October 22, 2021

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The 2021 MMA National Olympic Teams: United States



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With the 2021 Summer Olympics scheduled for
July 23-Aug. 8 in Tokyo, Sherdog.com put together hypothetical MMA
Olympic teams for various countries. This multi-part series will
map out the yellow brick road to Tokyo for the men and women who
call the cage home, coronavirus pandemic be damned.

* * *


Every four years, the global community gathers together in
celebration of athletic competition in its purest form. In their
125-year history, the Olympics have provided the sports
world—people of all races, creeds and faiths—with countless
memories in which to revel. The United States has perhaps the
richest history of any nation in the Summer Games. There was Jesse
Owens winning four gold medals in Berlin in 1936, destroying the
Nazis’ view of racial superiority as Adolf Hitler looked on; there
was Jim Thorpe ruling the decathlon and pentathlon in 1912, Bob
Beamon shattering the long jump record in 1968 and Michael
Johnson’s breathtaking 200-meter run in downtown Atlanta in 1996;
there was Cassius Clay in 1960, Mary Lou Retton in 1984, the Dream
Team in 1992 and Rulon
Gardner in 2000. Other Americans have etched their places
permanently in Olympic lore: Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz, Janet
Evans, Greg Louganis, Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Bruce Baumgartner,
Dan Gable, Florence Griffith Joyner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Wilma
Rudolph, Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky and Babe Didrikson Zaharias to
name but a few.

The sport of mixed martial arts remains an outsider at the
Olympics, and considering the tight window in which the competition
takes place, that seems unlikely to change anytime soon, if ever.
MMA may be too attritive an activity to be contained in a 16-day
box. Injuries are inevitable, cuts and broken bones commonplace.
While that reality can be harsh, it cannot stop the imagination of
avid combat sports fans from wandering and wondering. What if MMA
was an Olympic sport? What would a squad from the United States
look like?

The selection process has been completed, and a variety of factors
were taken into consideration, from age, ranking, leadership skills
and ability to career trajectory, head-to-head histories and past
Olympic experience. Fighters who were selected as starters in 2016 were
deemed ineligible in order to keep the hypothetical team fresh.
The United States National MMA Team’s bags are packed, its plane
pointed towards Tokyo International Airport: a head coach, five
assistant coaches, a fighter in each of the 12 major weight classes
and two alternates in each weight class. The squad will be coached
by former
World Extreme Cagefighting champion Mike Thomas
Brown, who has become one of the true influential voices at

American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. He will be
assisted by
Jackson-Wink MMA’s Mike Winkeljohn, the
American Kickboxing Academy’s Daniel
Cormier, Fortis
MMA’s Sayif Saud,

Alliance MMA’s Eric Del Fierro and the
MMA Lab’s John Crouch.

2021 United States National MMA Team

Heavyweight: Derrick
Lewis
Light Heavyweight: Phil
Davis
Middleweight: Jared
Cannonier
Welterweight: Stephen
Thompson
Lightweight: Dustin
Poirier
Featherweight: Max
Holloway (Captain)
Bantamweight: Aljamain
Sterling
Flyweight: Joseph
Benavidez
Women’s Featherweight: Kayla
Harrison
Women’s Bantamweight: Holly
Holm
Women’s Flyweight: Roxanne
Modafferi
Women’s Strawweight: Mackenzie
Dern

HEAVYWEIGHT: Lewis brings a lot to the table, from
his brutal honesty and self-deprecating humor to crushing
light-switch power. The New Orleans native has rattled off four
consecutive victories and reclaimed his spot as a top contender in
the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight division. Lewis has
delivered 20 of his 25 career victories by knockout or technical
knockout and now ranks second on the UFC’s all-time list for wins
by a heavyweight (16). Alternates: Curtis
Blaydes, Tyrell
Fortune

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: A four-time NCAA All-American
wrestler and onetime national champion, Davis excelled in his
transition to mixed martial arts—first as a member of the UFC
roster and later as part of Bellator MMA. The 36-year-old Alliance
MMA export has won nine of his past 12 bouts, earning his stripes
as one of the sport’s premier competitors at 205 pounds. Davis held
the Bellator light heavyweight crown for 232 days, from Nov. 4,
2016 to June 24, 2017. Alternates: Corey
Anderson, Anthony
Smith

MIDDLEWEIGHT: Cannonier, a former heavyweight, has
been a physical force at 185 pounds. The 37-year-old Dallas native
has compiled a 3-1 record since downshifting to the middleweight
division and unveiling a sculpted physique, posting consecutive
victories over David
Branch, Anderson
Silva and Jack
Hermansson before dropping a unanimous decision to former UFC
champion Robert
Whittaker. Cannonier operates out of the star-studded MMA Lab
camp in Glendale, Arizona. Alternates: Derek
Brunson, Uriah
Hall

