Though rarely asked these days, the question "What is mixed martial arts?" was a common inquiry not too long ago. The best response came from Randy Couture: "Take elements of wrestling, boxing, judo and taekwondo, and you've got MMA."
To the uninitiated, MMA went from something hooligans do on a drunken Saturday night, to an innocuous blend of Olympic combat sports.
Think about it. If these sports were acceptable on their own, what could be so terrible about combining them? As many people have figured out by now, the answer is nothing. One of the few skeptics remaining, though, is the International Olympic Committee.
If wrestling, boxing, judo and taekwondo are medal-worthy sports, why isn't MMA?
As Olympic wrestling gets into full swing this week, it's hard not to think of "The Natural," who was a three-time Olympic alternate (1988, 1992, 1996) and 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials semifinalist for the Greco-Roman wrestling team. While he never made it to the Games, it could be argued that Couture's background enabled him to become a mixed martial arts legend, and wrestling's short life, in general, ignited his competitive fire in MMA.
No matter the sport, the one constant among Olympic athletes is an inherent desire to compete at the highest level. Mixed martial artists deserves to be treated as nothing less, and the Olympic platform would provide such a venue.
From the smallest villages to biggest cities, MMA is seen around the world. Fighting and martial arts have inspired passion and competition. So, for just a moment, imagine a new generation of fighters getting their start in the Olympics.
To this point, the closest things MMA has to fighters with Olympic pedigrees are wrestlers or judokas who have made the jump. Anyone currently desiring a professional mixed martial arts career is forced to turn pro without the benefit of real amateur experience. Not only should a comprehensive amateur program be put in place -- regardless of whether the Olympics are at stake -- it should be the route by which young fighters take to represent their country.
While it's fun to imagine a scenario where top professionals meet in medal competition, the situation would do nothing to aid MMA's future. Boxing has a rich Olympic tradition, one that's bolstered pro ranks. Muhammad Ali, Oscar De La Hoya and George Foreman, to name a few, went from winning gold medals to captivating boxing fans around the world -- not only creating giant paydays for themselves, but also rejuvenating boxing as older champions left their sport.
Assuming an amateur system can be implemented, there's no reason MMA shouldn't be a part of the Olympics. After all, the sport's cousin, Pankration, is as old as the Games themselves.
So wouldn't "an Olympic sport" make for a terrific reponse to the age-old question Couture initially tried to answer.