This weekend the UFC showcased its first ever contest involving two undefeated former Olympic medalists. Judo bronze medalist Ronda Rousey defended her UFC bantamweight title against Sarah McMann who captured a silver medal for freestyle wrestling. Also, the co-main event featured former USA freestyle wrestling team captain Daniel Cormier.
The fact that three former Olympians were involved at UFC 170 is indicative of the caliber of athlete competing at the top level in MMA. Pundit Arena takes a look at five other Olympians who have entered the Octagon.
1. Dan Henderson
Dan Henderson represented the USA in Greco-Roman Wrestling at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. He went on to become arguably the most decorated fighter in the history of MMA. He won the UFC 17 tournament and the 1999 RINGS King of Kings title. His title runs at middleweight and welterweight in Pride FC were unrivalled. When Zuffa acquired Pride, Henderson fought back-to-back unification title fights against Quintin Jackson and Anderson Silva respectively. Although he lost both fights, it was no mean feat and this is often overlooked. He captured the Strikeforce light-heavyweight championship before moving up in weight and knocking out Fedor Emelianenko. Henderson still competes, now in his third run with the UFC at the age of 43.
2. Hector Lombard
Australia’s adopted son, Hector Lombard, was a 2000 Cuban Olympic judo team member and made his UFC debut at UFC 149. He is currently preparing to fight Jake Shields at UFC 171. Lombard was the first Bellator middleweight champion.
3. Mark Coleman
Mark “The Hammer” Coleman was picked for the 1992 US Olympic freestyle wrestling team and entered the UFC 10 tournament. The UFC Hall of Famer is considered one of the modern pioneers of “ground and pound” and literally beat his opponents into submission from start to finish. He was the UFC 10 and 11 tournament champion and the first UFC heavyweight champion.
4. Matt Lindland
Matt Lindland won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney games. He fought for the UFC title at UFC 37 and has fought for Strikeforce, IFL and Affliction. He is the subject of a documentary entitled “fighting politics”.
5. Yoel Romero
2004 freestyle wrestling silver medalist Yoel Romero made his UFC debut last year and won Fight of the Night honors in his last fight.
Not every Olympian who has tried their hand at MMA has been successful, but it is reassuring to see such high caliber athletes competing in the sport. Olympic status brings with it a legitimacy which makes it ever more difficult for those who still deride MMA to marginalize it.