MMA in the Olympics? This Asian CEO is Determined to Make It Happen
When you think Olympics, it’s usually the more popular sports that produce headlines — sports like basketball, football, and athletics — rarely would you ever think of martial arts.
And while various martial arts disciplines already have dedicated spots in the Olympic lineup, it’s uncommon that they draw much attention.
Mixed martial arts, one of the fastest-growing sports across the globe, is one sport that is trying to break through barriers to make it to the Olympiad. There is a serious effort from multiple organizations who believe it’s time for MMA to be introduced to the Olympic games.
For those unfamiliar with Sityodtong, he is a man of many hats.
Born of Thai and Japanese descent, Sityodtong has had a colorful upbringing. He struggled through financial hardship and strife as a child and even through college before turning his life around with sheer hard work and determination. Eventually, he was able to lift himself and his family out of poverty. Today, Sityodtong is one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the world.
There are tons of resources on Sityodtong’s inspirational life story. One bit that stands out, however, is the way martial arts influenced Sityodtong’s rise.
The Harvard Business School-educated CEO is today considered one of the most powerful men in Asia. He always credits the lessons he learned from martial arts as the key that brought him immense success.
Growing up, Sityodtong trained in the art of Muay Thai. He learned how to punch and kick before he ever knew how to run a billion-dollar organization. But aside from the physical knowledge he acquired over years of training, martial arts also taught Sityodtong the values of which he lives by today.
Integrity, humility, honor, courage, respect, discipline, and compassion – it’s a mantra Sityodtong repeats over and over again. He swears by its power and the effect it has had on his life.
A lifelong martial artist, Sityodtong is more than just a businessman. He’s a fighter at heart with over 35 years of experience as an athlete, a teacher, and a coach. He began training in Muay Thai at an early age at the legendary Sityodtong Camp in Thailand. He also has a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blue Belt under legend Renzo Gracie.
It is Sityodtong’s unfiltered love for the sport which ultimately led him to follow his dream of changing the world through martial arts. In 2011, he established ONE Championship, which is today the undisputed leader of martial arts in Asia.
Being a pure martial artist at heart is what gives Sityodtong the drive and passion to realize his dream of seeing mixed martial arts in the Olympics.
Earlier this year, Sityodtong took the first step towards turning that dream into a reality by partnering with the Global Association of Mixed Martial Arts (GAMMA). GAMMA is an organization whose mission is to give young up-and-coming talent a path to becoming mixed martial arts professionals. Like Sityodtong, they too aim to bring the sport to the Olympics.
“As a lifelong martial artist, I am personally invested in developing the amateur mixed martial arts scene, and ensuring that all athletes have the right foundation and support to pursue a professional career in this sport,” Sityodtong said of the partnership back in April.
For Sityodtong, the goal is to see mixed martial arts world champions from all corners of the globe given a chance to achieve glory on the world stage by bringing gold medals back home to their respective countries.
“My plan is to get the sport of mixed martial arts into the Olympics by 2028, and GAMMA is the independent governing body of the sport of mixed martial arts worldwide. Together, we share the same vision and the same values to get mixed martial arts into the Olympics, and it would bring me so much joy to see our world champions compete in the Olympics as well,” said Sityodtong.
“In the same way that you see the NBA athletes compete in basketball at the Olympics, and so I think there’s a lot of opportunities not only to grow the sport but to elevate the sport and I think the sport needs a clean image with strong values and role models for society,” he added.
Sityodtong says that this will need to become a collaborative effort between everyone to be able to get the gears in motion. ONE and GAMMA are already working on ironing out the details such as a set of rules suitable for Olympics competition.
“We want to work together to use our resources, our networks, our brands to help drive mixed martial arts into the Olympics, and we need to recruit more countries for GAMMA and help them. We also need to create a ruleset that would be favorable for the Olympics, and of course, ONE Championship is a very powerful media property, a global media property that can help GAMMA not only recruit federations but athletes,” Sityodtong shared.
Sityodtong sees the potential inclusion of mixed martial arts into the Olympics as beneficial for everyone involved, from the athletes, to the gyms, the fanbase, and of course, the sport as a whole.
“I think it will be massive, not only will it create a whole new fanbase for the sport, more participants, and the entire business ecosystem will also embrace the sport of mixed martial arts more aggressively than it already has.
“So the sport of mixed martial arts really needs elevation to world-class global standards, of values, of heroes, and doing good. I think in the sport of mixed martial arts, to be able to get into the Olympics, all of those things happen, and I think it grows the sport for everybody, for fans, for athletes, for businesses, for managers, for agents, for gyms. I see no reason why it can’t be an Olympic sport,” Sityodtong said.
Sityodtong believes that mixed martial arts deserve a place among the other martial arts that are included in the Olympics as well.
“I believe because our vision and our values are lined with the Olympics, that they will understand that we come from a place of purity, from the martial arts ethos and the martial arts DNA.
“And the truth is, the sport of mixed martial arts is no different than any other sport, whether it’s Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Judo, wrestling, or boxing in the Olympics. So all those sports are already in the Olympics, and I see no reason why the sport of mixed martial arts cannot be in the Olympics as well,” Sityodtong added.
While 2028 is still a long way to go, Sityodtong and GAMMA are already hard at work.
A lot of time and sacrifice will need to be made. But at the end of the day, and when the Olympics finally welcomes the sport with open arms, it will be a knockout victory for the fans, the fighters, and the sport of mixed martial arts as a whole.
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