Mixed Martial Arts Should Be An Olympic Sport
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Thanks to my opponent for joining in the debate where I'll defend my pro position that MMA should be an Olympic sport.
Before I present my arguments, I'd just like to point out some of the key definitions to be used in arguments from both sides so it becomes clearer as we proceed.
Sports: an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment .
Olympic Sports/Games: : a modified revival of the ancient Olympic Games consisting of international athletic contests that are held at separate winter and summer gatherings at four year intervals — called also Olympics .
Mixed Martial Arts: Hybrid combat sport incorporating techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, jujitsu, karate, Muay Thai (Thai boxing), and other disciplines .
Now, from the definitions above it is almost conceivable that MMA has no barrier to be included as an Olympic sport hypothetically. However, it is not one because of some justifiable but solvable issues and technicalities. As an advocate for MMA to be regarded as an Olympic sport, I'd need to not only address these issues individually but also discard them rationally for a future possibility of inclusion of the sport into Olympics.
Let's start with whether MMA being a sport or not in the first place matters at all since it is already a hotly debated topic and it goes on to this day. Well, it does matter and unsure of what my opponent holds the view on this, I'll argue that it is very much of a sport according to the first definition and not a Sports Entertainment as some may put it . Since we are in this debate of inclusion of the sport into the Olympics, I'm assuming that I'd be joined by my opponent on this; if not we'd go on about it in the next exchanges.
Now, why isn't MMA included yet as an Olympic sport despite being a great sport as I'm claiming it to be? Before covering "WHY", I'd like to propose my argument of "WHY IT SHOULD BE". So, we'll start at the base of the Olympics to figure that out and see if that works to convince all who believe otherwise.
The basic requirements of a sport to qualify for Olympics are to serve a great deal purpose to my argument here. Olympics used to choose sport for its program based on an ancient history although the approach has changed now and we see a constant on-and-off status for multiple sports to be appearing in a particular year based on approvals by local and central committees. However, for a particular sport to be listed in the Olympics, it has to be recognized primarily by the 90 members body of International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the recognition immediately achieves International Sports Federation (IF) status for that sport. But even that recognition doesn't ensure a coveted slot for the sport to be officially accepted as an event. The international organization representing that sport has to tick all the boxes of criteria of eligibility of that sport put forward by the IOC .
These criteria are squeezed into 5 broader categories namely -
- Olympic Proposal
- Institutional Matters
- Olympic Values
- Business Model
At this point it is obligatory that I explicitly provide a demographic view before you as to how MMA stands in a solid state to claim as a sport inside Olympic bracket. To do so, I'll acknowledge all the 5 categories above and try to pledge the approval by checking some of the key criteria within each category.
- Appeal of MMA to the Olympic Proposal: The Olympic authorities demand a historical background of any sport they further tend to evaluate for addition. Fortunately, mixed martial arts has a very interesting origin and ironically that origin involves the 33rd Olympic in 648 BCE where a similar sport blending the art of Wrestling and Boxing was introduced for the first time . Such an innovative sport was known as "Pankration" and it still stands a historical test of account; not just a myth. Secondly in this category, Olympic heads look for a sustainable foundation as in international organizations that regulate the sport in a wide range and also the regularity of the authorities to promote the sport globally. At this point, I'd like to confess that the debate here focuses on amateur MMA only as the Olympic events mostly prioritize amateur competitions which doesn't necessarily mean that professional MMA may never be seen on the Olympic show. Primarily, amateur MMA may set the scene for the sport to evolve and gain acceptance for a professional debut. For that to work, amateur MMA has seen a significant rise with the onset of International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) in 2012 and World Mixed Martial Arts Association (WMMAA) and their joint collaboration as IMMAF-WMMAA . They have been holding out world championship tournaments ever since with great effectiveness and networking that includes the amateur competitors fighting in different weight classes from different parts of the world and representing organizations like United States Mixed Martial Arts Federation (UMMAF) . It can be derived from here that from an infrastructural point of view amateur MMA has a decent ground to hold on.
