Fedor Emelianenko (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Kickboxing and Sambo Take One Step Closer to Olympic Acceptance

While the push for Olympic acceptance of MMA is ongoing, the group of Olympic combat sports grew exponentially to end November.

According to the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) and the International Sambo Federation (FIAS), both sports have been granted provisional acceptance by the International Olympic Committee.

“Please take this special moment to reflect on how far we have come, but more importantly how far we have to go,” WAKO Interim President Francesca Falsoni said, as part of a statement to WAKO members. “To finally achieve this goal is the end of a long but constructive and developing marathon, even though such recognition will lead to obligations for us to follow up and develop.”


“Today we have accomplished the big and perhaps the most difficult step forward,” said FIAS President Vasily Shestakov. “But there is still a lot of work ahead. The next step is to get the permanent IOC recognition and then to be included in the program of the Olympic Games. I’m sure we can handle it!”

Between the two sports, sambo most closely resembles MMA with its integration of striking, grappling and open-finger gloves. Competitors also wear a standard gi jacket and belt, as in judo and jiu-jitsu. However, it is Combat Sambo that is like a distant cousin to MMA. Sport Sambo and American Freestyle or simply Freestyle Sambo are grappling-only events. Freestyle is not recognized by FIAS.

Sambo has given MMA noteworthy champions such as Fedor Emelianenko and current UFC lightweight titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The sport of Muay Thai was granted provisional acceptance in 2016 thanks to the International Federation of Muay Thai Amateur (IFMA.)

The sports join boxing, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, judo and taekwondo. Karate will debut as an Olympic sport at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The filing process for submission of jiu-jitsu as an Olympic sport through the Ju-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF) began in 2017.

In relation to MMA, the UFC-partnered International Mixed Martial Arts Federation expects to debut MMA as a demonstration sport at the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.