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After London 2012, MMA in Rio's 2016 Olympics a compelling question


Between watching the ever-exciting Olympics games and this past weekend's UFC 150 pay-per-view (PPV), I couldn't help but wonder if the Powers That Be - in this case, the International Olympic Committee - would consider putting mixed martial arts (MMA) in as a sport for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Not only would it be timely given MMA's explosive growth, it would be a fitting debut, as the games will be held in the birthplace of MMA, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

However, there are a lot of questions that must be asked, because if the Byzantine process of solidifying the "rules" for Olympic sports such as judo and boxing are an indication, any combat sport can be egregiously watered down for the event.

For starters, while the UFC-dominated sport uses a cage, it's hard to see the already-wary IOC consenting to that configuration, for both perception of the new sport before its biggest stage ever, and the games itself. A ring would be more likely.

And second, if MMA in the Olympics is to truly elicit top-level interest, one could make a pretty easy argument that it should allow professional athletes to compete, much as was done with basketball beginning in 1992. And while that tweak has largely resulted in American dominance, a pro MMA clause in the Olympics would make for some insanely entertaining match-ups.

The trials would be fantastic as well. Just imagine Rory MacDonald and Georges St. Pierre duking it out for the Canadian spot at 170, or the crazy American elimination process for the 155 slot. The Brazilian team would also get a natural "full berth" in slots as the host of the games, giving another wonderful boost to the sport in the country that birthed it.

However, problems abound, even outside of getting the IOC to accept it as a sport for the next Olympiad.

The UFC has virtually all of the top fighters under contract, and from a business perspective, they would have to assess the risks of Olympic competition, to say nothing of the likely wrangling that would occur over preset sponsorship deals with fighters conflicting with Olympic rules.

And guys could and would be injured while competing in the Games, putting them out of action once they returned to the UFC.

The UFC has always held a long-view approach to building its brand and maximizing exposure, and on the whole, I'd guess they'd be willing to go along with it for the payoff. Let's just hope that once the concerted push gets underway, it is coherent and the folks doing the pushing present the numbers that cannot be ignored.

I can't remember the last time judo got a million PPV buys, and the U.S. boxing team's failure to win a single gold medal pretty much scuttled any major chance its members had at making a foothold in the public consciousness. MMA is the sport of the here, the now and the future, and Rio in 2016, however improbable, makes sense on so many levels if implemented correctly.

Jason Probst can be reached at or

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