- Institutional Prowess of MMA: Olympic committee asks for the financial status for a sport as they evaluate the sports growth and sustainence over the years; which I'll cover in my fourth point against the Business Model category. For now I will cover another major demand in the category known as Gender Equity. The IOC focuses on the spread of the sport they include and that leads to the discussion if the sport has enough access to participants of both gender. Needless to say, since the late 2000's, women's MMA has set off especially with introduction of WMMA in UFC- the sports pioneer and mainstream attraction and more specifically with upsurge of a global draw like Ronda Rousey lining the tradition till Amanda Nunes of today. Though that doesn't necessarily speak for all the women amateurs, it is obvious to account for a ripple effect up to the amateur competitions and so we observe the women's amateur MMA expanding all around the world. In Florida, a big selling point for both professional and amateur MMA fights, only 0.05% of pro fighters in 2019 were female which indicates a large number of amateur fighters in the state still awaiting transitions into pro following the footsteps of the likes of Trisha Cicero, Jessica Borga and Claudia Zamoura .
- MMA Retaining Olympic Values: Olympic games identify olympism to be a core mechanism in society and culture by practicing friendship, solidarity, determination and integrity through means of sport . It's true that initially around the time of mid 90's to late 90's when UFC came into being, it was not supported as a sport and was literally banned in most of the states as a barbaric show of violence. But the classic UFC and MMA with no definitive rules and regulations while served the purpose of a form of entertainment, with the evolution of the UFC monopoly, distribution of weight classes and rules and regulations afterwards and imposition of United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in 2015 , the showdown turned itself into a mainstream sport as of now. Still, one may argue that the major MMA promotions (UFC, ONE FC, Bellator FC etc) do not have a systemic strategy to crown champions as they lean towards selling venues with fights with huge commercial potential disregarding the merit of fighters and so they are more like reality shows like WWE only without predetermined fate of fights . While that is mostly true from a biz on TV perspective, amateur MMA doesn't really follow that kind of proceedings in case of championship bouts. Therefore, there is no hurdle there for amateur MMA for retaining all the Olympic values and being patented as a respected and friendly physical and athletic competition. Marc Ratner, Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs of UFC, continues this advocacy even on behalf of professional MMA as he quotes- “We put on the fights that fans want to see and they want to see competitive fights [emphasis mine].” . However, there is one other important issue that the IOC supervises- the anti-doping policy through World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Regarding that, Justin Brown, the SE Regional Director of UMMAF, states- “That’s a tough one to get. We do meet all of the criteria
for them as well. They kicked back our application which happens,
again, multiple times. We’ve re-submitted, and will continue to submit
and get that compliance. But, we are above and beyond meeting all of the
criteria that they would require from an Olympic sport.” . So, the issue is seemingly more than resolved at this point.
- MMA Business Model: Popularity stunts just like any other sport cloud the entire MMA community and therefore a curve of unequal distribution of salaries is found when we plot the entire statistics. Moreover, there are various other reasons as well that set apart the financial diagram of MMA from any other global sporting event including the monopoly or supposed duopoly of pro MMA. According to John S. Nash of Bloody Elbows, the latest revenue of UFC in 2016 was 666 million $ which could rise up to a stuttering 980 by the end of this year . Paul Gift of Forbes reports an erect curve for ONE FC since its dawning till 2018 as well . While the professional promotions look good in this regard of incoming revenues, they fall far behind paying fighters properly compared to that of professional boxers because of the abovementioned issues . On the other hand, amateur fighters are only compensated by travel costs and sponsorships alone as they are not to be paid with fight purses due to the differentiation with professionals. This system has been long granted by Nevada State Athletic Committee (NSAC) . In this case NSAC actually makes way for sanctioning the amateur promotions by organizations like International Combat Sports Federation (ICSF)  which makes it a clear and legal procedure and there hasn't been any authentic report of IOC or IMMAF condemning it.
