There was a time in the not-to-distant past when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was two million dollars in the hole. Today, it’s several billion in the black, thanks to the efforts of promotion president Dana White (and the checkbook of the Fertitta brothers).
Now, White tells NBC Sports he’s taking on a new fight.
“[Wrestling] needs to be more fan-friendly, it needs to be more exciting. I’ve met with a lot of the top guys in wrestling. Actually I met with them last Tuesday, and yeah, the UFC is joining the fight to help save Olympic wrestling. Not just Olympic wrestling, but colleges are dropping wrestling now. High schools have been dropping wrestling… I’ve personally funded tons of wrestling programs, and the UFC has funded tons of wrestling programs for high school kids. It’s in the discussion phase. These guys are going out and fighting the fight, and whatever they need from me and what I think I could do, [I'll do].”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board voted earlier this year to have amateur wrestling cut from future games in an effort to overhaul the entire program, focusing on “popularity, finances, tickets sold and governance” (see why here).
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Olympic freestyle wrestling champion Henry Cejudo is entering the mixed martial arts arena knowing that he has a lot to learn.
Some things, however, he already knows.
“I’m so used to wrestling where they have fans that just yell and scream,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview. “But in MMA, people are drinking. People are fighting in the stands.
“People are cussing. It’s something that’s completely, completely new for me. But at the same time it’s not going to faze me.”
The son of immigrants who rose from poverty in South Central Los Angeles to become Olympic champion, Cejudo was one of the feel-good stories of the 2008 Beijing Games.
On Saturday in Tucson, the 26-year-old Cejudo enters the MMA world to face Michael Poe, an aggressive bantamweight still searching for his first victory after four losses.
“I don’t know too much about him,” admitted Cejudo, who at 21 years old became the youngest American wrestler to claim Olympic gold. “I just know he loves fighting.
“In MMA anything can happen. He’s ready, I’m ready. It’s going to be a fight. The only thing I can promise you is that I’m going to give it my best.
Carnell Giles calls himself a teddy bear.
You might have a tough time telling that to anyone who has met him in the cage, however.
“I’m like the biggest teddy bear ever,” said Giles, the Columbus Township resident who turned 23 Thursday. “People actually can’t believe that I go in there and change and turn mean.”
Giles, who trains at the Big Dog Boxing Club, is 20-2 as an amateur mixed martial artist. On Feb. 17 he’ll defend one of his heavyweight championship belts in Lansing, when he takes on Josh Parisian at the Causeway Bay Hotel. The bout will be part of the Capital City Cage Fight Championship.
The plan, he said, is to turn pro by the end of the summer, which puts him well on track to achieve his goal of one day making it to the big leagues, the Ultimate Fighting Championships.
“At the youngest, (UFC heavyweights are about 28), I think,” Giles said. “That’s the most dominant place for MMA. It’s all about the grind. You go to Bellator or King of the Cage and you have to grind it out until you get accepted.
Ladarious Jackson gazed across the courtroom at the muscular man in shackles. It was like looking at himself.
He thought about their happier days, young brothers diving off furniture, playing like pro wrestlers. They escaped their sad reality, if only for a while, imagining themselves stars in a sport that celebrates illusion.
Anthony Jackson, 24, had once been among Pasco County’s most promising high school football and basketball stars, dazzling with speed and agility. Now he shuffled in chains, baby steps on his way to state prison for selling drugs. Ladarious wiped his eyes. He repeated a promise to himself that he would be different.
He hugged his mother, who had driven from Georgia, and they cried together. He forgave her, which will seemed strange to those who know the family’s story.
“She’s still my mother,” he said.
On Jan. 8, two months after that courtroom scene, Ladarious turned 21. His mother didn’t call.
“That’s okay,” he said. “I didn’t expect anything.”
For the last four years and change, Henry Cejudo has been a golden goose for MMA. Coming out of the 2008 Beijing Games where he claimed freestyle wrestling gold at 121 pounds, Cejudo was 21 years old and the youngest American wrestler to ever top the podium. With the impact of Zuffa’s WEC product taking shape already, onlookers were actively seeking an athlete that could bring the 125-pound division to the masses. They wanted Cejudo.
In addition to being a young, telegenic Olympic gold medal wrestler, Cejudo’s hard-scrabble background also generated some excitement. The youngest of six children, Cejudo bounced between impoverished neighborhoods in South-Central Los Angeles, Las Cruces, N.M., and Phoenix. His mother, a Mexican immigrant, couldn’t even go to Beijing to see her son compete because of her citizenship status. His gold medal, easy charm and background made it easy to envision him as a potential Oscar de la Hoya-esque figure for the MMA realm.
