Opinion: Is MMA Still Light Years Away From Becoming An Olympic Sport?
In watching the closing ceremony of the 2012 summer games, I was struck by an exchange between the venerable sportscasters, Bob Costas and Al Michaels, the men charged with trying to conduct traffic for NBC’s Olympics broadcast.
The exchange in question was prompted when men wearing what appeared to be Lucha libre-style professional wrestling masks made their way around Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony. Bob Costas jokingly referred to them as, and I’m paraphrasing, the WWF’s representatives.
Al Michaels chuckled and then asked Costas if the mixed martial arts (MMA) delegation would be next. While such comments are far from insulting, these two men being more than a decade behind the times proved that MMA still has an incredible uphill climb before it can reach mainstream acceptance in the sports world.
I don’t necessarily take issue with the comments themselves, but more with the nonchalant and mocking manner in which the comments were delivered to a nationwide audience. To carelessly lump mixed martial arts, a sport that has clawed its way toward legitimacy, with choreographed professional wrestling, is something one would think seasoned and ardent sports professionals would avoid.
This is not to take away from the athleticism required in professional wrestling as it’s a tremendously demanding spectacle. However, its scripted nature bars it from being viewed as a true competitive sport, something that is absolutely not the case with MMA. The fighters’ will to win makes MMA’s competitive integrity beyond reproach.
This little casual conversation of only a few mere sentences directs us back to the question of why MMA is so often linked with professional wrestling. Certainly sensational incidents of unscrupulous fighter conduct can do well to unfavorably link the two sports, one only needs to look to Brock Lesnar’s UFC 100 post-fight rant in the cage as evidence.
The transfer of talent from one sport to the other can be seen as a synergy between the two sports, be it Ken Shamrock going from the UFC to the then-WWF in the 1990s, to a man like Lesnar who has made two different forays into professional wrestling with a stop in the UFC in between.
It’s interesting to see that the sometimes familiar act of fighters delving into “sports entertainment” causes MMA to be demeaned, yet when boxers like Mike Tyson or Floyd Mayweather, Jr. do spots for the WWE, sportscasters fail to even bat an eye.
It’s merely the downtrodden sport of boxing getting some much needed exposure. Even though Tyson, one of the most feared heavyweight boxers of all-time, is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame, his status as a competitive athlete is unquestioned. Not one sports analyst questioned the boxing acumen of Mayweather even though he had a match with “The Big Show” at WrestleMania XXIV.
The most tragic element of these seemingly simple and flippant comments was that they occurred during the most celebrated sporting event known to man – the Olympics. It was here, in a nearly three-week long international competition where sports ranging from equestrian to table tennis were highlighted, showcased, and most importantly treated with respect. Yet MMA, one of the most grueling sports in existence, was simply brushed off almost as if it were a theater attraction.
What’s truly disappointing is that the discourse concerning MMA’s deserved inclusion into the Olympics should be centered around why sports such as boxing, wrestling, Judo, and Tae Kwon Do, are all included in the games, but its culmination, MMA, is not.
Even MMA’s ancestor sport of Pankration was a staple of the original Olympic Games of Ancient Greece, yet its streamlined and civilized evolution is prohibited. Instead of such a meaningful discussion, proponents of MMA are left to fight the age old battle of differentiating it from professional wrestling.