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.