Opinion: The Extinction of Olympic Wrestling and Its Impact on MMA
By Jesse Heitz
Recently it was announced by the International Olympic Committee that wrestling, both Greco Roman and Freestyle would be dropped from the Olympic Games, to be replaced by golf in the upcoming games, and possibly by wakeboarding, baseball, and Karate. This is a decision that may very well have some severe consequences for the still growing sport of MMA.
When I first heard this story, that the IOC was scrapping an Olympic sport that dates back to antiquity, citing some peculiar ratings numbers, I was in a state of total and utter disbelief. I thought it was some sort of bizarre joke. Unfortunately, that was not the case. One of the greatest sports known to man has been dealt yet another crippling blow, one that may sound its death knell.
The ridiculousness of this decision casts a very negative light over the IOC. That they’re foolish enough to think that wakeboarding, karate, and nationally-based baseball—during the heat of the regular season, is going to provide better numbers. The shining star of women’s MMA, Ronda Rousey, commented on this issue quite succinctly by stating to the “USA Today” that, “The idea that they’re replacing it with golf — I just think if you don’t break a sweat, it’s not a sport, it’s a skill.” This is not necessarily to say I agree, but to replace wrestling with golf…absurd.
I could carry on and blabber about the commercialization of the Olympics and the ignorance of its leadership, but the real point of this article is to hypothesize how the eradication of wrestling at the Olympics might damage MMA in the long-run. While it might actually take years and even decades to see the visible signs of the adverse effects of losing wrestling at the Olympics, I do think that we’ll see a change in MMA, probably not for the better.
Where I come from in the upper Midwest, wrestling is big, not quite as big as hockey, but it still has an incredible following. We’ve trained some of the very wrestlers that have helped to change the landscape of the sport that left an identifiable mark on MMA. Each one of these fighters who grew up wrestling undoubtedly kept at it because they had one goal, to capture a medal at the Olympics.
No kid keeps at a sport with the goal of being a high school or collegiate runner-up or even champion. No goal-oriented kid playing football ever had winning a national championship as their ultimate goal. In the same sense, no kid busting their hump on a wrestling mat for 15 years fixated their sights on becoming a national champion, the goal is inevitably bigger, Olympic gold. Young athletes, and older ones too, set their sights on winning the biggest championship that sport has to offer. The Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals, and for wrestling (and many other sports), the Olympics, are the pinnacles of their respective sport(s).
If we take this goal away from youngsters, can we be sure that wrestling will continue to produce a crop of unique talent that then flows into MMA? Will we still have a breed of wrestlers-turned-fighters (Olympians) such as: Dan Henderson, Daniel Cormier, Ben Askren, Matt Lindland, Mark Coleman, Dan Severn, and Randy Couture, or will these gifted athletes become the greatest unknown “what could have been” story in MMA history, as they ease up or give up the reins on wrestling and follow other athletic interests instead? I can’t definitively answer such a question, but my strong opinion lies with the latter. MMA will surely survive, but what could it be missing out on, that’s the real question.
In the end, former Olympian and current UFC Light Heavyweight contender, Dan Henderson, put it best when commenting on the situation, he remarked to the “USA Today” that, “It’s kind of sad, but I’ve been hearing that being threatened as a possibility for at least 20 years, so hopefully it doesn’t stay that way.“