Watching my MMA video of the day brought to us by Kid Nate, and Zombie Profit the other day, we saw Dana White questioned by TMZ about MMA in the Olympics. While it is clear that Dana supports MMA in the Olympics, he also makes it clear that he has enough stuff to do, and UFC isn't going to push the issue. Fast forward to my slow day at work (boss is out of town), and I came across an article on Yahoo by Les Carpenter titled "China's Olympic goal: Dominate the medal count." To sum up the article, it says that what started as an effort to build a successful Olympic team for the 2008 Bejing games, has continued into a program where the Chinese government is dead set on Olympic domination, and winning as many medals as possible. If you thought the Chinese are close to winning the medal count this year, just wait until Rio in 2016.
Now it is no secret that UFC wants to break into the Chinese market in a big way. It is the world's second largest economy, there are 1.3 billion people, and if the demographics that I saw a few years ago are close to accurate, there are just as many 18-49 y/o males in China, as the entire population of the United States. UFC is making in-roads with a TV deal (even if it only reaches a limited scope of the population), and the first UFC card from China on 6 November. But the first card is happening in Macau, one of the two specially administered districts in China (Hong Kong being the other), where the rules, and due to the long time European control of the area, the culture is a little different than the area where the bulk of the people live.
The best way to galvanize a new market is to provide them with someone that they can get behind and cheer for. If UFC were to work with the Brazilian gov't (who would instantly have one of the deepest talent pools) put it's weight behind making MMA at least a demonstration sport for the 2016 games in Rio. UFC stands to reap enormous benefits for their attempts to introduce MMA to the Chinese culture. The instant MMA becomes an Olympic sport the Chinese are going to want to be competitive in it. They will recruit MMA, BJJ, and Muay Thai trainers to their country to work with the first generation of MMA Olympians. UFC could help by linking them up with former UFC fighters looking for work. These skill sets will be introduced to the culture, and any Chinese athletes that win medals will become celebrities in the world's most populated nation.
The way the Chinese system is set up, it would reward their athletes very well for success, so pulling a fighter from the amateur system into the UFC might not be the easiest thing to do... but you do not need every Chinese fighter, you only need a few, and with some success and solid marketing you have the MMA version of Yao Ming. It might be the 20 y/o who has a UFC hero that he sees on TV, but finished second in Olympic trials to the 30 y/o veteran that has bought into the Chinese Olympic culture. He or she will have a solid base in MMA, and maybe find their way to NM to train with Greg Jackson, or Singapore to train with Evolve, and then you have a start.
For a few years I've thought that the Olympics really just needed a Submission Grappling event, ideally with the ADCC rule set (and that would be better than nothing). My fear has been that any version of MMA that made it into the games would be so watered down with rules and politics that it would be almost unwatchable, and far from entertaining. Now I am starting to come around to the idea of MMA in the Olympics, and I really think that it would be in the UFC's best interest to push it. Maybe when they get done with Lobbying effort in New York (hopefully soon), they can shift those resources to the effort to lobby the IOC. In addition to the possible in-roads in China, it would help UFC identify prospects from around the world. How easy would it be to sell an Olympic gold medalist moving straight into UFC, and working up the ranks. It would essentially be the TUF world cup that Dana has talked about in the past, but wrapped in the patriotism that the Olympics brings.