Boxing purists get bored with the Olympics because of the ambiguous scoring system that seldom acknowledges great body shots. It is rigidly structured, as much for the safety of the fighters as anything else. With their required headgear, shots from the shoulders up get the points, and a rattled boxer can continue, one with cracked ribs can’t. While the judging usually gets convoluted, the sheer nature of the sport– right or wrong– almost demands these rules in order to continue a two week tournament.
So MMA fans, would you even want to watch something so far removed from the cage you are accustomed to? An Olympic MMA bout with fighters in pads, short rounds and a reworking of what moves are legal? Don’t expect elbows, unless they are padded as well. With all the complaints of judges and referees in the pro ranks, you might blow up your TV set at what could unfold in the hypothetical Olympic MMA.
A talented collegiate wrestler is either going to try for the Olympic team or try to make it as a pro MMA fighter. Again, even if there were the remotest of possibility to fight in an MMA Olympics with restrictive rules, there is no incentive for an amateur to try it – much, much less a pro.
MMA doesn’t need the Olympics for growth; look at the UFC global expansion already.
After Inside MMA this week, Bas Rutten and our executive producer Darrell Ewalt sat with me at dinner and synchronized diving was on the TV in the restaurant. It was interesting we all agreed: the precision involved is amazing. Yet, as with most Olympic sports, it was but a brief stop for appreciative viewing until four years from now.
Validation certainly can be argued as the benefit of MMA in the Olympics, but like the maverick creation it is, MMA isn’t for every sports fan and as it’s proven, it doesn’t need to be. Its medal is not just being outside the box, but making an entire new one like no other sport has.
Watch Kenny Rice along with Bas Rutten LIVE every Monday night on Inside MMA, and check out Kenny’s new book “Not Hit Yet” an insider look at the MMA world in 2012, available at Amazon now
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