Sacred in Tokyo last summer, Steven Da Costa will not be able to defend his title in 2024 in Paris after the withdrawal of karate from the Olympic program. A situation that could prompt him to switch to MMA. The French fighter entrusted this desire, and what is holding him back at the moment, at the microphone of the RMC Fighter Club.
What if Steven Da Costa made the switch to MMA? Unexpectedly, the question makes sense when you know that the Olympic champion karateka in Tokyo is a big fan of the discipline. “I really like it and I know it well,” he smiles. In January, he was even welcomed onto the set of RMC Sport for the night of the UFC heavyweight title shock between Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane. When he left the studios, he told us that the transition to fashionable martial arts might interest him and that several coaches had expressed an interest in welcoming him.
So when we received him in the RMC Fighter Club the last few days, we didn’t hesitate to tickle him about this. “It could of course drive me crazy, he says enthusiastically. The only brake I have, especially in a period when I am tired because the fallout from the Games arrived not long ago. For me it is a question: am I really motivated to start somewhere else from scratch Maybe not necessarily all over but there is a lot to see That doesn’t bother me but do I really have the teeth to start from such a low place to get to such a especially because I know that with my status in karate, we won’t start with the neighborhood championship.
Georges St-Pierre, Lyoto Machida or closer to us the Frenchman Manon Fiorot: the examples of success at the highest level of MMA of karate athletes are not lacking. But if Da Costa wants to take the plunge at 25, we can’t wait too long. “It’s in my mind, confirms the one who would fight in the feathers if he kept his karate category. I’m not going to do it at 40 brooms. It’s now. But making decisions is difficult, especially because karate always works for me It means giving up everything to do something else because you obviously can’t do both at the same time.”
No doubt it would also be necessary to move to Paris to join a “big” room and maximize learning and sparring sessions as soon as possible. Not ideal for those who feel so at home in Mont-Saint-Martin, in Meurthe-et-Moselle. “In fact, what blocks me the most is that,” he admits. The exact opposite of the promised scholarships in MMA that would change from a karate where the money doesn’t fall en masse. “You surprise me…”, he laughs. When he thinks of this transition, it is also and above all that his Grail has disappeared. Forever the first. But also the last. On August 5, 2021, at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Da Costa ignited France and realized his dream by winning the -67 kg final to become the first Olympic champion in the history of karate.
A title that the French fighter will not be able to defend in 2024 in Paris, in his country, because his discipline has already been removed from the Olympic program after integrating it in Japan. The two-time world champion and two-time champion has lost his dream of becoming an Olympic double, a fellow victim of a decision he could only endure. “How do I feel afterwards? Nothing more. Emptiness. It’s sad, but it’s not something we chose, so you have no choice but to swallow. I find it ridiculous and incomprehensible, just like everyone else. Nobody came to me with an argument that made me say it was normal.”
Da Costa has also failed to process the arguments of the president of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, Tony Estanguet, on this subject: “If you have nothing to say, you look for things. I don’t have one directly behind him, but he kept sinking in something indefensible. He tried to give baseless arguments. He sank on his own because it was not valid.” And to end as a diatribe: “Actually they were talking about public. You’re talking about money and more sports. In a way, you’re killing the Games. It’s kind of like spitting in our faces as I saw that my final had one of the biggest audiences in Tokyo. What they say is not concrete. They also said they want to bring back “younger” sports, but karate has 300,000 members in France alone and we don’t just have 60-year-olds. If you take my club, young people represent the majority, about 80%.
The arguments are valid. But the decision is confirmed. What demotivates the one who added a second world title in November to his individual record which also has two European crowns? “I’ve won everything and the motivation is not the same anymore, he admits. If everything stopped tomorrow, I’d be proud of everything I’ve done. But as long as I’m here I always want to win. I’m not hungry more to get this or that title but to go and set records When I become world champion again I will be the most successful of all time at this level in France These few records to search challenge me And the day I don’t have the fangs anymore, when i don’t care about getting washed in battle, it will be time to stop.
Whether you go into MMA or not, it looks tough. Not for him, but for his father, Michel, an accomplished French champion who came to karate to follow the path his son Logan (the eldest) had taken and followed by twins Steven and Jessie. “It will be hard to stop the day I do it because it is a family thing. It will hurt me compared to my father because he gave everything for us and he loves it too much. topics at home I can talk to my parents about anything but it’s really complicated As soon as we start a topic my father tries to change the subject or pretends he didn’t hear he doesn’t want to talk about it But sports is like as the casino, you have to know when to stop. I don’t want to go too many years without winning even one major title.”
“I was almost burned out”
Between all kinds of requests, the world championships and the end-of-year celebrations, Da Costa lived an intensely post-Tokyo. The Games, where he was the flag bearer for the closing ceremony, changed his life “a little bit”, both financially and in fame. They also offered him the honor of receiving the Legion of Honor. But in January, like many post-Olympic athletes, he experienced Olympic spleen, a form of mental void after months of being focused on the goal. “It wasn’t depression, but I felt it. After the Games you are overworked. In the end I was almost burned out, I slept two hours a night and I ate with a slingshot And once you are over the holidays, it is emptiness There is nothing left You are almost bored and you return to the immediate darkness You feel like you have changed dimension after the Games but all of a sudden you go back to normal and it is weird You are a superstar for two months and you become a normal person again. I felt it, but it didn’t bother me because I loved fame, even if it’s nice.”