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5 UFC legends who competed at the Olympics

Ronda Rousey (left), Daniel Cormier (center), and Henry Cejudo (right)
Ronda Rousey (left), Daniel Cormier (center), and Henry Cejudo (right)

The UFC has had a long history with the Olympics.

The Olympics is the most respected arena and the highest platform in any sport. Winning Olympic gold is of utmost importance for athletes and, considering the opportunity is presented only once every four years, it is also challenging.

While MMA is not an Olympic sport, many athletes have entered the UFC octagon after making their mark as Olympians. There are four different sports at the Olympics from which athletes have transitioned into MMA. These are freestyle wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, judo, and boxing.

Over the years, many athletes have switched to MMA after failing to achieve their dream of competing at the Olympics. However, a few legends have stolen the show in the UFC just as they did at the Games.

Here are five UFC legends who competed at the Olympics:


#5. Mark Schultz

Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz

Mark Schultz is an Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling and a former three-time NCAA Division I national champion. After winning Olympic gold in 1984, Schultz entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 1991. He became one of three American wrestlers to win the most world titles, along with Lee Kemp and John Smith.

Mark Schultz joined the UFC in 1998 after almost a decade-long retirement from wrestling. He took on MMA veteran Gary 'Big Daddy' Goodridge at UFC 9 and won via TKO after a 12-minute battle. He later revealed how he signed a UFC contract for a single fight to replace his training partner and Goodridge's opponent, Dave Beneteau. Schultz said:

"When I broke Dave’s hand I took him to the doctor and told him if he couldn’t fight I’d be willing to take his place. Neither one of us expected that to happen however. There was a prefight interview the night before the fights and after the interview was complete Dave showed his hand to the fight doctor and the doc said 'You can’t compete.' Everyone looked at me. I went over Bob Meyrowitz and asked what he thought of me taking Dave’s place. He said 'Wow, that will be great. You’re a gold medalist. When you lose it’ll be even better.'"

The Olympian later revealed that he had always been curious about MMA. He was once a part of a grappling match with the legendary Rickson Gracie that opened him to the world of jiu-jitsu. Impressed by the martial art form, he later began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Pedro Sauer.

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#4. Ben Askren

Ben Askren
Ben Askren

Starting as a folkstyle wrestler, Ben Askren transitioned to freestyle wrestling to win the US national championship in 2007 and make it to the Olympics team. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Askren came up victorious in the first round but eventually fell short in the quarterfinals.

Along with being a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion, the UFC legend and Olympian has won several national and pan-American accolades in wrestling.

Ben Askren made his MMA debut in 2009 and remained undefeated for a decade, picking up a 19-fight winning streak. In the process, 'Funky' also became the welterweight champion at Bellator and ONE FC.

Ben Askren then went 1-2 in the UFC, picking up the only two losses of his career in 2019. Casual fight fans might write him off as an odd-ball or only remember him for his five-second KO loss against Jorge Masvidal. However, Askren is nothing less than an MMA legend who was talented and hardworking enough to make it to the Olympics.

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#3. Henry Cejudo

Henry Cejudo
Henry Cejudo

Henry Cejudo is the fourth UFC athlete to hold titles in two different weight divisions simultaneously. At UFC 249, he became the second fighter in the promotion to defend titles in two different weight divisions. However, what is even more interesting about the former UFC champion is that he is an Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling.

In fact, 'Triple C' is the only champion in UFC history to have won an Olympic gold. Rightly so, he is widely considered one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time.

Aged 21 at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Henry Cejudo became the youngest American to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling. The record was broken in 2016, but Cejudo cemented his place as one of the greatest UFC legends to have a golden history at the Olympics.

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#2. Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey in a judo competition
Ronda Rousey in a judo competition

Ronda Rousey started competing internationally in judo at the age of 14. She went on to compete at the Olympics and then become a UFC legend. She is on Mount Rushmore when speaking about pioneering women MMA fighters. Rousey was the first woman to be signed by the UFC, the inaugural UFC bantamweight champion, and the first female fighter to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

When Ronda Rousey took part in her first Olympic Games in 2004, at the age of 17, she was the youngest judoka to qualify. While she did not find much success in Athens, she quickly bounced back and set herself up for greatness from 2005 to 2008.

In those three years, 'Rowdy' captured three Pan American Judo championship medals and a gold medal from the Pan American Games. She also qualified for her second Olympic outing in 2008 and went on to grab a bronze medal.

Ronda Rousey has been largely successful in her MMA career as well. Her 12-fight winning streak, which spanned over five years, ended in 2015. Prior to her downfall, she was an unstoppable force with only stoppage wins, nine of which came via submission.

Ronda Rousey is a true UFC legend bound to be revered even more when we factor her record at the Olympics into her overall legacy.

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#1. Daniel Cormier

Daniel Cormier in a freestyle wrestling match
Daniel Cormier in a freestyle wrestling match

Daniel Cormier has been wrestling since he was a kid. The former UFC double-champ has been an outstanding wrestler since childhood, be it at the state level, the national level, or the Olympics. At the age of 16, he won bronze in the 1995 world championship in the Greco-Roman wrestling cadet (15-16) division.

'DC' won six senior U.S. national championships each year from 2003 to 2008, while also representing team USA at world level in those years. He qualified for the 2004 Olympics in freestyle wrestling, where he came fourth after losing in the semifinals. The UFC legend qualified once again for the Olympic Games in 2008 and was named team captain. However, he pulled out due to kidney failure after excessive weight cutting.

Daniel Cormier switched to MMA in 2009 and went on to become one of the greatest fighters of all time. He went 22-3-1 in 12 years, becoming the second fighter in the UFC to win titles in two divisions simultaneously (light heavyweight and heavyweight).

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Edited by Utathya Ghosh
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