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Safeguarding the Future of MMA in Great Britain

By Zach Arnold | September 10, 2007

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By Adam Underhill

Every British tabloid that I picked up last Wednesday, every news bulletin that I tuned into on the BBC’s Radio 1 network; it had appeared that mixed martial arts had finally at long last reached headline news… but regrettably for completely the wrong reasons. Preceding Saturday’s UFC 75: Champion vs. Champion event in London, the British Medical Association had called and protested for an absolute prohibition of the sport of ‘cage fighting’ here in the United Kingdom. Portrayed as a outrageous, barbaric, and fierce cockfight between two meat heads after a heavy drinking session at their local public house; mixed martial arts has not quite attained the desired popularity accomplished by our American counterparts.

It was only a matter of time before the ‘UFC vs. cockfighting’ comparison reached the shores of Britain from across the pond. The British Medical Association, whom have also tried to outlaw amateur and professional boxing for over two decades, have refused to consent any sort of ‘cage fighting’ in the UK despite it’s rules, format, and regulations. To outlaw such a flourishing and productive attraction such as the UFC, if truth be told, is criminal. It is important that the group realises and recognises the positives that can and will develop from such sporting events and emergent attractions such as mixed martial arts. It truly is a subject of giving the BMA as little of a motive as possible, in the aid of averting a ban on the events entirely. Their indictments and accusations are based purely on misinformation; there has never been a fatality or serious brain injury in mixed martial arts during the past fourteen years since its inception. Although, there are a few issues that need to be presented and dealt with if mixed martial arts and cage fighting are to be protected in this country for the long run. We need to prove to the right people that we are undeniably here to stay.

Impending on this sort of prohibition would be that the sport would indefinitely be forced to go underground, corrupting and tainting our status even further. You would unearth hundreds of secret gatherings emerging all over the country, forcing authority to crack down on this sort of activity, and in turn causing further problems and jeopardising any sort of encouraging position that the sport could achieve. Sure, a small amount of websites could capitalise on the circumstances and generate a significant amount of money from promoting online subscriptions for these sorts of illegal underground fixtures (see for actual underground no-holds-barred MMA fights LIVE from Brazil), but in the long run there would be absolutely no room for growth and development of the sport as a whole. The fights would forever be christened illegal underground bloodbaths and frowned upon even more so than they are today.

One of the issues that has arisen over the past fourteen years is the subject of the ‘cage’ used to accommodate these fights. The appearance and presentation of these events held in the United Kingdom, and even across the World, could easily be perplexed for a ‘human cockfight’. The ‘cage’ term sounds like an enclosed and dirtied battle ground used to fabricate a single winner out of two deluded brutes, proving that the art and science of mixed martial arts truly is misunderstood and underestimated not only nationwide, but internationally moreover. UFC president Dana White has done an admirable job in marketing his promotion’s ultimate cage fighting thesis to some extent into a reputable and respectable activity, whereas British promotions such as Cage Rage, Cage Warriors, and FX3 have somewhat failed in doing so to the more principled British public. In order to ridicule the accusations of these ‘cockfighting’ indictments, even though the cage itself was designed as a safe and protected environment for the fighters to compete and to minimise injury, British promotions need to fabricate a dissimilar format to present these shows in a more compassionate and benevolent approach. The standard four-rope boxing ring used for MMA bouts across the World (more notably PRIDE FC in Japan) would be a more suitable approach for the more principled community of the British public. This arrangement would relieve any sort of ‘cockfighting’ condemnation from the BMA, and would impose a more protected sports-orientated setting. The marketing ability of reputable mixed martial arts promoters is not the matter in question. For marketing such ideas as ultimate fighting, Great Britain is a terribly solid and immovable forte, and as demonstrated by the latest news, governing bodies do not take kindly to this sort of fad. The ‘cage’ image is harming and will continue to harm the reputation of British mixed martial arts further.

