Organizers hoping to make mixed martial arts a sport at the Olympic Games say legendary former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov could be one of the stars taking part if the discipline makes its debut at the 2028 showpiece in the US.
Leaders are hopeful that MMA will be a part of the Games in 2028, when they could capitalize on the immense popularity of the sport in the US by forming part of the program in Los Angeles.
As arguably MMA’s greatest ever fighter and one of the most recognizable figures in global sport, Russian icon Nurmagomedov’s involvement would be hugely popular if the idea materializes – even if MMA only appears as an exhibition event.
“We certainly want to be part of the Olympic family,” said Kerrit Brown, the President of the International Federation of Mixed Martial Arts (IMMAF), speaking to TASS.
“Khabib at the Olympic Games? Why not – he could perform, I think. We could have both professionals and amateurs – this is a matter of criteria.
“Let’s see what stage of joining the Olympic family we are at in 2028. “
The Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), which sports must join in order to be considered for Olympic involvement, turned down applications from the IMMAF in 2019 and 2020, although bosses from the MMA governing body pledged to continue their fight, claiming that they had met all the known criteria for recognition and had not been given a reason for the refusal.
“We are working hard in this area and of course we have competitors,” said Brown.
“You know how popular MMA is in the United States. We expect to get into the Olympic family in 2028. It is likely that at the Games in Los Angeles, MMA will be at least an exhibition sport.”
Although he is known for his enjoyment of training and keeping fit, Nurmagomedov’s appetite for fighting may be reduced by the fact that he will be almost 40 by the time of the Games.
The unbeaten UFC lightweight champion retired last October, but his influence on MMA remains seismic as a mentor to other athletes and ambassador for the sport.
Speaking at the end of last year, Nurmagomedov said he expected to have “many meetings” with International Olympic Committee officials and was determined to make MMA a recognized sport in seven years’ time.
“The only question is the cruelty of the sport,” he said at the time. “This is not encouraged at the Olympics. They do not want there to be a lot of blood.
“But in terms of recognition, sponsorship, in terms of interest for television, MMA, I think that if it enters the Olympics program, it will be on a par with football and athletics in interest.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin has played an active role in attempting to boost the prospects of MMA gaining international recognition, positioning heavyweight powerhouse Fedor Emelianenko as the figurehead of a Russian group backing the bid under the guidance of promoter Vadim Finkelstein in 2012.
While MMA has struggled to earn official status, sports including dodgeball, footgolf, kettlebell lifting and competitive jump rope have been recognized.