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Kayla Harrison reacts to the end of the round in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 300 event at T-Mobile Arena on April 13, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Athletes

Olympians Who Have Competed In The UFC Octagon

The Octagon Has Seen Its Fair Share Of Olympians On Its Canvas.

One of the most prestigious accomplishments in all of athletics is representing one’s country in the Olympics. Whether the person medals or not, “Olympian” is a title that always follows them afterward. For some, though, that only marks the start of their career. From judo and wrestling to taekwondo and karate, combat sports is on display every four years, and myriad Olympians parlayed success there into careers in mixed martial arts.

Some, like Henry Cejudo and Ronda Rousey, went from gold medals to UFC champions. Meanwhile, others like Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson, never medaled but went on to have major success in MMA.

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Below is a list of UFC fighters who’ve competed in the Olympics.

Ben Askren

Freestyle Wrestling – Beijing 2008 (7th)

Ben Askren wrestles Robbie Lawler in their welterweight bout during the UFC 235 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 2, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Ben Askren wrestles Robbie Lawler in their welterweight bout during the UFC 235 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 2, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Funky” was one of the most accomplished college wrestlers in the 2000s at Missouri, earning All-American honors four times and racking up a pair of national titles and Dan Hodge trophies along the way. He transitioned to freestyle competition ahead of the 2008 Olympics but did not earn a medal. Askren went on to tally an 18-0 record before competing in the UFC thrice, earning a win over Robbie Lawler in his Octagon debut.

Michel Batista

Freestyle Wrestling – Beijing 2008 (bronze)

Batista picked up a bronze medal in the Beijing Games for Cuba, moved to MMA eight years later and parlayed a 4-0, 1 NC record into a spot on Robert Whittaker’s squad on season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he made it to the semifinals. He competed on the season finale card, losing to Maurice Greene.

Arjan Singh Bhullar

Freestyle Wrestling – London 2012 (13th)

Arjan Singh Bhullar of Canada punches Luis Henrique of Brazil in their heavyweight bout during the UFC 215 event inside the Rogers Place on September 9, 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Arjan Singh Bhullar of Canada punches Luis Henrique of Brazil in their heavyweight bout during the UFC 215 event inside the Rogers Place on September 9, 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

The first Indian to represent Canada at the Olympics in freestyle wrestling, the heavyweight powerhouse turned to MMA in 2014 and made his UFC debut in just his seventh pro fight. Bhullar went on to post a 3-1 UFC record, with wins over Luis Henrique, Marcelo Golm and Juan Adams.

Henry Cejudo

Freestyle Wrestling – Beijing 2008 (gold)

Henry Cejudo enters the Octagon before facing Henry CejudoDemetrious Johnson championship bout during the UFC 197 event inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Henry Cejudo enters the Octagon before facing Henry CejudoDemetrious Johnson championship bout during the UFC 197 event inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Triple C” got his first taste of gold in Beijing, when he became the then-youngest American to win Olympic gold in wrestling at 21. Five years later, Cejudo would turn professional in MMA and run out to a 10-0 record, earning a shot at Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title. Although Cejudo would fall, he would avenge the loss and secure the belt two years later before moving up and collecting a second UFC title in the bantamweight division.

Mark Coleman

Freestyle Wrestling – Barcelona 1992 (7th)

Mark Coleman (white shorts) def. Stephan Bonnar (black American flag shorts) - Unanimous Decision during UFC 100 at Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 11, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Mark Coleman (white shorts) def. Stephan Bonnar (black American flag shorts) - Unanimous Decision during UFC 100 at Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 11, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

The Godfather of Ground & Pound” got his start as a wrestler, earning several accolades competing for Miami University and the Ohio State University. Coleman would earn a spot on the 1992 Olympic wrestling team before going on to an iconic MMA career, which included two UFC Tournament wins, the inaugural heavyweight title and a place in the UFC Hall of Fame.

