Sunday, July 29, 2012

Can Jiu-Jitsu or even MMA become Olympic sports?

With the 2012 London Olympics now underway and in full swing, a question I had thought about eight years ago has popped up again? Can Jiu-Jitsu or submission grappling become an Olympic sport? However, since I originally thought about it, the sport of mixed martial arts has grown so much, that question has expanded to include MMA as well.

In November 1993 when Royce Gracie first stepped into the octagon @ UFC 1, little did we know then that what was referred to as, "Human cock fighting" by Senator John McCain, would soon become the fastest growing sport in the world. Not only did Gracie introduce his art to the world, he also helped launch a full fledged sport.

Fast forward nearly 19 years and jiu-jitsu along with MMA schools are everywhere; similar to when Karate and Kung-Fu schools popped up all over the world in the '70's after Bruce Lee popularized martial arts in the movies. Since that time, Taekowndo has become an Olympic sport to join both Judo and Wrestling as martial arts practiced around the world that has been part of the Olympic experience. So, can jiu-jitsu or submission grappling become an Olympic sport as well?

Eight years ago during the 2004 Olympic Games, I posed this question to MMA fighter and jiu-jitsu practitioner Frank Trigg. At the time, only 11 years after Royce Gracie's introduction to the world, Trigg's opinion was no it would not. Though the art was being practiced worldwide, he felt the sport itself was still struggling to be accepted mainstream, so there was no way it can be considered for the Olympics.

However, a lot can change in eight years and when it comes to the boom of MMA, has it ever. In 2005 Forrest Griffin and Stephen Bonner had a fight for the ages after the world saw them live and compete in the television reality series 'The Ultimate Fighter'. Right then and there, the landscape of the sport and the way it was viewed would never be the same again. Now it is on network television, internet radio and magazines everywhere.

On top of that, as for jiu-jitsu and (or) submission grappling, not only is it practiced worldwide, but tournaments are constantly being held; normally over a two-day weekend. Thus, an Olympic tournament over a two week span should not be a problem. However, the same is not so easy when it comes to MMA; the dynamic here is much different.

A full contact sport that features strikes doesn't appear to be a viable option over a two week period; yet, Boxing has been able to do it in the Olympics. However, boxing doesn't feature strikes coming from kicks, elbows and knees, besides punches. I posed this question to Gorgeous George, host of MMA Junkie Radio, and this was the reasoning behind him believing it could never happen; but I'm not so sure.

I've thought about this a little bit and figured if certain aspects from amateur boxing, amateur MMA and even professional MMA were instituted; maybe MMA might have a shot; not necessarily in four years, but someday. The first thing is headgear; in the amateur boxing ranks, including the Olympics, padded headgear is worn. Why can't the same be used in Olympic style MMA? It would minimize cuts, bruises and damage to the head, which would be the number one concern in a tournament run over a couple of weeks.

Second, in amateur MMA, the timing in rounds is cut down significantly from that of professional ranks. While professionals fight in five minute rounds, amateurs usually fight two minute rounds. Add that feature to another one from the Bellator Fighting Championships, an organization that uses tournament style fights, in which they eliminate the use of elbow strikes until the finals. All these together along with the increase and growth of amateur MMA fighters and suddenly things don't seem that much out of the realm.

I do realize there are factors working against this idea; one being the size of gloves in boxing versus MMA lends itself to safety. Also, while MMA has grown immensely popular over the last few years, it still isn't even 19 years old. Nonetheless, Gorgeous George believes jiu-jitsu can become an Olympic sport as quickly as 2016, since the games are being held in Rio de Janeiro, home of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. So if that happens, can MMA or the thought of such be far behind? Only time and the Olympic spirit will tell.

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