- Popularity of MMA: There has been a bombardment of popularity increase of MMA ever since its inception and with years it went curving up the ladder. In a 2011 report of Bleacher Reports, MMA as a sport had already dominated Boxing in popularity landscape . Some may point out it has only been possible for that "all-out-no-rules-fighting-entertainment-reason", it may be worth mentioning that after much reformation into the sports structure, in 2017 it still remained the the fastest growing sports in the world, claimed by The Guardian . It has been called the fastest growing sport in the world by many others as well and the same article where it says that also attaches a statistical figure where it says that people within the age spectrum of 18-34 basically prefer MMA over NHL or NASCAR  which is actually a very relevant data considering the fact that IOC happens to emphasize on youth-friendliness of a sport . The sport has already transcended borders of over 63 countries and 5 continents even in remote regions that might have had no historical background before. For example, India which was renowned for "Indian Kushti" or Local Wrestling is surprisingly experiencing a a huge booster in amateur and pro MMA competitions . So, if Olympics require for global popularity ratios, mixed martial arts continue to fill in the gaps everyday because of its uniqueness and growing fanbase.
I will conclude at this point as I believe I have presented sufficient evidences by refuting every argument that could be brought out in terms of fitting MMA to the Olympic sports criteria. After my opponent has noted down his points I will resurface why MMA hasn't been authorized by Olympics yet and why they would easily be in no time.
MMA is indeed a sport, but is it worthy of being OLYMPIC level of sport, this is a problem. One article notes down the worries perfectly well (https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1155855-why-mma-in-the-olympics-would-never-work). It tells us about the potential nature of safety and contradicting the nature of pro players-- "While headgear is worn in various MMA promotions throughout the country, it changes certain aspects of the ground game. So much so that most professional fighters would not want to wear it.
At the end of each UFC fight, fighters are automatically suspended for 14 days due to precautionary reasons. It would be irresponsible for the Olympic Committee to expect an MMA fighter to take on more than one fight within a two-week span." Because Olympic does not pay its athletes as well, it would be difficult for MMA athletes to fulfill the slots necessary for a tournament. It would take away time from their more consistent job. Consider the payment roll from https://www.moneyunder30.com/how-much-do-olympic-athletes-earn, yes, the first second and third place gets a ton of money, a few thousand, pretty good, but everyone else has very little consolation prize, and thus alienates people unless they think they can land top three within MMA, especially as it is a violent and difficult sport.
MMA is also incredibly vague with judging and makes Olympic sport very dependent on judges and tricky to let a winner shine through. Remember how running is simply the fastest. Swimming as well. It's far easier to judge these winners. But to put a few thousand dollars upon the vague categories is extremely difficult to accept. Look at the section of the point giving system-- https://www.graciemag.com/en/2011/05/20/do-you-understand-mmas-point-system/,
Superiority in striking: Awarding points to the fighter who throws the most strikes that put the opponent in danger, who imposes his technique and demonstrates a broader and better repertory, strings together good combinations using the arms and legs.
– Takedowns: Awarding points to the athlete who takes his opponent down more times and to greater effect on the ground, or to the one who manages to successfully defend his opponent’s takedown attempts.
– Ground superiority: Judging the action playing out on the ground separately from the standup action. The following should be considered: successfully passing guard to arrive at superior positions, strikes landed via ground and pound, application of locks and chokes that put the opponent in danger, as well as guard replacement and reversals (sweeps) and effectively defending locks.
– Effective striking: Awarding points to the fighter who lands the greatest number of hard strikes on his opponent, visibly wounding or stunning him, both while on the feet and on the ground, also counting knockdowns achieved during standup fighting.
– Aggressiveness: Awarding points to the athlete who moves forward in attack, forces the action, attempts to corner his opponent, presents greater danger, accepts a straight-up fight, and strikes with momentum. Or, on the ground, the fighter who takes the most initiative, who alternates guard-passing moves with hard strikes, and who is efficient in not allowing his opponent room in which to move.
– Ring (or cage) control: Awarding points to the athlete who controls the pace and positioning of the fight; who, when standing, sets the range and imposes his moves, and, when on the ground, uses space in his favor. Another item to take into consideration is clinch control.
As you can see, all of these, except perhaps takedowns, is up to interpretation and very ambiguous. Riots and fights could break out especially if the judge is being wishy washy. Boxing is very clear because the only way to win is to make your opponent unable to stand up for 10 seconds, or surrender. That's very simple and logical to determine. But MMA is too vague, too subjective. It doesn't meet the Olympic level of standard. I'm just not seeing MMA becoming an Olympic sport.
Thanks to con for his opening statement but with all due respect I refute them all for the sake of the debate and also in a general sense. But before I move on to counter the arguments, I will now propose a new argument of my own adding to my first round arguments.
