Well before they took the Octagon by storm, UFC stars such as Ronda Rousey and Henry Cejudo made their name by winning Olympic gold medals in judo and wrestling respectively. Indeed, the lure of MMA has become tough to resist for many combat sports athletes. So with the Rio Olympics starting with the opening ceremony tonight, FO looks at a handful of Olympians in boxing, taekwondo, wrestling and judo, and analyses how they may fair if they switch to MMA post-Brazil.
Galal Yafai, 23 (GB) – Boxing
Boxing is in Yafai’s blood, his brothers Gamal and Kal have both won Commonwealth belts in the paid ranks. No pressure then. The light flyweight has enjoyed a breakout 2016, winning his first two fights for British Lionhearts in the World Series of Boxing before qualifying for Rio at a tournament in Turkey. With fast hands and fast feet, he’d fit right in with Planet MMA’s rapid-fire flyweights.
MMA mirror image: ‘Mighty Mouse’. Yafai resembles another pocket menace, UFC flyweight boss Demetrious Johnson, with his compact frame and rapid combinations.
Shakur Stevenson, 19 (USA) – Boxing
Named after the rapper Tupac Shakur, Stevenson is already earning comparisons with former Olympic medallists Floyd Mayweather Jr and Andre Ward, and the hype might be justified after the American won gold medals at the Youth World Championships and Youth Olympics in 2014.
MMA mirror image: Joe Duffy. Could Stevenson emulate another shrewd, well-rounded stand-up merchant in the UFC one day?
Kyle Snyder, 20 (USA) – Freestyle Wrestling
Not every American goes on a 179-0 wrestling streak at high school, but that’s exactly what Snyder did, giving up a single takedown in the process. That form prompted Flowrestling.org to name him America’s best pound-for-pound high school wrestler in 2013, while in 2015 he won the World Championships at 97kg by defeating the defending champion, Russia’s Abdusalam Gadisov.
MMA mirror image: Daniel Cormier. With a world class wrestling base and variety in his takedowns, Snyder could rival even DC’s grappling.
Bianca Walkden, 24 (GB) – Taekwondo
The Liverpudlian has been winning international tournaments since 2009, but in 2015 she finally stepped out of the shadows of her sparring partner and housemate, Jade Jones, when she won the World Championships heavyweight title in Russia. She’ll be keen to replicate Jones’s gold medal from London 2012.
MMA mirror image: Rosi Sexton. The Englishwoman, born in France, became the first British female to fight in the UFC in 2013 after discovering martial arts through taekwondo. Would that be motivation for Walkden?
Ami Kondo, 21 (Japan) – Judo
The daughter of a sumo wrestler, Kondo grew up around combat sports and that grounding helped her win the 2014 World Championships title at -48kg when she was only 19. Look out for her lethal Harai goshi throws in Rio.
MMA mirror image: Ronda Rousey. Who else? Kondo’s heavy hips and use of gravity would make her a dangerous clinch-fighter in the Octagon. If you were to rush in on her, you’re going for a ride.