Instead, Cejudo rebuffed constant needling about an MMA career. Instead, he said he wanted to start a pro boxing career before rededicating himself to making the 2012 London Games. In April, Cejudo was defeated by Nick Simmons at the U.S. trials in Iowa City, Iowa, threw his wrestling shoes into the crowd and announced his wrestling career was over.
The path that led Ryan Ciotoli to mixed martial arts began at Ithaca College, where after a standout high school career at Union-Endicott, he would graduate in 2002 as one of the most successful wrestlers in school history.
Despite missing the majority of his senior year because of an injury, Ciotoli amassed 90 victories to just 22 defeats for the Bombers, twice making it to the finals of the Division III NCAA Tournament.
After graduation, Ciotoli stayed on as an assistant wrestling coach at Ithaca until 2008 and began learning mixed martial arts.
He started an intramural mixed martial arts club at the school and, in 2006, the club morphed into Bombsquad. The team of local fighters was based in Cortland, as Ciotoli says, out of his garage.
One of those original Bombsquad members was a relatively unknown fellow Union-Endicott graduate, Jon Jones, who is now the reigning UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and is more commonly known as “Bones.” Jones, an Ithaca resident and the first mixed martial arts fighter to be sponsored by Nike, is scheduled to defend his title at UFC 152 on Sept. 22 in Toronto.
In a perfect world, young athletes who rise to the top of combat sports like wrestling, boxing, and judo, would leave their sport to test themselves in the mixed martial arts arena.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in this world and MMA continues on without enjoying the participation of the world’s most elite in many of the individual combat disciplines
Still conspicuously absent from the MMA world is the bulk of the USA’s world class wrestlers, among them, London’s American Olympic freestlye medal winners. These athletes look poised to remain in the sport of wrestling for the forseeable future. Their sport is purely amateur, receives no government monetary support, and exists almost completely out of the limelight of public attention, yet MMA lacks the means to obtain them.
The Problem with Attracting the World’s Best Combat Athlete/Martial Artists to MMA
I think that there are, broadly speaking, two types of combat sports participants: those who love the combat, and those who love the individual sport itself. Usually those who rise to the level of an Olympic medal are the latter type, the former usually find the the upper levels of the sport to be too technically onerous and are more likely to gravitate toward MMA earlier in their career.
Much is made of the transition for those elite collegiate and Olympic wrestlers who wish to try mixed martial arts as a post-wrestling career option. On the heels of the 2012 London Olympic Games – which saw Americans Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner bring home gold medals in freestyle competition – the question about who is next to move from the amateur wrestling ranks to the professional MMA divisions is hotter than ever.
For one Greco-Roman Olympic champion, however, the move wasn’t as easy or fun as he thought it would be.
“For me, it was a different transition,” 2000 Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner said to Ariel Helwani on Monday’s The MMA Hour. “I’ve never really gotten into striking and hitting and hurting. I remember being in that fight and looking across [Hidehiko] Yoshida – he’s a very skilled, talented striker and ultimately his submissions and his ability to be able to throw is second to none – but as I was hitting him I’m like, ‘This isn’t fun. This isn’t why I became an athlete.
Gardner’s foray into mixed martial arts was shortlived. One bout, to be specific: a 2004 essentially open weight match with 1992 Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida at PRIDE Shockwave on New Year’s Eve. Gardner won via unanimous decision.
Mark Munoz will be a little wistful when he watches the upcoming Olympics on television. A two-time state high school wrestling champion from Vallejo who later won an NCAA title at Oklahoma State, Munoz twice tried to make the U.S. Olympic team.
“My dream was to win a gold medal representing my country, but it didn’t happen,” Munoz said. “I’ll always consider myself a wrestler. But these are the cards I was dealt, and my storyline is different now.”
Munoz isn’t complaining. He has found a second, more lucrative career in the rising sport of mixed martial arts. Munoz will fight Chris Weidman in the featured middleweight bout on the UFC on Fuel TV card at HP Pavilion on Wednesday.
Like many of MMA’s biggest stars, including South Bay heavyweight Cain Velasquez, Munoz and Weidman made the jump from amateur wrestling. They are part of a trend that has resulted in a curious juxtaposition. MMA is booming while wrestling, one of the ancient Olympic competitions, has become an endangered sport in the United States.