Daniel Cormier

Freestyle Wrestling – Athens 2004 (4th); Beijing 2008

 Daniel Cormier celebrates his victory over Alexander Gustafsson in their UFC light heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 192 event at the Toyota Center on October 3, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Daniel Cormier celebrates his victory over Alexander Gustafsson in their UFC light heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 192 event at the Toyota Center on October 3, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Following his standout wrestling career at Oklahoma State, Cormier made it to the semifinals in Athens, placing fourth. He made the Beijing squad as well, earning the distinction of team captain before pulling out due to health reasons. “DC” would go on to become one of the signature fighters in the 2010s, earning the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles and becoming the first fighter to defend the title in two weight classes. The Hall of Fame member is also a regular member of the UFC broadcast booth.

Robelis Despaigne

Taekwondo – London 2012 (bronze)

The Big Boy” represented Cuba at the 2012 Olympics, earning the bronze medal. A decade would pass before he made his mixed martial arts debut, but he would do so in dominant fashion. In four fights on the regional scene, Despaigne picked up four wins in a little more than five minutes of work, including three in a combined 19 seconds. When he made his UFC debut in March 2024, it only took 18 seconds to pick up his first victory in the Octagon.

Kayla Harrison

Judo – London 2012 (gold); Rio de Janeiro 2016 (gold)

Harrison became the first American to earn an Olympic gold medal in judo when she did so in London. She would repeat the feat in Brazil four years later having already been inducted in the United States Judo Federation Hall of Fame. She would go on to a dominant start to her mixed martial arts career, compiling a 16-1 record before making her UFC debut at UFC 300 opposite Holly Holm. In her bantamweight debut, Harrison earned a second-round stoppage. 

Dan Henderson

Greco-Roman Wrestling – Barcelona 1992 (10th); Atlanta 1996 (12th)

Hendo” twice represented the United States in Greco-Roman wrestling before going on to have one of the most iconic careers in mixed martial arts history. He would earn titles in PRIDE, Strikeforce and the UFC, sharing legendary battles with the likes of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Michael Bisping, Antônio Rogério Nogueira, to name a few.

Kevin Jackson

Freestyle Wrestling – Barcelona 1992 (gold)

The four-time All-American wrestler rolled his success onto the world stage when he won gold in Barcelona. When he stepped into the Octagon at UFC 14, he was just the second gold medalist to do so. Jackson won the light heavyweight tournament in July 1997 and fought for the inaugural light heavyweight championship in December 1997, falling to Frank Shamrock.

Daniel Kelly

Judo – Sydney 2000 (9th); Athens 2004 (7th); Beijing 2008 (21st); London 2012 (17th)

Referee Herb Dean (C) announces Daniel Kelly (L) winner by unanimous decision against Steve Montgomery (R) after their middleweight bout during the UFC 193 event at Etihad Stadium on November 15, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Referee Herb Dean (C) announces Daniel Kelly (L) winner by unanimous decision against Steve Montgomery (R) after their middleweight bout during the UFC 193 event at Etihad Stadium on November 15, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa L

The most prolific Olympic competitor came from Australia as Daniel Kelly represented the Aussies four times before coaching the Australian Judo team at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Kelly would make his UFC debut two years after his final Olympic appearance, compiling a 6-4 record, including wins over Rashad Evans and Antônio Carlos Júnior.

Matt Lindland

Greco-Roman Wrestling – Sydney 2000 (silver)

Matt Lindland earned his spot on the United States wrestling squad through some peculiar circumstances, which included an appeal that led to a rematch of the final team trials match. Lindland’s success would continue at the Sydney Olympics, where he would earn a silver medal. He would make his UFC debut at UFC 29 and tally a 9-3 record over the course of five years.

Hector Lombard

Judo – Sydney 2000

Hector Lombard of Cuba weighs in during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on March 19, 2016 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Hector Lombard of Cuba weighs in during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on March 19, 2016 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

The Cuban judoka took his multiple national judo titles into mixed martial arts, where he picked up a reputation as a knockout artist over his 49-fight career. His time in the Octagon stretched from 2012 to 2018 and included wins over Nate Marquardt and Jake Shields.

