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MMA’s Popularity Makes Judo Sad

Ryan Reser (above, right) is said to be one the United States’ best hopes in judo at this summer’s Olympics in Beijing, but apparently that doesn’t mean he isn’t still chapped about judo being largely ignored in the U.S. while MMA enjoys a growing a fan base. From a story in yesterday’s New York Times:

“It blows me away and upsets me because we’re not to that level,” he said at the Olympic judo trials in Las Vegas. “We’ve been doing a lot of that stuff all along. Not the punching and kicking, but the arm bars and chokes.”


Reser is hoping that the M.M.A. crowd will watch judo during the Olympics. He said the similarity between the two sports would lend to natural crossover appeal. And maybe get some athletes intrigued by the M.M.A. cage wearing a gi.

“We’re just not a very big sport,” he said. “We have a lot of judo, but it’s spread across the United States. It’s hard for us to get partners and news coverage. We’re hoping we can get more interest in judo.”

This is the second time in the recent lead-up to the Olympics that we’ve heard a judo-lover expressing frustration over the lack of interest in the sport stateside. First it was Karo Parisyan, and now Reser, who says he’s taken up training with some MMA fighters to learn a few new tricks. I’m not going to point out that the issue of “crossover appeal” for an Olympic sport that incorporates one aspect of MMA only reinforces my belief that MMA (which incorporates all the aspects of MMA) should be an Olympic sport all its own.

Instead, I’m going to hypothesize that crossover appeal is never the issue with the Olympics. Not really.

If it were, the most popular Olympic sports, at least in the U.S., would only be the ones most familiar to us. Wrestling has more crossover appeal for MMA than judo, and still you don’t see an overwhelming demand for it during Olympic coverage. Basketball is an exception, but it helps them to have famous superstars playing. Women’s beach volleyball is usually a winner, and I don’t think I have to tell you why. It still doesn’t explain the way what’s popular at the Olympics changes so frequently to include sports that are never very popular the rest of the year.

This is because the way the Olympics are packaged and sold via TV coverage in the U.S. has little to do with the actual sport and a lot to do with where the marketable storylines are. That’s why the Olympics has all of the nation talking about gymnastics and swimming and fencing for a couple weeks every four years, even though most of us would rather watch dog agility contests on ESPN 4 the rest of the time.

The way the Olympics is covered on television here in America is designed to give the broadcasts the broadest possible appeal, which means emphasizing characters over accomplishments. That’s why someone who overcame a debilitating childhood illness or someone who manages to be an arrogant prick (remember Bode Miller?) will usually grab more attention than someone who just happens to be very quietly good at their sport.

In other words, the Olympics is packaged as sports for people who don’t really like sports. Is that completely unfair to someone like Reser? Absolutely. Is it likely to change any time soon? Not as long as the Olympics are used a ratings magnet. Judo may be one of the sports that is largely ignored during non-Olympic times, but it’s certainly not the only one.

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Judo Rulez- August 14, 2011 at 11:18 pm
It doesnt surprise me how much shit this bootylam I talking cuz judo is still not to well known...oh bootylam go to ur nearest judo club and ask for a free trial class and fight some of the black belts and see how fast you get your ass handed to u... It's been proven time and time again that judo is one of the most EFFECTIVE martial arts in the world so talk whatever u want u little pussy, learn ur facts b4 u talk shit. All about maximum force with minimum effort :D

Oh and I don't care if ppl don't know about judo, kudus gives me the advantage ;)

JUDOKID- July 31, 2008 at 1:28 pm
It's not true that Judo players are upset by MMA's success, it's the opposite, we've been it's biggest fans since it first started. I personally train with some of the best judo fighters in US history, and none of them miss a pay-per-view MMA event. US judokas should'nt bad mouth MMA, we should be proud of their success, and happy for the fighters who can now make a living doing what they love. Instead they, and yes Ryan I mean you, should focus on the only thing that will increase the US popularity of judo, and that's actually winning a medal!!!
Bootylam!- July 29, 2008 at 8:32 pm
Judo practitioners unite! Oh wait, STFU! Nobody wants to see two guy rearranging their feet and pulling on each others clothes [blocking our view of whats actually going on] and then falling down and and doing it there. Oh yes, and Parisyan sucks.[at least in the UFC]
JohnS- July 29, 2008 at 1:56 pm
I would definetly watch Judo if they added striking and wresling... Oh wait then it would be MMA oh yeah I will watch MMA when they make it an olympic sport.
Participant- July 29, 2008 at 9:40 am
“It blows me away and upsets me because we’re not to that level,”

Well the ping-pong guys want more attention too.