So in the first round, I just stated how MMA should be compatible with all the criteria that the Olympics asks for. Now, despite all that, why doesn't Olympic associations haven't decided to go with it? The closer one can get to earn that slot of honor in the greatest show on earth, the better are the chances as we can understand. Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF) is that of a magnitude in the Olympic world. In 2016 GAISF actually declined to put MMA and some other sports under the observer status which really makes it a little complex. Regarding the issue, Densign White, Chief Executive for IMMAF states,
“We’re getting all these walls put up in front of us stopping us from gaining any recognition that will allow us to actually regulate the sport properly. We are a long way from getting IOC recognition, but GAISF recognition would actually give the sport credibility.” .
Interestingly the Director of GAISF, Philippe Guisbuhler refused to disclose the matter in public which means that there is no specification as to why MMA was not considered for the status . And so only plausible reason that may be assumed for that matter is the single disciplines of martial arts that have already gained that recognition i.e; Judo, Karate or Kickboxing etc. In fact White claimed that the GAISF asked him to resolve these internal conflicts between IMMAF and WMMAA for a constructional dialogue later on. White remarks,
“There is a fear, I believe, that MMA is growing too quickly and I think they’re concerned about the commercial impact it’s going to have on them. They may even be concerned that it may hinder their entry into the Olympic Games programme. Some of these sports have been waiting for years. Their perception may be that MMA has gotten too popular and there is a risk here that MMA gets recognized and jumps ahead of us to the Olympic Games.”
A similar quotation can also be found from Justin Brown of UMMAF who also believes that there is a lack of support from the single disciplined martial arts towards MMA which is not helping at all-
“We’ve got several other sports that are pushing back against us because they think we will take away from them what they have tried to achieve, or think they’ll lose grasp on what they have achieved. Other combative sports within Olympic recognition like Judo, Wrestling and those. They think it’s almost interference of what they are trying to accomplish. We don’t agree with that. We feel that we can help each other and we can help them.” .
So, it is almost obvious that IOC or GAISF couldn't point out an intrinsic relevant flaw or problem with the sport of MMA rather its the peer pressure of disciplines or sports of other martial arts that are hindering MMA's inclusion into Olympics because of sole interest.
The solution to this however would be nothing but the collaboration within the martial arts community itself. As a matter of fact, Olympic enrolls sports in different categories like Sport, Discipline, Category. If MMA is considered a sport itself under IMMAF-WMMAA banner, the other sports like Judo, Karate may gain recognition as the disciplines under the sport. It doesn't really take away the Olympic status of Judo or Karate or any other such sport rather opens up a whole new scope for the entire martial arts territory.
As for rebuttals to con's arguments, I'd like to divide it into three parts against three of his references-
1. Con's first point depicts towards the safety of MMA fighters in a tournament and lack of strategic management. It is a good point considering the fact that he mentioned UFC fighters health state after a fight. But when we go to Olympic standards, as I mentioned in my first argument, point number 1 (Appeal of MMA to Olympic Proposal) its not about professional fighters anymore, it has to be evaluated through amateur MMA window. When asked about the professional-amateur debate Justin Brown states-
“That’s a good question and I hear that a good bit. I hope it doesn’t go that way (professionals), because Basketball has kind of tainted that a little bit. So, I hope that it doesn’t happen. It’s never happened in Boxing, it stays amateur and the best sports within the Olympic committee have remained amateur. They’ve found a couple of loopholes where they’ve gotten around that. We don’t want to see that in MMA and IMMAF is heavily against allowing that for their sport recognition of MMA. So, we don’t think that’s going to be an issue. You never know in the future, but that’s not the path that’s being submitted on in any way.”
And as for amateurs its pretty normal as we see MMA tournaments taking place all the time by IMMAF-WMMAA with great efficiency. However, health of fighters still remains a crucial concern in a stage like Olympics. But Justin Brown seems pretty confident in that area as well. When asked if Olympics have to change any regulations for further calls, Brown replies-
“We don’t think that they will (change regulations). We’ve got the proper medical staff on our board that handles other Olympic sports. In fact, IMMAF is comprised of former Olympians in itself. We’ve got Densign White and Kerrith Brown, who head up IMMAF, are former Olympians themselves."
