Olympics a direct pipeline to MMA

If the past is any indication, the Beijing Olympic competition in wrestling and judo could be the springboard for future mixed martial arts stars.

At least 21 different Olympic medalists from the two sports have gone on to compete in MMA. These days, it seems every member of the U.S. teams in those sports has been asked numerous times about making the jump.

But if you're looking at the how someone fared in Olympic competition to predict who will and won't make it in MMA, you're in for a rude awakening.

Olympic success seems to have little correlation with later MMA success, as many medalists hardly had distinguished careers switching to MMA.

Arguably the most successful mixed martial artist who made the transition, former PRIDE double champion Dan Henderson, only placed 10th in Greco-Roman in 1992 and 12th in 1996.

The three most successful MMA fighters that have come out of the Olympics were merican wrestlers Henderson, Matt Lindland and Mark Coleman.

Henderson (22-7), who turns 38 next week, ended up more feared for his strong right hand than his wrestling ability. But it was the combination of both that led him to becoming the first man in MMA history to simultaneously hold major world championships, the PRIDE belts, at both 183 and 205 pounds, until the company folded last year.

Affliction's Lindland, 38, is the most successful MMA fighter to boast of an Olympic medal. He captured a silver in Greco-Roman in 2000 at 168 pounds. Lindland is 21-5 in a 12-year MMA career and is still ranked among the top middleweights in the world.

Coleman, 43, who recently signed with UFC and is looking at moving to 205 pounds after suffering an MCL tear prior to a match scheduled for Aug. 9, with Brock Lesnar, is 15-8. The former national champion at Ohio State placed 7th in the 1992 Olympics as a freestyle wrestler at 220 pounds.

After failing to make the 1996 team, he walked into the UFC and became its top star, winning the UFC 10 and UFC 11 tournaments and then capturing the heavyweight title from Dan Severn in his first seven months in the sport.

Coleman looked unbeatable in the early days of the sport as the master of the takedown and ground and pound. In 2000, he captured the PRIDE Open Weight tournament title, at the time the toughest tournament in the game. His career struggled in recent years as Coleman and teammate Kevin Randleman were always criticized for not evolving their games past relying on their wrestling strengths.

Back in 1997, Henderson, Lindland and Randy Couture started experimenting, using their Greco-Roman background to figure out what did and didn't work in a fight. This new form of fighting was considered more a way for wrestlers to make some money to help continue fund their Olympic dreams that it was considered a career path in and of itself.

With two weeks of preparation and a few training sessions, knowing nothing but wrestling, Henderson made his MMA on June 15, 1997, winning the Brazil Open middleweight tournament in Rio de Janeiro.

"I did submit another wrestler," said Henderson about his debut. "It was kind of a wrestling move, a front headlock used as a choke. I squeezed like hell, but I didn't know what I was doing."

"Now you can't go in as a wrestler," he said. "You'll get beaten up."

Perhaps the most famous example of this occurred four years ago. Karam Gaber Ibrahim of Egypt, then 24, was the star wrestler in the 2004 Olympics.

Competing at 96 kilograms (211.5 pounds) in Greco-Roman, he was throwing world champions around like they were school children. But just a few months after winning the gold medal, he fought on a New Year's Eve show in Osaka, Japan, against the larger pro wrestler-turned-fighter, Kazuyuki Fujita, and was knocked out cold from a punch that resembled a clothesline-style manuever in just 1:07.

The Gaber Ibrahim situation is common in Japan, where they look to put their experienced MMA fighters against people in other sports with international credentials, but inexperienced in the fight game.

Still, that doesn't always work out for the Japanese.

On the same night as the Ibrahim vs. Fujita fight, Rulon Gardner, the 2000 gold medalist and 2004 bronze medalist as a superheavyweight in Greco-Roman wrestling, on a rival show in Saitama, Japan, faced former judo gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida. Gardner's balance from wrestling enabled him to keep the fight standing, and he used size and rudimentary boxing to batter Yoshida the entire match to take the decision. But Gardner said he did the fight as a one-time deal, had no interest in it as a career, and never fought again.

Henderson noted that Dremiel Byers, who placed seventh as a superheavyweight in Greco-Roman on Thursday, has talked about training with his camp after the Olympics. The other American superheavyweight, freestyle Steve Mocco, whose competition begins on Thursday, has also talked of trying MMA after the Olympics. Ben Askren, who competed in freestyle starting on Wednesday, has brought it up as well. Ronda Rousey, the bronze medalist at 154 pounds in women's judo, who trains with former Ultimate Fighter runner-up Manny Gamburyan, talked about the possibility of going MMA after winning her medal.

From Olympic gold to MMA

Mark Schultz : The 1984 Olympic wrestling gold medalist was in Detroit on May 17, 1996, for a UFC show, when a medical exam the day before the show revealed fighter Dave Beneteau had been concealing a broken hand. Schultz, who had studied jiu-jitsu after being submitted in a gym encounter with Rickson Gracie a few years earlier, stepped in for Beneteau and decisioned Gary Goodridge. UFC had high hopes for him, but the UFC's image in those days was so bad that Brigham Young University, where he was coaching wrestling, told him he'd be fired if he fought again.

Kenny Monday: Gold medalist in 1988 and silver medalist in 1992 at 163 pounds, Monday, considered a U.S. wrestling legend, is the only gold medalist who won a major championship, beating John Lewis for the Extreme Fighting Championship's welterweight title on March 28, 1997. But after EFC folded, and being caught by Matt Hume in a submissions-only match, Monday never competed again.

Kevin Jackson: Gold medalist in 1992 at 181 pounds, the creation of UFC's marquee title, the light heavyweight title, originally called the middleweight title, was due to Jackson, who was expected to be the first champion. But Frank Shamrock submitted Jackson with an armbar in 14 seconds in the first middleweight title match. Due to UFC's negative rep, Jackson, an Olympic team coach, was, like Schultz, told if he continued to fight he would lose his job, so ended his career in 1998 with a 4-2 record.

Hidehiko Yoshida: Gold medalist in 1992 in judo at 172 pounds. Yoshida, 9-6-1, was one of the top stars of the glory days of Japanese MMA, with wins over Don Frye, Royce Gracie, Tank Abbott and Mark Hunt, plus two competitive losses to Wanderlei Silva. His matches with Gracie and Rulon Gardner were two of the highest rated matches in Pride history.

Pawel Nastula: Gold medalist in 1992 in judo at 220 pounds, beating another future MMA fighter, South Korea's Kim Min-soo, he is 1-3 in MMA, although his losses have been to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Josh Barnett and Aleksander Emelianenko.

Makoto Takimoto: Gold medalist in 2000 in judo at 180 pounds, Takimoto is 4-4, but does have wins over Yoon Dong-Sik and former UFC middleweight champion Murilo Bustamante.

Rulon Gardner: Gold medalist in 2000 in Greco-Roman wrestling beating legendary Aleksander Karelin in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history as a superheavyweight, his December 31, 2004, win over Yoshida in the only battle of gold medalists in MMA history drew 27 million viewers on Japanese television.

Karam Gaber Ibrahim: The biggest flop of the gold medalists, losing in just 1:07 on December 31, 2004 to Kazuyuki Fujita after destroying Olympic competition at 211.5 pounds in Greco-Roman wrestling months earlier.

Istavan Majoros Gold medalist in 2004 Greco-Roman wrestling at 121 pounds, Majoros was fed to Kid Yamamoto on December 31, 2006, and knocked out in 3:46.