USA Wrestling has really sweetened the pot to keep its best wrestlers from defecting to mixed martial arts: $250,000 if you win an Olympic gold, $50,000 for a silver and $25,000 for a bronze, the New York Times reports.
"This is bigger than just wrestling," [U.S. wrestler Henry] Cejudo said Thursday in a telephone interview. "This is bigger than the quarter-million. This is going to change everything. It's going to revolutionize the sport."
The incentive program, called the Living the Dream Medal Fund, grew out of the United States' underwhelming haul of three wrestling medals at the Beijing Games, the desire to energize the sport by strengthening it at the grass-roots level and, most important, the urge to keep wrestlers in the sport.
Cejudo won a gold medal in Beijing and received a $40,000 bonus, enough to help buy him a Mercedes. But he says the lure of the popular MMA circuit is appealing to other wrestlers who would like to make a living from their skills. The increased bonus pool (much of it from private donations) is part of a fund set up by USA Wrestling, which is also giving large payouts to wrestlers who win world titles.
"MMA is growing, and it's a basic wrestling sport," Cejudo said. "A lot of fighters are ex-wrestlers. A lot of guys take the easy way out, make quick money. This fund will keep wrestlers in wrestling."
Cejudo said the increased payout means he will try and defend his Olympic gold in London in 2012. "I'm coming for that quarter-million," he says.
Wrestling is among those "minor" sports that get relatively little recognition and funding despite the level of commitment demanded of its athletes. Bonus pools like this are a great way to keep athletes motivated and the sport growing.