By Patrick Johnston
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - As mixed martial arts grapples for recognition as a mainstream sport, the powerbrokers behind its surge in popularity are adamant inclusion in the Olympic Games is close to becoming a reality.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) managing director Asia Pacific Mark Fischer told Reuters that an Olympic place might only be 20 years away thanks to the work of his organization in growing the sport and the introduction of the fledgling International Mixed Martial Arts Federation.
"Yes we do believe that MMA should be in the Olympics given its prominence as a sport all over the world," Fischer told Reuters in Singapore after announcing that the first UFC show in the city-state would take place on January 4
"Mixed martial arts, under the global leadership of UFC and us really inspiring and pushing the envelope, I think has a great chance to become an Olympic sport because it is participated now by countries literally all over the world.
"Because of the interest, because of the investment now the startups, gyms, promotions etc that are going into mixed martial arts, then we are very confident that we are going to have the weight behind this movement to be in the Olympics."
One of the fastest growing sports in the world, MMA is a full contact sport that allows fighters to utilize techniques from both striking and grappling martial arts such as boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling and judo.
Aided by the hugely popular reality TV show series 'The Ultimate Fighter' the UFC say they have managed to grow to 30 events a year and reach 354 million homes in 145 countries.
Hugely popular in the United States, Brazil, Japan and Canada, the UFC is looking to extend its reach throughout Asia and the IMMAF, founded in 2012, say they have 21 member federations on board with that number expected to reach 40 by next year.
Fischer, who previously worked with the NBA in growing their business in China, acknowledged, however, that Olympic inclusion was not on his immediate agenda as he bids to help MMA and the UFC in Asia.
"It is certainly a goal of our owners to do it one day. It is going to happen," Fischer said of the Olympic plans.
"Do we need it? No, we are going to survive and continue to grow. Would it help to put us on that next level of interest and really capture everybody's imagination and understanding? I think it would help tremendously. But we are talking about theoreticals."
But questions have been raised about the UFC's governance that could derail any Olympic ambitions.
Two years ago, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) criticized the UFC for administering their own testing of athletes and not involving either authority.
Fischer was adamant the UFC was clean and their methods above board.
"First of all, we follow WADA and on top of that we have actually in the last couple of years have instituted our own extra level of testing for PEDs (performance enhancing drugs)," Fischer said.
"So we are actually more strict now than WADA. It is a very important issue for us, we absolutely want our fighters to be clean and in the octagon competing on a very pure level."
(Editing by John O'Brien)