Sports don’t exist in a vacuum. MMA’s rise in popularity isn’t just creating fighters out of thin air. It’s drawing them from other sports, mainly wrestling. But now wrestling is fighting back in an attempt to keep its best athletes, and they’re doing so in the only language MMA understands: money.
USA Wrestling announced the creation of a fund that would award medalists at the world championships and Olympics, with a gold medal in London 2012 to be worth at least $250,000. That’s up from the $40,000 champs received in Beijing. Suddenly, the purse for getting the crap beaten out of you doesn’t look so appealing.
Out of 72 possible wrestling medals in the last Olympics, the United States only took a gold and two bronzes. As an incentive for young athletes to get into wrestling, and established ones to stick with it, USA Wrestling hopes the Living The Dream Medal Fund (now accepting your donations!) will be depleted very soon.
“The best-case scenario would be paying out 18 $250,000 bonuses,” [executive director Rich] Bender said, meaning one bonus for each of the six weight classes in each of the three disciplines.
But will it be enough? Henry Cejudo won a gold in freestyle wrestling at Beijing, and even he admits switching sports has crossed his mind.
“MMA is growing, and it’s a basic wrestling sport,” Cejudo said. “A lot of fighters are ex-wrestlers. A lot of guys take the easy way out, make quick money. This fund will keep wrestlers in wrestling.”
“This is bigger than just wrestling. This is bigger than the quarter-million. This is going to change everything. It’s going to revolutionize the sport.”