If the sport is to endure and live on through the torrent of recurrent exasperation, it is important that mixed martial arts in the United Kingdom receives literal recognition from the suitable authorities; the sanctioning boards and governing bodies across Britain. If the assembly can agree on a probable way of regulating such fights, then it will be much easier for promotions to gain a positive reaction and a promising reputation. Much like the Nevada State Athletic Commission in the United States, a British commission needs to be able to provide every variety of optimum safety to its registered fighters. Pre-fight blood tests, medical examinations, dope screening, all of these would be available under one umbrella. The board will decide on a definite set of rules that the total country will have to abide by. Whether that includes no elbows to the head, no soccer kicks to a downed opponent, it does not matter. Every promotion will be obligated to follow these rules, and in turn will receive the sporting credit and acknowledge they so desire and deserve. Maybe to phone call between Cage Rage and the British Boxing Board of Control is in order.

It will be interesting to find out how many BMA representatives, if any at all, attended the fights this Saturday night. Great Britain is a market that I’m sure Dana White does not want to lose, and prior to UFC 75 I figured it would be interesting to see how the UFC played up to this past Wednesday’s story. I was interested to see if there were any premature referee stoppages by way of trying to prove paramount safety within the cage, but in all fairness the British Medical Association’s endeavours on banishing the sport had absolutely no affect on the way the fights were mediated, and rightly so. I attended the event with a life-long friend of mine who was new to the sport of MMA, and as a first time witness to this extraordinary sport he agreed that the show was not as barbaric and malicious as the press try to make it out to be. We were both interviewed on TalkSport, Britain’s biggest sports radio station, after the fights for our thoughts on the relationship between street violence and full-contact sports such as MMA. My friend made a valiant proclamation that from what he witnessed on the night, the entire event looked extremely well organised, professional, and very sports-orientated. It was not the bloodbath he expected it to be, going away with an encouraging reflection of his experience.

Granted, while there are many who understand the concept and appreciate the many aspects that go into the training, preparation and the fight itself, there are many fans of the UFC and mixed martial arts in general that in actuality lust the knockouts and blood. This obvious fact makes it that much more important for the State to regulate such events and promote the highest safety for it’s fighters inside the ring or cage. Mixed martial arts cannot choose the type of fans it attracts, but by conforming the rules and regulatory aspects of the sport will only promote it as an accepted sporting activity and the appeal or yearning for bloodshed will decline. MMA may have its roots in the primitive Greek sport of Pankration, an ancient no-holds-barred competition where literally anything did go almost two thousand five hundred years ago, but today’s conforming society has seamlessly managed to outline a similar, more ethical practise where the safety of it’s fighters are of the utmost importance, as is the reputation of each promotion. Why ban something for the reason that it doesn’t act in accordance with the Governments opinions of what is wrong and what it right for the people of its country. Mixed martial arts is a violent sport, and while there is an ‘off’ button on your television’s remote if you choose to use it, take a minute to comprehend just how hard these athletes train, how much perseverance they dedicate to the lifestyle they choose to follow, and just how passionate they are about their occupation.

Topics: Adam Underhill, Media, MMA, UFC, UK | 4 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

4 Responses to “Safeguarding the Future of MMA in Great Britain”

  1. To safeguard MMA England needs to follow in the footsteps of Dana White who created the sport MMA when he personally put in place the rules we see in mma today. FYI Santa Claus is real I saw him in Area 51 drinking a forty ounze with Bigfoot

  2. Nick says:

    It seems a basic point to me, but my reading of the above didn’t seem to find it: It is not up to mma to defend itself as having value. It is up to the BMA (or whoever) to show that it is not only dangerous, but sufficiently dangerous that even with informed consent of participants it should be banned.

    That’s never been done, and never will, for the simple reason that there are many more sports which would need banning first because they are either more dangerous in aggregate (e.g. rugby and its numerous concussions and paralysis) or more dangerous per participant (e.g. show jumping and cheerleading).

    Therefore the BMA quite willingly, and quite dishonestly, changes the argument mid-breath:

    MMA is too dangerous

    1. MMA is not too dangerous, but the intent of the sport is to cause injury
    2. If MMA is popular it will have a negative impact on society

    Clearly the MMA is no better qualified to comment on (2) than the man in the pub. The BMA is simply the labour union for doctors, it has no expertise in sociology. As a union, it isn’t even a representative of the medical profession itself (independent of the narrow interest of its most skilled practicioners.

    As for (1), the answer ought to be “so what?”. Informed consent. Most other contact sports have injury of some (at least) temporary form as an objective. It’s called tackling.

