Freelance: MMA Essay- The Olympic Question

Fight fans recently celebrated the 7-day-long UFC International Fight Week. The event featured the 2016 International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) World Championships of Amateur MMA. Other than the Olympics, the IMMAF has become the highest level in the sport in the nation vs. nation sense. The 2016 Olympics are now underway and it seems that it's time to once again answer the perennial question: Will MMA ever become an Olympic sport?

Now is the part in the article (like many you've probably been reading) where you're told that the MMA-predecessor sport of Pankration was once a part of the games. It was--but in a similar fashion to Vale Tudo fights, the sport was a free-for-all. Full rules for the modern sport can be found here.

According to Brittanica, after receiving recognition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC,) "The IOC requires that the activity have administration by an international non-governmental organization that oversees at least one sport. Once a sport is recognized, it then moves to International Sports Federation (IF) status. At that point, the international organization administering the sport must enforce the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code, including conducting effective out-of-competition tests on the sport's competitors, while maintaining rules set forth by the Olympic Charter."

There's obviously more to this process but this is roughly where the IMMAF comes in. They are that aforementioned body. In preparation for this article, I read that the candidate sport must be considered a world sport (which explains why you're watching futbol instead of football from Rio right now.) The IMMAF currently has 50 member nations according to their website.

“To get into the Olympics we have to have at least 50 countries that are doing it,” Marc Ratner, the UFC’s vice president of regulatory affairs, told “We’re talking a long-range plan that’s not happening overnight. It’s not going to happen for a while, but the pieces are being put in place.”

Perhaps the most important thing to note is that "To become a part of the Games the sport's IF must apply for admittance by filing a petition establishing its criteria of eligibility to the IOC. The IOC may then admit an activity into the Olympic program in one of three different ways: as a sport, a discipline, which is a branch of a sport, or an event, which is a competition within a discipline."

Will it be MMA or Pankration?

While Pankration does have modern rules as does MMA, in a similar fashion to Dana White and former UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta, this journalist would guess that it will be MMA based on explosive growth in popularity. You will most likely see Olympic MMA in a ring like boxing due to the public perception of MMA cages.

Also, don't expect the other martial arts to go anywhere anytime soon. Among boxing, judo, and two varieties of wrestling, karate has recently been added to the 2020 games in Tokyo. It's likely that MMA will be classified as an event, to martial arts what the pentathlon is to the sport of track and field.

Will Pros Compete?

As the sport has proven time and time again, anything is possible in MMA, and while it might get to the point that we see the sport's biggest names compete during their careers while with the UFC or Bellator, the problem is that these are private companies (obviously) interested in their own bottom line. Dana White voiced his support of MMA in the Olympics compared to wrestling back in 2013.

“The problem is nobody wants to watch it. Any sport, especially these days, it’s about selling tickets, and eyeballs, and viewers and all these other things.” “We bring spectators (and) eyeballs, whether it’s on TV or whatever it is. This sport draws, wrestling doesn’t.”

The UFC is very proud of the Olympic track record of its competitors, having had 14 members of Team USA compete in the Octagon as of an article from 2014. But it seems that it would be unlikely that even with a change in ownership, the UFC or other organizations would sacrifice the profit from say McGregor vs. Diaz 2 to let them go on an Olympic "break" similar to the NHL. On the other hand, if a UFC or Bellator fighter comes away with a medal (preferably gold) it's great PR.

Right now, similar to the early Olympics that banned professionals, the hope of the sport seems to lies in the uncontracted fighters of the IMMAF with the pro leagues voicing their support as mentioned above.

The Next Step

"...according to the Federation's vision statement, they want "MMA to be recognized as a sport through the full membership of IMMAF in SportAccord." SportAccord, or the General Association of International Sports Federations, was created to unite different sports federations. They stress that the ultimate goal is to become an Olympic sport, calling it the "highest formal recognition possible for any sport."

-Men's Fitness

Fox Sports' website also reported in 2012 that the IMMAF would have qualifying rounds similar to how tennis requires a certain number of matches played or other sports require certain times to be met for an athlete to represent the sport on the biggest international level. 16 hopeful athletes from each division (the IMMAF recognizes ten, ranging from Strawweight to the uncommon Super Heavyweight) would have to make it through a series of four bouts.

Given that the IMMAF is amateur-only, it already has a shorter list of allowed practices that are seen in the UFC and elsewhere. That list would have to continue to shrink to meet Olympic standards, taking the "edge" off the sport for roughly two weeks every four years for the greater good of that sport. There would also be changes made to scoring bouts.

The present time in the sport has brought together more pieces of the puzzle than any other time before it.