MMA champions who have carried the Olympic flame

By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran

This week former UFC strawweight world champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk (pictured above, right) represented both her home nation and the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) as she carried the Olympic flame ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics, taking place Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Olympic flame, first introduced in 1928 (1936 for Winter Games), commemorates the mythological theft of fire by Promethius, from the Greek gods, and thus was considered by ancient Greeks to be a divine element. Fire was understood to be symbolic of positive values including life and freedom; the Olympic flame serves as a link between the ancient and modern Olympic Games.

The torch relay, which sees standout persons carry the flame from Olympia, Greece, to designated sites of the home nation, was first introduced for the 1936 Summer Games. For Pyeongchang 2018, Jędrzejczyk was selected by the Olympic Organizing Committee to run the flame for Poland, the MMA star revealed in December.

Jędrzejczyk carried the torch on January 8, joining the likes of Kim Jae-Bum, South Korea’s 2012 Olympic Men’s Judo champion.

Jędrzejczyk is not the first champion of MMA to receive the honor of carrying the Olympic flame. In past years the Organizing Committees have shown recognition towards two of the sport’s all time greats.

Russian heavyweight and four-time Combat Sambo world champion, Fedor Emelianenko (pictured, upper left), was the first to do so as he carried the flame of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The iconic king of Pride Fighting Championships, regarded by many as MMA’s greatest ever heavyweight, was presented with the honor for a second time in 2014 when he carried the torch in his home nation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

In addition, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master and national legend Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira carried the flame on home soil for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. A former rival of Emelianenko, ‘Minotauro’ was the original heavyweight champion of Pride and became the first MMA athlete to win titles in both the iconic Japanese promotion and later, the UFC.

At the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation’s 2017 General Assembly, IMMAF members approved the commencement of negotiations with the World Mixed Martial Arts Association (WMMAA) for a proposed merger. Both organisations have applied to the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) for recognition as the global governing body for the sport of MMA.

The resolution is a significant development in the pursuit of MMA reaching the Summer Olympic Games. During an interview with MMA Junkie, IMMAF President Kerrith Brown revealed in August that seeing MMA debut at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles is a target of IMMAF’s long term vision.