So, I can safely say that the former Olympians in the biggest mixed martial arts organization know what they're doing and have to do in order to gain the trust of Olympic committee. Regarding your headgear pointer, according to the article you cited says explicitly that "MMA is safer than boxing" and its a well-known fact and since boxing is now taking place without headgears on its not a strong argument that stands against MMA to be an Olympic sport. Justin Brown also says in this matter,
“So, we’ve got a great staff, very knowledgeable about what we need to do to obtain Olympic recognition. We feel the rules set apply to everything we want to accomplish, the equipment, we’ve actually increased our equipment usage. We do require shin guards and rash guards now, but we do not wear headgear. We think that the way it sits now, we can get that approved. But, again, until they come back and tell us otherwise, we’ll just continue on the path that we’re doing.”
So, he is actually open to any changes they demand but so far they haven't and so it doesn't create a problem as you said it may be.My rebuttal to this specific pointer ends here as I reclaim that amateur MMA is all ready to to be held in Olympics with more improved medical and strategic authority especially since there has been no formal challenge against them from any leading Olympic affiliated bodies.
2. Con's second argument is already refuted by my first argument, point number 4- MMA Business Model, where I clearly mentioned the fact you tried to argue with- the lack of payment roll for amateur fighters. Amateur promotions are sanctioned all year for tournaments and events but not the fighters and so there is no reason why the amateur fighters cannot take part in a short range tournament of Olympics for the glory.
3. The last argument of Con is not as strong as he thinks it is. If apart from takedown, the other criteria of judging system is not reliable, then boxing and wrestling- two original Olympic sports are already rendered useless by him. The only vague term from within the points system I feel is the Ring Control and Aggressiveness but one has to understand that these terms are judged only exclusively in MMA contests for which you can't generally outcast them as unclear rather you need to rely upon the expert judges of MMA discipline to do their job and so in anyway that doesn't stand out to be a sound claim to me. If anything, Olympic interference with the sport and collaboration with IMMAF-WMMAA may just improve the system.
So, I rest my case here with my second argument being that there hasn't been any authentic source of Olympic bodies that points out any specific shortcoming in the sport of MMA so far to be an inclusion in the Olympics. And at the same time I refuse to have any of the Con's weaker arguments judged against mine as a superior articulation and my rebuttals speak why so. Thank you.
The final point may not seem strong, but it is actually the crux reasoning why it should not be an Olympic sport, and I shall try to win from that alone. Many MMA participants have lost hope as a result of the extremely vague judging and the audience-driven ideals. An article from Essentially Sports states one man from MMA quitting-- "All of it has to do with the business model; many MMA events go live on pay-per-view. A fighter with good microphone skills is likely to attract more attention because people either want to see him lose, or win. Also, a fighter with more flashy knockouts or submissions will get paid higher than the rest.
“It’s pro wrestling without the pre-determined outcome. So it’s a frustrating thing to be bound to these promoters. You never know when you’re going to fight, or if you’re going to get a fight, or if it’s a good fight. There’s no merit system at all – it’s all about entertainment. They’re just putting on a show. It’s a show.” Fitch said." (https://www.essentiallysports.com/ufc-bellator-news-its-not-a-sport-anymore-former-ufc-fighter-jon-fitch-unhappy-with-mma/). The different weight class battles and the strive for entertainment struggle against what Olympics is about. Imagine if Usain Bolt ran against a man who was mediocre, to make fun of them. The other guy would feel horrible and lose every single time. Even at a top level, this is a consistent problem. Other UFC fighters have had trouble with the way the scoring system worked. As https://www.forbes.com/sites/trentreinsmith/2020/02/09/dana-white-and-joe-rogan-unhappy-with-ufc-247-judging-results/#366260ac73f2 notes, judges have been noted to be biased and judging in a strange and unexplainable way. It's not just specific players complaining. https://www.thestatszone.com/archive/ufc-is-there-really-a-home-advantage-13648 explains how each country has a home field advantage with a clear majority win in decision to their home-field player. Remember how the Olympics is usually hosted on a significant country, this would arguably give other countries a disadvantage due to these statistics. If that wasn't enough, a study solidly seals this case, " Findings provide nonexperimental support for possible biases in a relatively opaque decision environment involving substantial complexity." (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1527002517702422) Unless my opponent can overcome this idea, MMA will always be a confusing and unworthy subjective sport, and Olympics cannot be willing to accept it as a result.
