By: Albert Cameron: If I’m trying to crack a joke about how long it has been since I’ve done something, I’ll say something to the effect of “Well, when’s the next Olympics?” That one backfired on me recently, because I didn’t know. I grab my phone this morning, turn to Google, and find out that the next games are this year in Brazil. Feeling like a little bit of a chump, I’ve decided to dedicate this year’s Friday 5ive to five Olympians that have competed in Mixed Martial Arts.
Note: this is not an exhaustive list. There could be other Olympians in the sport, these are just five that came to mind. Also, this piece will be written from the point of view of the athletes as Olympians. This list is arranged in order of most impact on the sport of mixed martial arts.
No. 5: Rulon Gardner (Gold Medalist; Greco-Roman Wrestling – 2000 Games) – The gold medal match of the 2000 Wrestling games in the Olympics was between Aleksandr Karelin, a man so dominant that he had not lost in 13 years and had not given up a point in six (up to that match); Karelin’s opponent was a dairy farmer from Wyoming that was one of nine children. That dairy farmer was American champion: Rulon Gardner. Karelin was notorious for a technique known as the “reverse lift;” in interviews, Gardner had stated that every wrestler that had competed against Karelin had known of the lift, but was over defending it. The time came for Karelin to apply the technique and he couldn’t. Gardner had scored the only point in the match and with just seconds to go, Karelin concedes the match and Gardner is an Olympic gold medalist.
In his post-Olympic glory, Rulon Gardner trained with “El Guapo” Bas Rutten and had one professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bout to his name: a decision victory over Hidehiko Yoshida, a fellow Olympian. More on Yoshida later.
No. 4: Kevin Jackson (Gold Medalist; Freestyle Wrestling – 1992 Games) – I remember the first time I had seen Kevin Jackson fight, he wore the United States flag on his trunks proudly and tore through the UFC 14 Middleweight tournament with ease. During the time of Kevin Jackson as an MMA competitor (1997-1998), MMA was stilled viewed as something of a bloodsport and perhaps unbecoming of an Olympic athlete to be involved in. Kevin Jackson was a part of a team of three Americans to take home gold medals in the Barcelona games in 1992, and was the second only Olympian to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) at the time.
In his MMA career, Jackson had an incredible bout with Frank “The Legend” Shamrock and ended his MMA career with an arm bar submission over Sam Adkins.
No. 3: Hidehiko Yoshida (Gold Medalist; Judo – 1992 Games) – What does PRIDE FC veteran Hidehiko Yoshida have in common with Rulon Gardner and Kevin Jackson? Well, Yoshida fought Rulon Gardber in PRIDE and won his gold medal at the same games as Kevin Jackson. During the 1992 games in Barcelona, Hidehiko Yoshida blazed his trail to the gold medal, defeating each opponent by “Ippon” (or, throwing your opponent so completely that they end up flat on their back and thus the match is over). Yoshida and fellow countryman Toshihiko Koga took home gold medals for Japan in the Men’s judo event (Tadanori Koshino was awarded a bronze) and Ryoko Tamura, Noriko Mizoguchi, and Yoko Tanabe were awarded silver medals in the women’s Judo event.
In his post-Olympic MMA career, Yoshida fought to a draw with Royce Gracie, submitted Mark Hunt with an arm bar, and choked “Tank” Abbott into submission.
No. 2: Matt “The Law” Lindland (Silver Medalist; Greco-Roman Wrestling – 2000 Games) – Matt “The Law” Lindland’s Olympic triumph story actually happened off of the mat. Lindland, an Oregon native, competed on the same Olympic team as Rulon Gardner, earning himself a silver medal in the event. The real friction happened for Lindland trying to get on that team to begin with. Matt Lindland found himself needing to get through Keith Sieracki to make it to Sydney; during the match, Lindland accused Sieracki of tripping him (in Greco-Roman wrestling, the use of legs as a defense is very restricted). After the match with Seracki, the match went to arbitration, where the arbitrator ordered a rematch with Seracki, which Lindland won. The United States Olympic Committee really wanted Keith Sieracki on the team and actually appealed to keep Lindland out. The legal battle that ensued earned Lindland the nickname “The Law.”
After earning his silver medal, Lindland would go on to become one of the most dominant middleweights of the Pre-UFC on Spike TV era. Lindland has since become a politician, entrepreneur and coach.
No. 1: “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey (Bronze Medalist; Judo – 2008 Games) – There isn’t a whole lot about Ronda Rousey’s past or present that really needs to be rehashed. In fact, Rousey is the most dominant Martial Artist on this list and has the least glorious Olympic accolades. When Rousey competed in the 2008 Beijin games, she had lost early in the competition, but was able to redeem herself through a tournament technicality. Does this make her any less of a complete bad ass? No. In fact, if someday I have a daughter, I hope she looks up to women like Ronda Rousey; that a potential daughter may learn that she can be a war machine and still be respected as a woman, that she doesn’t need to sacrifice the little things that make her who she is, and that it is completely okay to be feminine and still be prepared to take care of business at a moment’s notice.
Despite not having the Olympic credentials that the others on the list do, Rousey has done a lot to shed a lot more light on Olympic athletes having a future in MMA, that Judo is an effective discipline in Mixed Martial Arts. Rousey can now bite apples and is surely on the comeback trail.
Thank you for joining us for the Friday 5ive; Friday is Podcast day too, keep your eyes peeled for the Prize Fight Podcast coming out today as well!
**A big thank you to Wikipedia & its contributors. Wikipedia and Google was consulted a few times with Olympic brackets and the details of Matt Lindland’s legal battles with the United States Olympic Committee. The photos used are not the property of Cage Nation TV or CageNationTV.com.
Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!