The 2008 Summer Olympic Games and their vast commercial reach could
serve as a launching pad for the next mixed martial arts
With NBC, MSNBC, the USA Network and various Internet outlets
providing more than 3,600 hours of Olympic coverage, a
medal-winning athlete with a compelling story could be in perfect
position to crossover to MMA. After all, it has happened
Many Olympic wrestlers and judokas from various countries have gone
on to give MMA a try. Some enjoyed more success than others.
Ibrahim (Pictures), for instance, dominated the
Greco-Roman wrestling competition at the 2004 Olympics. The gold
medalist at 211 pounds made his MMA debut against the solid but
Fujita (Pictures), who knocked him out in little
more than a minute at a K-1 show in December 2004. Ibrahim has not
Kenny Monday won Olympic gold in freestyle wrestling in 1988 and a
silver medal in the same discipline four years later. In his lone
MMA bout, he took on John Lewis
(Pictures) -- one of the more accomplished
fighters he could have faced in 1997 -- and finished him in the
Mark Schultz, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle, was a late
replacement at UFC 9 in May 1996. Despite facing Gary
Goodridge (Pictures) at a time when he was one of the
world’s most feared strikers, Schultz stopped the Canadian on a
first-round cut. He appeared in only one other MMA match.
Japanese judo gold medalists Hidehiko
Yoshida (Pictures) and Makoto
Takimoto (Pictures) have had mixed success in MMA.
Nastula (Pictures), a judo gold medalist from
Poland, owns a subpar 1-3 mark in the sport, but his three losses
have come to former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett
(Pictures), reigning interim UFC heavyweight
Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) and Aleksander
Of course, at least one Olympian who failed to medal excelled in
Henderson (Pictures), who twice competed in the
Olympics, remains the only man to hold major titles in two weight
divisions simultaneously. His good fortune notwithstanding,
Sherdog.com focuses on three American wrestlers who medaled in the
Olympics and went on to high-profile MMA fights -- if not
Olympics: 1992 (Barcelona, Spain)
Weight/Discipline: 82 kilograms, freestyle wrestling
The 27-year-old native of Lansing, Mich., stormed through the draw
in Barcelona, Spain, on his way to the top of the medal stand.
An Iowa State University product, Jackson emerged from a stacked
group of Pool B wrestlers in which he was picked to lose on more
than one occasion. He responded in the clutch in the gold medal
match against Elmadi Jabrailov, as the American shut out his
opponent en route to victory.
Forever linked to one man’s highlight reel, Jackson may be best
known to MMA fans for submitting to a Frank
Shamrock (Pictures) armbar in less than 20 seconds in
the UFC’s first 205-pound title match. Jackson competed in only two
more professional fights after his encounter with Shamrock and
finished his MMA career with a 4-2 record.
One of only five American wrestlers to win three world titles,
Jackson is still considered one of the greatest freestyle wrestlers
in history. In 2001, he was named USA Wrestling’s National
Freestyle head coach and currently holds the position for the 2008
games in Beijing, China.
Olympics: 2000 (Sydney, Australia), 2004 (Athens,
Weight/Discipline: 130 kilograms, Greco-Roman wrestling
Medal: Gold, Bronze
It took a mere nine minutes of mat time in September 2000 for
Gardner to become the best-known amateur wrestler in the United
States. Following a 3-2 semifinal win, Gardner was pitted against
Russia’s Alexander Karelin in the gold medal match. A three-time
defending Olympic gold medalist, Karelin was a heavy favorite to
pummel the American upstart.
The two men battled to a scoreless tie at the end of regulation,
and Gardner scored the only point of the match in overtime. It was
Karelin’s first loss in international competition in more than 13
years; he had not been scored upon in more than six years.
Gardner retired from wrestling after he earned a bronze medal at
the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
The Greco-Roman star’s MMA career lasted all of one fight, as he
collided with fellow Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko
Yoshida (Pictures) at Pride “Shockwave 2004.” In a
fight remembered more for Gardner’s significant size advantage over
Yoshida, the American was awarded a unanimous decision. Gardner has
not competed since.
He will serve as a color commentator for NBC during its wrestling
coverage at the 2008 Olympics.
Olympics: 2000 (Sydney, Australia)
Weight/Discipline: 76 kilograms, Greco-Roman wrestling
An All-American at the University of Nebraska, Lindland began his
MMA career before he pursued his Olympic aspirations. In fact, he
won his first three fights.
On the mats at the 2000 Olympics, Lindland dominated pool play and
earned a bye into the semifinals of the 76-kilogram Greco-Roman
competition. Lindland’s win over Ukraine’s David Manukyan put him
in the gold medal match against Russia’s Mourat Kardanov. Following
a 3-0 defeat to Kardanov, Lindland walked away with the silver
medal. He was fighting Yoji Anjo in the UFC three months later.
Lindland boasts an impressive 21-5 record in MMA and has become a
mainstay on middleweight top 10 lists, despite losses to Murilo
Bustamante (Pictures) and David Terrell
(Pictures). Now 38, he serves as the model
for current Olympians hoping to cross over.
Since the 2004 Olympics, the sport of MMA has stabilized
financially and gained mainstream acceptance. The time seems ideal
for an Olympian to capitalize on his fame and to think about making
MMA his post-Olympics profession.
The latest crop of Team USA athletes competing in the Olympics is
young and mostly inexperienced in international competition. Though
none are favored to take home the gold, here are five wrestlers to
keep an eye on as the games unfold in Beijing, China:
Weight/Discipline: 84 kilograms, Greco-Roman
First Match: Aug. 14
The 185-pound Greco-Roman contender is one of only two members of
Team USA with prior Olympic experience. Vering was also a silver
medalist in the 2007 Greco-Roman championships, but he will have to
get past Russia’s Alexei Mishin to bring home the gold.
Weight/Discipline: 96 kilograms, freestyle
First Match: Aug. 21
At 211 pounds, Cormier is the other returning member from the 2004
squad, as he placed fourth in Athens, Greece. The multi-talented
Cormier was offered a scholarship to play football at Louisiana
State University coming out of high school.
Weight/Discipline: 96 kilograms, Greco-Roman
First Match: Aug. 14
Wheeler, who has never made an Olympic appearance, made noise just
by making the team. His upset of five-time defending national
champion Justin Ruiz came as a surprise to many experts. Wheeler is
a former member of the United States Coast Guard.
Weight/Discipline: 84 kilograms, Freestyle
First Match: Aug. 21
Hrovat pulled off the shocker of the U.S. Olympic trials when he
upset Team Quest Temecula’s Mo Lawel. The University of Michigan
product has had an up-and-down international career. A strong
showing in such a stacked weight division would come as a surprise
Weight/Discipline: 74 kilograms, Freestyle
First Match: Aug. 20
A 163-pound four-time All-American at the University Missouri,
Askren made waves by telling anyone who would listen that he plans
to take home the gold. He comes equipped with the marketable long
blond curls that have become his trademark. Despite his predictions
and signature haircut, Askren is ranked 30th in the world at his
weight. He recently announced his plan to shave his head prior to
his first match.
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