If anything, MMA will boost the popularity of Judo. Judo is one of several elements that can make an MMA fighter a well rounded fighter. Here in America, wrestling and professional boxing rivals Judo due to collegiate programs and "Mike Tyson's Punchout" on Nintendo. (respectively)

Ping-pong is televised in Asia (enjoy the hell out of it). The TV market in the US mostly comprises of mind numbing news featuring the cat stuck in a tree (or whatever local tragedy is caught on film) followed by Deal or No Deal. It's pathetic. I'd rather watch any competitive sport.

I look forward to watching the Olympics and as an MMA fan... I can't wait to watch the Judo matches! Go USA!
rob enderle- July 28, 2008 at 10:55 pm
>In the ‘98 Olympics in Nagano our local curling champs skipped by Sandra
>Schmirler won the gold and indeed recieved a hometown parade! Gotta love Canada!

id feel prouder if we could actually be good at one true international sport that the regional ones that are practiced by a handful of countries.

If we ever win anything in soccer, basketball, volleyball, handball, waterpolo which are 5 of the most popular team sports across the world, Ill be impressed. Hockey has many a dozen of countries that play it and in russia hockey is number 3 sport. Curling? You have to be kidding. Why not Myryam Bedard's medals in that cross-country/rifle shooting combo? They have a parade for her too.

>few years back. it would be great to see more of it, but i’m looking
>at nbc’s schedule- and they even have time reserved for handbal

Dont knock handball man, its an amazing sport to play and to watch. The guys are all big, strong, and the actions is constant. The goalies also have no fear for their balls even though they expose them with every block tehy attempt.

I know it doesnt involve 10 fat sumo wrestlers bumpin tummies and or 3 hour of filler surrounding 15mins of action but this game is like rugby in that it takes strong guys who are in amazing cardio shape and there is usually 30-60 goals per game.
Fedor Emelianenko MMA instructional DVD- July 28, 2008 at 10:20 pm
I guess it's a natural progression of the entire martial arts theme. All the classical disciplines were once functional, yet simplified and "sportified" analogues of the real combat. So long as it is heavily biased towards one aspect of the fighting, Judo or any other "old-fashioned" martial arts discipline will still be lacking vs. MMA. Nonetheless, I'd hate to see Judo go for good.
Xamot- July 28, 2008 at 9:41 pm
"Maybe Tapout should do for judo what they did for MMA…"

Geerad- July 28, 2008 at 6:05 pm
Hey Steve... funny you should mention that. In the '98 Olympics in Nagano our local curling champs skipped by Sandra Schmirler won the gold and indeed recieved a hometown parade! Gotta love Canada!
The MMA Post- July 28, 2008 at 6:03 pm
Judo is an awesome fighting discipline and I would love to see more coverage of it. There are so many olympic sports that are shown on TV that are not even worth glancing at, it would be nice to see some Judo, but the NBC brass have probably never even heard of it.
Clue-by-Four- July 28, 2008 at 5:57 pm
Maybe Tapout should do for judo what they did for MMA...
steve- July 28, 2008 at 5:43 pm
if the world were fair, the local curling champs would also receive a hometown parade, but it's not, and there's 100 other sports all competing for television time,

judo is badass based on what i've seen in mma- meaning karo dropping diego sanchez on his head at ufn a few years back. it would be great to see more of it, but i'm looking at nbc's schedule- and they even have time reserved for handball.

talk about robbed.
Biff Hobart- July 28, 2008 at 5:19 pm
Maybe if the sport involved a ball of some sort it would be more popular. Throw in some helmets while you're at it, and somehow involve either Bill Walton or John Madden. That is how to fix judo in the USA.
John Chandler- July 28, 2008 at 4:41 pm
The sad part is that neither NBC or any of the other networks working with them to cover the Olympics aren't expected to televise any Judo at all.
shaw- July 28, 2008 at 4:26 pm
no more gay for play!!! Agrrrhhhhhhh!!!