We've been arguing that the influx of Olympic caliber wrestlers into MMA was actually a boon for amateur wrestling for a while now and as counter-intuitive as it may seem, this NY Times article confirms it:
USA Wrestling announced this week the creation of a medal fund that would pay wrestlers $250,000 for an Olympic gold medal, $50,000 for a silver and $25,000 for a bronze.
(Henry) Cejudo, 22, acknowledged that he had considered converting to mixed martial arts. He said he had watched M.M.A. since seventh grade and that his grappling skills would pay dividends inside the steel cage. He said he knew of at least five Olympic-caliber wrestlers who had switched and others who were considering it.
"M.M.A. is growing, and it’s a basic wrestling sport," Cejudo said. "A lot of fighters are ex-wrestlers. A lot of guys take the easy way out, make quick money. This fund will keep wrestlers in wrestling."
It certainly represents a major increase. Cejudo made $40,000 — paid by USA Wrestling and the United States Olympic Committee — for the gold. Wrestlers can earn more through private contributions and sponsorships.
Without the specter of MMA out there threatening to lure away top wrestling talent, I highly doubt that this fund would have been established.
Mike Chiappetta opines:
To date, four U.S. Olympic gold medal wrestlers have transitioned to MMA: Rulon Gardner, Kevin Jackson, Mark Schultz and Kenny Monday. Only Jackson (4-2) fought more than five times.
While increasing the cash awards of medal winners is a positive development for USA Wrestling, it seems unlikely that alone would stop wrestlers intent on fighting in MMA from making the change. Amateur wrestling has never been a sport where money was a real option, so either world-class competitors will stay in it for the love that helped them achieve their high level of success, or they will decide its time to capitalize on their credentials and fight MMA.
USA Wrestling will never be able to offer the money that top-flight MMA fighters can make, but they will always be able to dangle something that its athletes consider priceless: Olympic gold. All things being equal, the decision will come down to finances or idealism.