(Kevin Marshall's opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Spike.)
Everyone from Dana White to some dude in the Sherdog forums seems to think that if the MMA were to get into the Olympics, it'd be the best thing to happen to the sport since PRIDE.
But if you think about it, would it really be that great? I mean, besides the fact that Olympic MMA wouldn't have the Lenne Hardt screaming everyone's name.
Today, we look at five reasons why you, as a fan, definitely don't want this to happen.
1. The Cost of Competition
Getting into MMA is a costly endeavor. The right training and facilities can cost a pretty penny, but I'm talking about more than finances. I'm talking about the physical toll. Fighters need time to recover from fights and are often precluded from participating in fights within close proximity of each other for this very reason. MMA is not the deadly blood sport that its most vehement critics seem to think it is, but it's still dangerous and taxing
on the fighters.
For those reasons, convincing fighters to forego professional fights to put in the time necessary to first qualify and then compete in the Olympics would be a tough sell. It's hard enough already, if not impossible, for someone to make a living outside of the UFC. And that's with sponsorship deals, most of which wouldn't help in the Olympics since athletes wouldn't be able to compete with corporate logos on them.
2. There Isn't Enough International Competition…Yet
One of the UFC's primary goals the last few years has been to expand the sport around the globe. The promotion has gone to great lengths to make themselves an international brand by doing shows in England, Germany, Brazil, Sweden, and this Fall they'll hold their first ever event in China.
But the results have been mixed. While the events haven't had problems moving tickets, there's been little in the way of sustained interest in many of the places they've visited. Brazil, a country that many would assume would be a hotbed due to the volume of competitors coming from the country, is only just now warming up to the idea of embracing the sport. At least they seem like they're on their way. Places like Germany, England, and Sweden haven't seen nearly as much enthusiasm.
That doesn't mean MMA will never be popular overseas. MMA isn't quite as insular a sport as, say, American football. Its scope and popularity does reach beyond North America and competitors do come from outside the continental United States. The unfortunate fact, however, is that we still only see real competition coming from a handful of countries.
Given time, I think the level of international competition may increase, but we still seem to be at least a decade away (if not longer) from that happening.
Judging in the Olympics is far from perfect, but the missteps pale in comparison to what we see in MMA. Sports like synchronized diving and gymnastics have established criteria and systems of scoring that have made judging into more of a numbers-crunching game than a subjective endeavor.
MMA is inherently trickier. More importantly, it already has enough issues with judging.
The sport's issues with judging, which start with the defined criteria, would need to be addressed before the IOC would even consider taking a look at it.
4. Fighting for Points
Does anyone in the sport really want to encourage a style of fighting where the ultimate goal is to win a decision? That's what would happen if MMA were to go to the Olympics. Olympic boxing is basically a slightly more hazardous game of patty-cake, and getting MMA into the Olympics would probably lead to the same result. This leads us to the ultimate reason why you wouldn't want to see MMA in the Olympics…
5. It Wouldn't Be MMA
Because the Olympics only last for two weeks, a tournament to determine champions in MMA would require a change in rules to protect competitors from the type of physical damage they would normally sustain in a fight.
In short, it wouldn't be MMA. It would be a sport where fighters either don headgear or strikes to the head aren't allowed in order to prevent concussions and head trauma. It's not just the strikes, either; the amount of physical exertion that occurs in an MMA fight requires time for the body to recover, so Olympic rounds would be fewer and shorter, which would create logistical problems. Grapplers
, for example, wouldn't have the time necessary to ply their craft in an effective manner. Then you'd have other fighters who would simply smother their opponent, which could be addressed by having referees stand fighters up quicker, but that seems unfair and is asking for even more trouble.
CONCLUSION: Why Would You Want it to Be?
For these and other reasons, it's a good thing that MMA isn't an Olympic sport and likely won't be for any time in the foreseeable future.
There is a desire among many to see it happen simply because, in their eyes, it legitimizes the sport. I'd argue, though, that being in the Olympics isn't a necessity for the sport to attain legitimacy in the eyes of its critics. In fact, given the nature of those criticisms, the only likely perception on their end would be that the Olympics allowed that barbaric blood sport in.
Instead, we need to simply keep educating and enlightening those critics that still view it as barbaric. And, to an extent, we just need more time for the sport to cement and escape the albatross of the early days of bareknuckle No Holds Barred fighting.
Personally, I'm a fan of the Olympics and think that it's great for sports in general and specifically for martial arts. Especially Judo, which on Thursday saw Kayla Harrison become the first American to win a gold medal in the sport. But not every sport should or needs to be included. Baseball is no longer in the Olympics, and I'm hard pressed to find a convincing argument that this somehow hurts the sport. Then there are sports that are currently in the Olympics but whose inclusion seems unnecessary and counter-productive, for example soccer (which sees its best players pass on competing and operates in the shadow of the World Cup) and boxing (which is seeing more controversy this year and renewed calls for its abolition).
MMA doesn't need the Olympics and the Olympics doesn't need MMA. It's not a knock on either, it's just not an arrangement that makes sense nor benefits the sport or the IOC.Image: Laurence Griffiths /Getty Images