As an article about Olympic games' inequality notes, "The Olympic Games, arguably, are of one of the few "constants" found within almost every modern culture. No matter the history, prosperity, language, climate, government, or beliefs, nearly every country comes together to showcase their best athletes in the events that so many love to watch. Sports are incredibly unique in the sense that they provide an objective goal for competitors to achieve. This objectiveness, in theory, allows for a more even playing field. It doesn't matter who you are or where you came from. In those few minutes, you are only an athlete competing against other athletes, entirely under the same rule-set; it acts as a universal equalizer. " (https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=7a3a9bb68a77423795995abde4b5c3b7) This is one of the most crucial ideas of Olympics that I stressed before. But if you only support the most dominating players who have some style of play that impress the audience, which is incredibly vague, then you alienate athletes and ruin the entire point of Olympics. Even takedown, unless you could obviously make it so that the other person is down on the ground for exactly 10 seconds, it could go back and forth and judges would have to depend on their own opinion to know for sure.
I am already done with my arguments above in my two previous entries and not a single one of them has been addressed nor denied by my opponent. So, I believe he agrees with me on those notes and only differs and focuses on the last of his arguments- regarding the point system prevailing in MMA as of now. So I will also provide a counter on that in this following round.
Con brought back the same argument from his first round that the judging system of MMA is flawed and unfair; consequently not consistent with the values that Olympics holds. To further the headline he resorted to references from different articles that state that MMA judging system is going flawed with time in a subjective manner. Also while in the first round, he admits that MMA is indeed a sport, in the next round he sides with Jon Fitch and indicates the sport to be nothing but sports entertainment as he draws examples of media stunts by UFC and other organizations overlooking the actual ranking system. There is a certain bit of contradiction within himself I see.
Funny enough that I agree with most of what he's claiming here and also funnier that I already addressed all these cases in my previous arguments. Check out my first argument, point number 3- MMA retaining Olympic Values, where I clearly mentioned the sports entertainment aspect of professional MMA and actually cited the same article he cited for the Jon Snitch quote saying how Marc Ratner refuses that ; not necessarily that I agree with it and also pointed out why the entire system of amateur MMA is discontinued in this regard- because it doesn't work like that. I have mentioned in both my arguments over and over again that when we are speaking of MMA inclusion into the Olympics, professional MMA is far from being regarded as a candidate; amateur MMA is the most eligible choice as of now [First Argument, Point number 1; First Argument, Point Number 2; First Argument, Point Number 3; Second Argument, Rebuttal Point 1; Second Argument, Rebuttal Point 2]. I wonder how Con actually misses so many lines of me saying we're dealing with amateur MMA in this debate, not pro MMA. Maybe he just chooses to ignore the core of my argument and thus brings up the issues of mainstream professional MMA to cover up.
And when we bring out the same context in amateur MMA, all of Con's arguments horribly flop down. Because amateur MMA actually offers the core of what Con and his supporters would be looking for in an ideal MMA sport. The ranking system goes through merits of fighters and tournaments to find out the ultimate champion of the sport. He is recommended to identify the differentiation between pro and amateur MMA and for that enlightening purpose I'm leaving off the home page link of IMMAF [https://immaf.org/events/#past]
Thus I rest my case early here seeing that Con is defenseless at the moment and wasted two rounds not knowing what he's dealing with despite the clear cut counters he'd been receiving from all my arguments. Presenting unchallenged arguments and providing conspicuous rebuttals against all of Con's arguments, I believe I have secured a victory in this debate. Thanks to Con for taking the debate. Thanks all the affiliated voters and commentators. VOTE FOR PRO!
sadly, the amateur ambition is countered exactly by the idea that the best MMA fighters in Olympics would be paid, and hence, become professional instead. Pro's arguments are idealistic and do not work out in the real world. Because not every country practices MMA, they are alienated. Because of the home base advantage, other countries are alienated. Because there is no organization sanctioning rules and specific restrictions on MMA, Olympics will not and cannot accept MMA as a sport. Vote for con.