The hammer dropped in a major way yesterday. The United States Anti-Doping Agency has been tapped to run the most stringent drug-testing program in contemporary professional athletics. And as of July 1, the UFC will become the model of sophistication and fair play, trumping the NFL, professional soccer, cycling, and every other major sports league, association, and club on the planet.
It’s basically the biggest announcement the UFC, or any mixed martial arts promotion for that matter, can make due to the nature of competition and how PEDs can enhance performances in MMA unlike in any other sport. The news also pushes talk of the Reebok sponsorship deal and fighter pay to the back burner for a while.
But there’s a gem hidden inside this complex and comprehensive testing regimen. By hiring USADA to run 2,750 in and out of competition drug tests annually, including random samples, the UFC has laid the beginnings of framework that could eventually lead to MMA in international competition.
Yes, now that the UFC has allowed USADA access to all 500 of its athletes and their blood and urine, the possibility of Olympic mixed martial arts becomes real. Think about it, the sport of Pankration, one of MMA’s predecessors in mixed combat, is an ancient relic from the B.C.-era Olympiad, making mixed martial arts a natural fit. The advanced drug testing is really just the icing on the cake and an insurance policy that the athletes are already up to Olympic standards.
Sure, gaining acceptance into, and favor with, the IOC, the governing body of the Olympics, is no easy feat. But then again, MMA is no ordinary sport—it’s the world’s fastest growing sport, an a real head turner, giving it, well, a puncher’s chance, or at least better odds than squash, which has failed on its last two attempts to join the Olympic ranks.
There are plenty of other reasons why MMA could eventually go Olympic, none more important than the fact that the sport already has competitors across the globe, and interest and competition would be high. In addition to the UFC, which boasts athletes from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, Sweden, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Afghanistan, there are so many fighters we’ve never heard of, from countries in Africa, and deep pockets of the Balkans that could benefit from international competition opportunities.
Olympic MMA could also be the one platform where fighters in rival promotions would finally have the opportunity to face each other. Imagine UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw squaring off against WSOF strap holder Marlon Moraes, or ONE FC welterweight titlist Ben Askren taking on the UFC’s Robbie Lawler. And as for the upcoming UFC 188 co-headliner between Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez? Well, those two wouldn’t have had to wait so long to scrap had this been an option before.
Of course, most of the men and women gracing the cages and rings of modern day MMA will already be retired by the time mixed martial arts hits the Olympic stage. The earliest chance of MMA joining the Olympics would realistically be 2024 or 2028. But because of the USADA testing and the organization’s commitment to administering tests around the world, in every country where the UFC has athletes, the sport has even more possibilities to gain traction with uneducated audiences and younger fans and practitioners, who will want to compete for their countries in the purest form of athletics.
And yes, Olympic sports like boxing, Judo, wrestling, and Taekwondo may take umbrage with MMA coming in and stealing some of their combat thunder. But ultimately, what’s good for mixed martial arts becomes good for those other disciplines down the road. Well, maybe not boxing …
Elbows would be an issue and quite controversial in the Olympics, not so much because of the blood or trauma they inflict, but rather in a seeded-bracket format, cuts would result in disqualification from future bouts, even in the medal round. Perhaps the IOC could run their tournament without elbows until the gold medal match. Hmm, where have we heard that before?
The mere thought of MMA in the Olympics today still sounds like a crazy pipe dream. But ten years ago, when the UFC was still pushing Mickey’s on the canvas, did anyone really thing the sport would be where it is today, on network television, sponsored by major apparel brands, and introducing the leaders in performance enhancing drug testing? No way, Jose; no way at all. So let’s not count it out just yet.
And while we’re at it, let’s consider one more overlooked nugget from the new USADA announcement, one that segues from the Olympics and international competition to the UFC’s biggest international draw, Georges St-Pierre.
A Canadian national (who would likely have to fight Rory MacDonald in order to earn entrance onto his national MMA squad), St-Pierre left the Octagon in December 2013, hinting at the need for the UFC to improve its drug testing policy. At 34, St-Pierre will likely be too old to compete by the time MMA hits the international stage, but does yesterday’s announcement factor into his inevitable return to the Octagon? There’s certainly a chance.
So while it may be another 12 or 16 years before we see MMA in the Olympics, there’s definitely a timeline that went into effect the moment Dr. Edwin Moses, Travis Tygart, and UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky stepped on that stage to unveil the new policy. And seriously, if the Olympics are ready to award medals in sevens rugby, kite surfing, rhythmic gymnastics, equestrian dressage, and walking, well, there’s certainly a place for MMA.
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