A Plan to Get MMA into the Summer Olympics

Summer Olympics
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08: A detail shot of Henry Cejudo's Olympic gold medal after his TKO victory over Marlon Moraes of Brazil in their bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 238 event at the United Center on June 8, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The 2020 Summer Olympics have already begun with soccer and softball kicking the games off, and while the opening ceremony is tomorrow night, it will once again not include any MMA athletes. That needs to change.

With all due respect to power walking, but if that can be an Olympic sport then why can’t mixed martial arts? 

Boxing works in the Summer Olympics and that includes way more head trauma than MMA is known to at this present time and if we presented it in a team fashion I think we could take care of fighter’s bodies and health as well as giving it a proper presentation.

The International Olympic Committee announced this week that Brisbane would be hosting the Summer Olympics for the third time in 2032, and while the current crop of Australian stars probably wouldn’t be around for those games, can we just imagine for a minute what type of hype a Robert Whittaker or Tai Tuivasa would get on an Olympic stage in their home country? We have seen how those stadium shows do for the UFC, but when you add an Olympic feel to it, you get goosebumps just thinking about it.

With that image fresh in mind, the sport needs dissecting in a couple of ways to give a proper understanding of how this can work from a scoring and team fashion, and this can be done by taking ideas from several organizations that currently exist.

Choosing What Countries Will Qualify for the Summer Olympics

As far as team building and choosing who gets to represent their country, there may need to be a relay team-style approach. When a men’s or women’s 4×100 team competes, there is a mix of good and bad runners who win and lose their circuits, so there must be flexibility in building these rosters.

Coaches would have to build a stable of fighters that want to opt into the Summer Olympics from the selected weight classes, and they could submit it to a committee who would then choose what teams would make the games. Is it fair to teams in a sport where anything can happen? Probably not, but it would be a lot harder to do normal qualifying like boxing does, where fighters have a bunch of fights and wear and tear before going to the games. 

Not including the money fighters would have to sacrifice with qualifying tournaments, it just makes sense to have a committee of either coaches, media members, or both, but they have to be qualified.

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Scoring System and Fight Setup

The PFL scoring system makes all the sense in the world here. The Professional Fighters League has its regular season run the course of two fights for its roster, and they earn three points for a win and then anywhere from three to one point earned for stoppages. This formula in a weight class table like the PFL does for its season could work perfectly for this.

Now, how do we set up the fights while providing entertainment to the fan while also protecting the fighters most importantly? Taking the blueprint LFA 112 this weekend for its Welterweight Grand Prix and combining it with what The Ultimate Fighter does would work. There should be shorter rounds, as LFA did with three-minute rounds, combined with two round fights. If there’s a draw, one more round would determine the winner. 

Determining Matchups

The Summer Olympics could again borrow a page from a different organization and a different sport in determining matchups, the UEFA Champions League.

If, for example, there are eight countries putting teams together to get approved, there could be eight heavyweight fighters with their names in a draw, and as the committee pulls names out, matchups are made at random. The Champions League does this, and it seems the fairest and most randomized way to build a tournament to have table scoring. It would also allow for a matchup to cross countries as well. There could be a heavyweight from Brazil fighting someone from Canada, and then a middleweight from Brazil could go against someone from Sweden.

Handling Weight Classes and Fighter Health

Having talked about fighter health and protection throughout this, this section may be the most important one yet. We have seen proper weight cutting and we have seen bad weight cutting. For this sport to be on the international stage, it has to be done right.

Instead of having all the normal weight classes, it might be beneficial to combine weight classes. It would combine talent pools while also saving some fighters from cutting weight and fighting at a more natural weight for themselves. The games were to use weight classes of heavyweight, middleweight, lightweight, bantamweight, and women’s bantamweight; it would save fighters from cutting any insane amount of weight and thus saving themselves throughout the course of the Summer Olympics.

The fighters themselves would only be asked to fight one fight to earn points for their country in the standings table. 

An example would be Marcin Tybura fighting for Poland and if he were to score a first-round knockout over Alexander Volkov of Russia then he earns six points towards Poland’s score as a country, and both fighters would be done with the Summer Olympics. This layout would generally avoid any extensive medical suspensions, cuts don’t play a role in future fights in knocking fighters out of the Olympics either. 

Making it Worth It to Promoters

This idea sounds like something Bellator CEO Scott Coker would be all for happening without much thought, but Dana White is going to need to be sold on this big time. What promotors would need to realize is that no other sporting event draws eyeballs from all over the world like the Summer Olympics.

How many times has the NBA seen an international star rise out of the Summer Olympics? Players like Ricky Rubio and Toni Kukoc leaped from international leagues to the NBA because of their performances on that stage. Organizations would be able to fast-track fighter’s stardoms while also creating new draws, all by competing on this stage.

Not to mention, promotions could even throw events in the surrounding areas with the influx of visitors from around the globe but the easiest way to gain money from the promotion is merchandise. In Brazil during the Rio Summer Olympics of 2016, a reported 15.5 million dollars in Olympic merchandise was sold. Fight fans love purchasing gear, so they would buy tons of fight kits, hats, shirts, or even buttons for this. It would be a gold mine in merchandise sales, and the media coverage is worth even more.

Bonus: Coaches and Teams

To end this sales pitch of adding the sport of mixed martial arts to the Summer Olympics, why don’t we look at what potential teams could have looked like had they pulled this off for this summer.

United States of America

Coach: Mike Brown, American Top Team

Heavyweight: Jon Jones

Middleweight: Jared Cannonier

Lightweight: Dustin Poirier

Bantamweight: T.J. Dillashaw

Women’s Bantamweight: Julianna Pena

Brazil

Coach: Rafael Cordeiro, Kings MMA

Heavyweight: Glover Texeira

Middleweight: Paulo Costa

Lightweight: Charles Oliveira

Bantamweight: Deiveson Figueredo

Women’s Bantamweight: Amanda Nunes

Australia

Coach: Eugene Bareman, City Kickboxing

Heavyweight: Tai Tuivasa

Middleweight: Robert Whittaker

Lightweight: Alexander Volkanovski

Bantamweight: Kai Kara-France

Women’s Bantamweight: Jessica Rose-Clark

 

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