The MMA Impact of the IOC’s Decision to Drop Wrestling

Beijing Olympics Wrestling Freestyle Men 74kgOn Tuesday, news broke that the International Olympic Committee had dropped wrestling, one of the most ancient Olympic sports, from the Summer Games.

Wrestling and MMA have always shared an odd-yet-symbiotic relationship. The development will certainly change the MMA landscape, but the question is: How?

The news came as a shock to many in the wrestling community. From an MMA point of view, the sport was just beginning to gain attention as a sort of feeder league for the combat sport.

The athletes have always been there, but very few hardcore MMA fans had heard of Daniel Cormier or Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal until they stepped off the Olympic ladder and into a ring or cage. Last month, 2008 Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo announced that he hopes to make his MMA debut this spring.

Almost any MMA fan who saw fellow gold medalist Jordan Burroughs tear through the 2012 field wanted to see what he could do at welterweight.

It is common in MMA circles to hear things like “once kids start training nothing but MMA…” yet athletes who reached the highest levels of other related sports continue to dominate. In addition to the previously mentioned Cormier and Lawal, the list also includes Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland, Sara McMann and more.

After training at the highest levels for years, these athletes were able to enter a still budding sport and dominate. Without the Olympics as a goal, more wrestlers might make the jump into MMA directly following their college careers like Chad Mendes or Bubba Jenkins.

Then again, the lack of an Olympic goal might deter more youth involvement in the sport and hurt the sport domestically. For the most part, what’s good for wrestling is good for MMA.

During the lead up to the last two Olympic cycles there has been meaningless chatter about MMA or Brazilian jiu-jitsu becoming Olympic sports. Even UFC president Dana White hinted at a trip to New York for some kind of clandestine meeting to help move the idea of Olympic MMA forward.

Wrestling’s current plight should make the sheer impossibility of MMA or BJJ in the Olympics clear. On top of that, the absurd rule sets forced upon combat sports such as wrestling and boxing have done nothing to help the sports. In fact, many believe that the current rule sets governing freestyle and Greco-Roman are at least partially to blame for the drop.

Veteran wrestling journalist Andrew Hipps of InterMatWrestle.com says, “There needs to be changes to international wrestling to make it more attractive. The current rules make it very difficult for people to follow and understand.

Also, fans like action and excitement … and right now many international wrestling matches even at the highest levels don’t have action and excitement because of the rules and structure put in place by FILA, wrestling’s governing body.”

The good news for wrestling fans is that there is still a small chance the sport could be re-added in May when the IOC decides on a 26th sport for the 2020 Games. The IOC normally looks fondly upon sports that are truly international. Wrestling featured representatives from 71 countries at the 2012 Games.

The grassroots effort is already firmly underway here in the U.S. Facebook and Twitter pages like Save Olympic Wrestling are popping up everywhere.

As Hipps says, “Wrestling is not going to go away without a fight. The IOC is going to learn that they messed with the wrong sport.”