Dana White “Can’t Be the Guy to Save Wrestling,” Ponders MMA Entry into the Olympics

February 13, 2013
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UFC president Dana White

UFC president Dana White

The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday dropped a bombshell on the wrestling world, removing the sport from the Olympic program, knocking it out of the 2020 Olympic Games.

“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what’s right with the 25 core sports.”

Those core sports are: athletics, rowing, badminton, basketball, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, football, gymnastics, weightlifting, handball, hockey, judo, aquatics, modern pentathlon, taekwondo, tennis, table tennis, shooting, archery, triathlon, sailing and volleyball.

Wrestling is now on a short-list of eight sports that can argue its case for inclusion in the Games, but it is unlikely that it would be readmitted so quickly after being removed from the list of core sports. The other sports vying for inclusion are baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu.

When the bomb dropped on the wrestling world, the shockwaves immediately hit those in the mixed martial arts world smack in the face.

Wrestling is one of the core elements of MMA. Numerous successful wrestlers have made the move from the wrestling world to professional fighting: Daniel Cormier, Matt Lindland, Dan Henderson, Randy Couture, Mark Munoz, Cain Velasquez, and numerous others chief among them.

As soon as the word spread, calls immediately went out to UFC president Dana White to be the savior, but considering what the wrestling world is up against, that’s not likely to happen.

“I’ve been battling this problem for years now; colleges are dropping it, high schools are dropping wrestling,” said White following Wednesday’s UFC on Fuel TV 7 press conference in London.

“It’s an awesome base for fighting, for mixed martial arts, for everything. It changes people’s lives. It’s this grueling hard work and dedication, all the things that go in with being a wrestler.

“The problem is nobody wants to watch it.”

Therein lies the crux of the issue for the Olympics.

While the Olympics were originally the ultimate platform for sports, like most other ventures in the modern age, it has become a multi-faceted money machine, largely driven by the bottom line more so than by the will to declare the top athletes in the world in their respective sports.

That’s a key element of the IOC’s decision not lost on White.

“Any sport, especially these days, it’s about selling tickets and eyeballs and viewers and all these other things,” he stated, indicating that this could perhaps even be an opening for mixed martial arts to eventually find its way into the Games.

“There’s been a lot of people saying (to me) you gotta do something. But what this could be is the evolution of mixed martial arts becoming an Olympic sport,” White hypothesized. “We bring spectators, eyeballs, whether it’s on TV or whatever it is. This sport draws, wrestling doesn’t.”

It’s not that White wants wrestling to go away, far from it. Wrestling is a fundamental part of Olympic history – which makes the IOC’s decision all the more difficult for many to come to grips with – but it is also a core discipline of mixed martial arts.

For White, however, the IOC’s decision wasn’t as surprising as it seems it was for many others.

He has been bucking the trend of the waning popularity of competitive wrestling for years, understanding that it’s survival is important for the development of fighters. He seems less inclined to fight the changing tide, however, than to accept that competitive wrestling’s decline may just be an evolution of sport.

“I can’t be the guy to try and run out and save wrestling,” White declared.

“Do you know how many wrestling programs I’ve funded over the last five or six years? A lot. I don’t want to see wrestling go away either.

“It’s such a big part of the sport, but something is gonna happen here. It’s gonna evolve into mixed martial arts or something, I don’t know. I don’t think wrestling is gonna go anywhere, but competitive wrestling definitely is.”

Where it’s not going is the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, which will be held in Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo.

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  • annmariastat

    Relative to MMA, yes “nobody wants to watch wrestling”. Relative to modern pentathlon? LOTS of people want to watch it

  • Hopefully the high caliber wrestlers can transition to judo if they want to be in the olympics. Still this really sucks.

    • John Bunch

      I agree. It’s just hard to imagine wrestling being taken out of the Olympics. Traditions are dying left and right in the world…and now sports is following suit, chasing the money. While I understand, it seems like a balance can be found. I wonder if they have a ratings boost for wrestling at the 2016 Olympics, would they reconsider…

      • If there is any way for them to reconsider I would for sure do my part to help save the sport with a petition or whatever can help. A real shame. Well at least mma is still growing. I pray nobody ever tries to take that away.

        • Milosc

          The IOC has a “questions” page that only takes 30 sec to post a comment, NBC sports takes emails

          (links/addresses posted above)

  • The Dave

    Like Dana had a snowballs chance in hell of “jumping in” and saving wrestling. Having said that, it sucks to see it go.

  • Milosc

    Guys, it only takes a minute!

    Write a question to IOC: https://secure.registration.olympic.org/en/faq/ask-question

    USOC: communications@usoc.org

    NBC Sports (holds the broadcast rights to the 2020 games): nbcolympicsfeedback@nbcuni.com


    The Olympics are s*** anyways. Who cares. Now those same wrestlers can get an early start on their MMA training.

  • AllRounderMeguru

    This is the same thing that’s happening with boxing. These sports are gonna stick around forever, but competitively they are part of the exciting evolution of combat sport that is Mixed Martial Arts. That said, I really don’t wanna see either sport fade into obscurity

  • Cjb

    Actually, college and high school wrestling involvement is up over the last 7 years. High school wrestling is back at its highest level since the 1979-1980 season. 98 colleges have added wrestling in the last few years and hundreds of high schools as well. They have been on the upswing since the 2003-2004 season.

  • gnodeb

    I don’t care for Olympics for years… It’s nothing but hysteric tourism… maybe athletics and gymnastics are still serious but all other sports have bigger and more important (sport) events… Also, badminton, sailing, equestrian… as a “core” sports is a bad joke…

  • zack olson

    those wrestlers became that good at wrestling because they had the ultimate dream of wrestling in the olympics…alot of great wrestlers dont want to be fighters and wrestling may be all they have

  • zack olson

    like equestrian really? who cares about horses. what kind of athlete is that?

  • Tyme_5

    Good lord, drop Taekwondo should be dropped before wrestling. Just goes to show that they are only worried about the ratings and not the sport themselves. A wrestler would beat the holy crap out of a taekwondo guy…..

  • Bruiser

    Dana is a bit misguided. He might have heard about Division 1 programs getting dropped years ago, because that makes the news. But what he doesn’t know or hasn’t read in the news is:
    1. 95 new college wrestling teams (at all levels) have been established since 1999, NAIA, Junior College, etc.

    2. Wrestling is the 6th most popular high school boys sport with over 272,000 participants
    3. High school participation has grown by over 40,000 over the past decade
    4. The 2012 NCAA DI Wrestling Championships sold an unprecedented 112,000 tickets and wrestling is among the top 5 NCAA revenue producing championships (4 consecutive sellouts)
    5. Wrestling is one of the most diverse sports in the world, with nearly 200 nations from all continents participating in the sport and nearly 70 different countries represented in the Olympic games.

    So wrestling is not dying by any means. Pulling wrestling from the Olympics has much more to do with dodgy politics of the IOC. There was no US (nor any other successful wrestling countries) represented in the IOC’s decision. Wrestling has or exceeds every criteria that the IOC claims is their bases for an Olympic sport.

    It would be great to have Dana on wrestling’s side, but at the end of the day, the Illuminati Olympic Committee does what they want. Refer to this LA Times article. http://www.latimes.com/sports/olympics/la-sp-dwyre-olympics-wrestling-20130213,0,544031.column

  • SmokeysWorld

    This was a preliminary vote not a final vote. It has not officially been removed as of yet.