MMA is looking to get Olympic recognition. The IMMAF has begun the process, but how long could it take to become a reality?
Last Summer, news outlets from Sports Illustrated, Yahoo!, Men’s Fitness, even Newsday were asking the same question; “Could Mixed Martial Arts become an Olympic Sport?”
While the question has been asked and debated over for the last several months, the process is underway. How long will it take? That’s another major question all together.
Justin Brown, the SE Regional Director of the United States Mixed Martial Arts Federation (UMMAF), is preparing for the UMMAF Amateur National Championship Tournament May 26-28 from the Evolution Sports Gym in Elizabethon, TN. The event will be streamed on FloCombat.com. The winners in each of the 14 weight classes will then represent the United States in the IMMAF Amateur World Championship tournament. Does this formula sound familiar?
According to Brown, the proverbial ball is rolling to get the sport of MMA to the Olympic level. Much like another Olympic sport, Track & Field, there are still several hurdles to get over.
“It’s a long road. It takes multiple years to do it,” Brown said while appearing on the SFLC Podcast. “There’s several steps; first, we have to get in front of the SportAccord, which we submitted to. There’s a lot of steps involved with that. They’ve asked us to come back and have a certain amount of Federation members and a lot of other criteria. We’ve been under review, we’ve been kicked back which normally happens multiple times as it’s a pretty new sport.
“We’ve resubmitted and it’s going to continue to go on until we hit exactly the criteria they’re looking for. But, right now, we’ve been in compliance with everything they’ve asked us to do. We’ve got over 63 member federations around the world, which is unheard of. It’s unprecedented for a new sport coming on board. So, we’ve got the support.”
Listen to the interview with Justin Brown Below
Like most things in life, where there is support, there is also push-back. With MMA involving several disciplines, the specific ones that are already Olympic sports are in no hurry to see Mixed Martial Arts join them on the world stage.
“We’ve got several other sports that are pushing back against us because they think we will take away from them what they have tried to achieve, or think they’ll lose grasp on what they have achieved,” Brown said. “Other combative sports within Olympic recognition like Judo, Wrestling and those.
“They think it’s almost interference of what they are trying to accomplish. We don’t agree with that. We feel that we can help each other and we can help them.”
As with all other Olympic sports, Mixed Martial Arts will have to become compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which is not an easy feat, despite having their ducks in a row.
“That’s a tough one to get,” Brown said. “We do meet all of the criteria for them as well. They kicked back our application which happens, again, multiple times. We’ve re-submitted, and will continue to submit and get that compliance. But, we are above and beyond meeting all of the criteria that they would require from an Olympic sport.”
One of the questions that have been asked from a curiosity standpoint has been, “do any regulations need to change to promote fighter safety and Olympic compliance?” According to Brown, everything is in line already.
“We don’t think that they will(change regulations),” Brown said. “We’ve got the proper medical staff on our board that handles other Olympic sports. In fact, IMMAF is comprised of former Olympians in itself. We’ve got Densign White and Kerrith Brown, who head up IMMAF, are former Olympians themselves.
“So, we’ve got a great staff, very knowledgeable about what we need to do to obtain Olympic recognition. We feel the rules set apply to everything we want to accomplish, the equipment, we’ve actually increased our equipment usage. We do require shin guards and rash guards now, but we do not wear headgear.
“We think that the way it sits now, we can get that approved. But, again, until they come back and tell us otherwise, we’ll just continue on the path that we’re doing.”
Another frequently asked question as it relates to Olympic recognition moving forward is, “Who can be involved? Will we see only amateurs, or will we see some of the bigger names from the UFC, Bellator, etc. get involved like you would see in Basketball and Hockey?”
“That’s a good question and I hear that a good bit,” Brown said. “I hope it doesn’t go that way (professionals), because Basketball has kind of tainted that a little bit. So, I hope that it doesn’t happen. It’s never happened in Boxing, it stays amateur and the best sports within the Olympic committee have remained amateur.
“They’ve found a couple of loopholes where they’ve gotten around that. We don’t want to see that in MMA and IMMAF is heavily against allowing that for their sport recognition of MMA. So, we don’t think that’s going to be an issue. You never know in the future, but that’s not the path that’s being submitted on in any way.”
If MMA were to become an Olympic sport, a big question, although it is extremely difficult, almost impossible to answer, is how long will it take to see this great sport as part of our Olympic coverage?
“It looks like if we get SportAccord recognition within the next 2 years, which is the goal, we’ll probably get assigned to the 2024 Olympics,” Brown said. “The 2020 games have already been set, more than likely will miss that one. They’re not going to add another sport even if you get recognition because there is so much planning and logistics that go into creating that sport for the event.
“So, the 2020 Olympics are already well underway as far as planning goes. Realistically, we should be included in the 2024 Olympics, but, again, that’s dictated on approval from WADA, approval from SportAccord and all of the federations under the IMMAF umbrella.”
Another objection that the IMMAF may face is one of the prevalent objections New York state had to face when professional MMA was fighting to get legalization. “It’s too violent, it’s too barbaric.” It turns out, that has been a response they have received on multiple occasions.
“That’s been a huge hurdle for us,” Brown said. “We do things as safely as possible. We do our research, we’ve got all the highest standards in anti-doping and safety regulations of any amateur MMA organization that’s even come close to us. There’s no one in the realm of what we’re doing.
“We make it as safe as possible. For me, it’s the purist form of athletics you can get. Purist form of competition is a man competing against another man, no weapons, no nothing. Just competing against another person in full-on grappling and fighting, that’s the purist form of sport in my eyes. For us, we’ve had a long road to not just get MMA recognized as an Olympic sport, but to make it legal in a lot of these other countries that we participate in. So that’s been step 1, is moving it from illegal to either not recognized, or at least operate within these other countries.
“France, Ireland, a lot of these other countries, amateur MMA was illegal. And now we’ve gotten it to where it’s not recognized, but it’s no longer illegal to participate. That’s gone on around the globe in a lot of different countries. 63 countries have now recognized amateur MMA, the countries may not support it, same way in the U.S. The U.S. Olympic committee does not recognize MMA as a sport in any way. But they don’t stop us from holding competitions.”
While the hurdles have, and seem to remain a plenty, the good news is the process is underway. In a perfect world, MMA will be an Olympic sport in time for the 2024 games. In a less than perfect world, much like the sport has had to do since it’s inception, the IMMAF will continue to fight to get this sport on a worldwide stage. Time will tell where this train will end up. The good news is, it has left the station and is heading in the right direction.
Mike Heck is the a freelance MMA journalist covering the sport for a number of websites. Specializing in video interviews, Mike interviews everybody from prospects, to title contenders, to world champions, along with other influential personalities in the sport of MMA. Subscribe to his channel at https://youtube.com/mikeheckmma.