WELTERWEIGHT: One of the true gentlemen of the
sport and outstanding ambassador for martial arts in general,
Thompson remains a key player in the 170-pound weight class. Though
he failed in two attempts to capture the undisputed welterweight
crown, the South Carolina-based karateka recently re-energized his
career with back-to-back wins over Vicente
Luque and Geoff Neal.
Thompson, 38, has been finished only once in 21 professional
appearances. Alternates: Michael
Chiesa, Neil
Magny

LIGHTWEIGHT: No fighter in mixed martial arts
embodies the warrior spirit any better than Poirier. The longtime
American Top Team export has lost only once—to the unbeaten
Khabib
Nurmagomedov—in his past nine outings. Poirier made serious
waves at UFC 257, where he put away former two-division champion
Conor
McGregor with punches in the second round of their Jan. 23 main
event and set the stage for a blockbuster trilogy bout between the
two. Poirier has secured 20 of his 27 career victories by knockout,
technical knockout or submission. Alternates:
Justin
Gaethje, Michael
Chandler

FEATHERWEIGHT: Holloway established himself as
generational fighter while he was still in his 20s. The former
featherweight champion rebounded from consecutive losses to

Alexander Volkanovski with a scintillating five-round unanimous
decision over the shoe-leather tough Calvin
Kattar in the UFC on ABC 1 headliner on Jan. 16. Holloway, who
does not turn 30 until December, already holds the all-time UFC
records in total strikes landed (2,805) and significant strikes
landed (2,618). Alternates: A.J. McKee,
Aaron
Pico

BANTAMWEIGHT: Sterling took possession of the
Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight title under
less-than-ideal circumstances through no fault of his own, as he
absorbed an illegal knee strike from Petr Yan at
UFC 259, could not continue and benefitted from the subsequent
disqualification. Nevertheless, the 31-year-old Serra-Longo Fight
Team standout finds himself in the midst of his competitive prime
as one of the world’s elite bantamweights. Sterling has rattled off
six straight wins since his December 2017 knockout loss to Marlon
Moraes. Alternates: Cory
Sandhagen, Sergio
Pettis

FLYWEIGHT: The championship window appears to be
closed for Benavidez, who will likely go down as one of the most
accomplished fighters to never win a major MMA title. Still, most
observers carry him in high regard—a reality that makes him a
strong sentimental pick. Benavidez last appeared at UFC 259 on
March 6, when he dropped a unanimous decision to the undefeated
Askar
Askarov and slipped to 0-3 across his past three outings. His
resume speaks for itself, highlighted by wins over Miguel
Torres, Ian McCall,
Jussier
Formiga, Henry
Cejudo and Alex Perez.
Alternates: Alex Perez,
Brandon
Royval

WOMEN’S FEATHERWEIGHT: Harrison was a two-time
Olympic gold medalist in judo, and her move to mixed martial arts
has gone swimmingly. A cornerstone of the Professional Fighters
League promotion, she has won all 10 of her bouts, eight of them by
knockout, technical knockout or submission. Harrison, 31, advanced
to the 2021 PFL playoffs on June 25, when the American Top Team
representative submitted Cindy
Dandois with a first-round armbar in the PFL 6 main event.
While she competes at 155 pounds, the Middletown, Ohio, native has
already proven she can make the cut to featherweight.
Alternates: Cat Zingano,
Leslie
Smith

WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHT: Forever known for her
cataclysmic upset of Ronda
Rousey at UFC 193, Holm held the undisputed women’s
bantamweight title from Nov. 14, 2015 to March 5, 2016. “The
Preacher’s Daughter” was a world-class boxer prior to her crossing
over to mixed martial arts, as she compiled a 33-2-3 record and
captured multiple world championships. Holm last appeared at UFC on
ESPN 16, where she laid claim to a unanimous decision over Irene
Aldana in their Oct. 3 headliner. Alternates:
Sara
McMann, Macy
Chiasson

WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT: The affable Modafferi has
earned almost universal adoration across her 18-year career as both
an MMA pioneer and an ambassador. “The Happy Warrior” has pieced
together a 25-18 record while competing all over the world, with 14
of her 18 defeats resulting in decisions. Modafferi was a finalist
on Season 26 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series and has
fought for titles in various organizations, including the UFC,
Strikeforce and Invicta Fighting Championships. Her leadership
qualities and upbeat personality make her a natural fit for any
international team. Alternates: Liz
Carmouche, Ilima-Lei
Macfarlane

WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT: Dern appears to be hitting
her stride as a mixed martial artist, as evidenced by her current
four-fight winning streak—a run of sustained success that has
propelled her into the Top 10 in the UFC’s women’s strawweight
rankings. She last appeared at UFC on ABC 2, where she submitted
Nina
Nunes with an armbar in the first-round of their April 10
showcase. A longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and one of the
most decorated grapplers of all-time, Dern was a gold medalist at
the 2015 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World
Championships. Alternates: Tecia
Torres, Angela Hill
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