Mark O. Madsen

Greco-Roman Wrestling – London 2012 (5th), Rio de Janeiro 2016 (silver)

 Mark O. Madsen of Denmark celebrates after defeating Austin Hubbard in their lightweight fight during the UFC 248 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 07, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Mark O. Madsen of Denmark celebrates after defeating Austin Hubbard in their lightweight fight during the UFC 248 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 07, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Denmark’s Mark O. Madsen entered MMA as a wickedly accomplished Greco-Roman wrestler, earning silver four times at the World Championships and once at the Olympics. He kicked of his MMA career with 12 straight wins, including four in the Octagon over the likes of Clay Guida and Vinc PIchel. His undefeated run would come to an end in 2022, and after losses to Grant Dawson and Jared Gordon, Madsen called it a career.

Sara McMann

Freestyle Wrestling – Athens 2004 (silver)

 Sara McMann controls the body of Karol Rosa of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Nationwide Arena on March 26, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Sara McMann controls the body of Karol Rosa of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Nationwide Arena on March 26, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

McMann became the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal when she earned silver in Athens. Seven years later, she began her MMA career, challenging Ronda Rousey for the bantamweight title in just her second UFC bout at UFC 170. Although she would ultimately lose, McMann’s tenure ran through 2022 and included wins over Lauren Murphy, Jessica Eye and Lina Lansberg.

Yoel Romero

Freestyle Wrestling – Sydney 2000 (silver); Athens 2004 (4th)

Soldier of God” represented Cuba twice, earning silver in Sydney before making the jump to mixed martial arts. The ever-explosive Romero was known for his enigmatic style of fighting, which he put on full display in duels against Robert Whittaker, Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman. Romero challenged for UFC gold three separate times, and although he never held the title, he was one of the most feared 185ers in the 2010s.

Ronda Rousey

Judo – Athens 2004; Beijing 2008 (gold)

Opponents UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey of the United States and Holly Holm of the United States face off before their UFC women's bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 193 event at Etihad Stadium on November 15, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Opponents UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey of the United States and Holly Holm of the United States face off before their UFC women's bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 193 event at Etihad Stadium on November 15, 2015 in Melbourne

Perhaps the biggest sensation in the sport’s history outside of Conor McGregor, Rousey’s mixed martial arts days came only after she became the first American to win a medal in judo. The two-time Olympian started her MMA career three years later and went on to have one of the most influential and iconic careers in the sport’s history. The former bantamweight champion and Hall of Fame member is regularly cited as the reason many women got their start in the sport.

Townsend Saunders

Freestyle Wrestling – Atlanta 1996 (silver)

One of the many mat greats to emerge from Arizona State University, Saunders earned a medal in the Atlanta Games and fought twice in MMA, losing two UFC fights to Pat Miletich and Mikey Burnett in 1998-99.

Mark Schultz

Freestyle Wrestling – Los Angeles 1984 (gold); Seoul 188 (6th)

When Mark Schultz competed at UFC 9, he was the first Olympic gold medalist to fight in the promotion’s history. He did so on a day’s notice, defeating Gary Goodridge via doctor stoppage. Schultz’s wrestling accolades are aplenty, including his Olympic gold in 1984 and two world titles in the 1980s.

Fredy Serrano

(Freestyle Wrestling – Beijing 2008)

Fredy Serrano of Colombia celebrates his TKO victory over Yao Zhikui of China in their flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night at the Olympic Park Gymnastics Arena on November 28, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Mitch Viquez/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
redy Serrano of Colombia celebrates his TKO victory over Yao Zhikui of China in their flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night at the Olympic Park Gymnastics Arena on November 28, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Mitch Viquez/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Colombia’s Fredy Serrano represented his country in 2008 before briefly transitioning to mixed martial arts. He kicked off his MMA career to a 3-0 start, including two wins and a performance bonus in the Octagon.

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