While in Sweden for UFC on Fuel 2, the UFC announced their backing of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation, a group that will help MMA grow globally as well as streamline and standardize the sport so it can be included in the Olympics.
"Having an umbrella organization that will oversee and help build the sport on a global level will not only provide advanced and ever-improving safety standards but will also create a unified global model to help introduce the sport to new markets. It is our hope that it will also take us one step closer to witnessing the inclusion of the sport of MMA on the Olympic program," UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta said via press release.
But getting a sport included in the Olympics is a difficult, drawn-out, incredibly political process, which was discussed by IMMAF chair August Wallen.
You talk to any athlete and say, 'Would you like to compete in the Olympics?' who would say no? That's something we have to have as a vision down the line, but getting a lot of national federations, starting world championships, applying for SportAccord, that's things we can control. When you're going into the Olympics, you have to compete with other sports that want to go into the Olympics.
To be included in the Olympics, the sport has to think long-term and be ready to make several changes. MMA needs to be accepted by SportAccord, an umbrella group that supports individual sports' governing bodies. Not only does the IMMAF need to prove that MMA is a sport, but they have to show how it corrals MMA's disparate national governing bodies.
In their application to SportAccord, the IMMAF will have to include a "copy of its constitution/statutes, regulations and directives which must comply with the World Anti Doping Code (incl. detailed statistics on the tests conducted and the number of anti-doping rules violations having led to sanctions)."
Right now, in the U.S. alone, the different states' commissions anti-doping standards are not anywhere near as stringent as that of the World Anti-Doping Alliance. For example, the Nevada Athletic Commission is just trying out out-of-competition drug testing. They used it when all of the heavyweights for UFC 146 happened to be in town for a pre-fight press conference, and they are one of the few states to even try it. It's a good start, but WADA's idea of out-of-competition testing includes sending drug testers out and having them knock on athletes' doors at ungodly hours for drug tests and expensive tests that are beyond the means of most cash-strapped state commissions.
Membership in SportAccord also requires that the sport is truly global. They define that as "at least 40 active Member Federations from at least three continents." A member federation is a national governing body, like USA Wrestling. While MMA is popular enough to easily meet the three continents requirement, 40 national governing bodies is a tough get as the sport stands now. Several countries the UFC visits have no governing body, so the UFC has to act as their own commission by providing judges, referees and running weigh-ins.
SportAccord has many more qualifications including an already existing world championship structure, proof that judges are well-trained and fair, and a long-term strategy which ensures long-term health for the sport.
After SportAccord, the IOC
Once the IMMAF meets all these requirements and gets accepted into SportAccord, it's a whole other uphill battle to get in the Olympics. They need to convince two thirds of the notoriously stodgy International Olympic Committee that MMA is a sport that is worthy of inclusion.
If MMA plans to lobby for the Summer Olympics, where it would make the most sense, it has to hope that another sport is cut. The Summer Games are capped at 28 sports. Golf and rugby were voted into the docket for this summer's Olympics in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Baseball and softball (which were in the Olympics but cut in 2008), karate, squash and roller sports are also trying to make it in the Olympic door.
This is not to say inclusion of MMA in a future Olympics can't happen. Wallen said he would like to see a country with strong MMA ties get the Olympics so that the sport can be included as a demonstration. Istanbul, Turkey; Tokyo, Japan; Baku, Azerbaijan; Doha, Qatar; and Madrid, Spain are bidding for the 2020 Games.
With the IMMAF's founding, the sport is much closer to the goal than it was a year ago as the IMMAF can help MMA's disparate governing bodies move towards standards that will cover the sport from top to bottom.
However, MMA fans should realize that seeing Jon Jones or Jose Aldo win Olympic gold is unlikely. Hope, instead, to see Jones' daughter on the Olympic podium.