  3. Ian Dean says:

    “UFC president Dana White has done an admirable job in marketing his promotion’s ultimate cage fighting thesis to some extent into a reputable and respectable activity, whereas British promotions such as Cage Rage, Cage Warriors, and FX3 have somewhat failed in doing so to the more principled British public.”

    Cage Warriors and FX 3 have worked very hard to promote MMA in a respible and safe manner. We have featured in TV, Radio, Newspaper and magazine articles. However we do not have a multi-million pound marketing budget or a large workforce and PR company to assist us.

    I find your comments ill-thought out, naive and almost insulting. It’s almost like you are branding us a part of the problem. If you feel this way, you are welcome to come to the next Cage Warriors show in October and see how we do things. We are not perfect, but i honestly believe we treat our fighters with respect, and are well looked after and we have a good reputation throughout Europe because of it.

    Cage Warriors has cried out for formal regulation of UK MMA and have even made tentative enquiries toward formal bodies in the past (including Sport England) but nobody wanted to know about MMA, let alone regulate it, and we did not have the resources to push it further.

    Most of the responsible UK MMA organisations have tried to follow Unified rules the best they can and promote the benefits of these rules to the media, along with the safety aspects of the cage over an old, dirty, tatty and quite often unsafe ring (as most of the rings i have seen in the UK, were terrible)

    Hopefully the BBoBC regulate UK MMA and help the promotions that want to make MMA a legitimate and safe sport. I know CW and other like minded promotions will do all they can to help a legitimate governing body push this great sport further.

    I hope the UFC continue the good work they are doing as well and that chances like the BMA, who have a narrow minded publicity seeking agenda are well and truly put in their place.

  4. The comments made towards Cage Rage, Cage Warriors and FX3 were not intended to offend nor upset any one of these parties. Your ability to promote mixed martial arts in Great Britain as safe and respectable is not the matter question. These promotions have a fine reputation across Europe and there is no doubt that the fighters competing on the circuit are well taken care of. British promoters have done an outstanding job in emphasising paramount safety and protection within the cage, but ultimately they have in fact failed to market their product to the more principled British public, whether that may be due to having neither an insufficient budget nor a large public relations company to assist them. Although to their credit it is in no fault of their own.

    The problem is not the current promotions on the eventful British circuit. The problem is in fact the misinformed British public. A group of people who are incredibly tough to market this sort of activity to, especially with the British Medical Association doing everything they can to outlaw this kind of sport. The American and the British public are two entirely diverse markets. Both have different principles, traditions and ideologies, and not every product will be profitable for both markets.

    For example let’s take the annual ‘Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest’ from Coney Island, New York. Every year on July 4th this bizarre event attracts over thirty thousand spectators, and a further 1.5 million viewers watch it live on ESPN. Meanwhile according to Nielson Media Research the FIFA World Cup 2006 pulled in a total of 1.04million viewers on ESPN2 for it’s coverage of 24 matches, and this number is up 94% from the World Cup held in Japan/South Korea four years prior. The England football team’s Euro 2008 qualifier against Russia this past Wednesday alone pulled 10.7million viewers.

    Competitive eating is a nationally-recognised sport in both the United States and Japan, but this sort of thing is completely unheard of in the United Kingdom. After winning the event, the champion of the 2007 “Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest” Joey Chestnut’s accomplishment was quoted by ESPN commentators as being “the greatest moment in the history of America sports”, being compared to the likes of past individuals such as Abraham Lincoln and Neil Armstrong. It is not possible to find a more diverse example of how sports and entertainment differs in the United States and the United Kingdom.

    As stated before it is in no fault of the current promotions running shows in the United Kingdom. Even with vast financial backing and a public relation campaigns similar to that of the UFC’s it will be exceptionally difficult for mixed martial arts to achieve national media acceptance in the UK. Referring to my article are changes that will need to be made in order to exhibit this sport as a safe, secure and regulated activity, and also if it is to be accepted by formal bodies such as ‘Sport England’. If all goes well I will be attending Cage Rage this coming Saturday night, and also the Cage Warriors show in October to acquire a sense of reaction from the spectators and everyone else in attendance.

    Following the Nevada State’s Unified rules is a great move and will no doubt promote the benefits of such safety and regulation in mixed martial arts competition, although the cage is and will forever be flawed by the representation of human cock-fighting, no matter how safe its environment may be. There is room for conventional recognition here in the United Kingdom; it is now a question of how the promotions act upon their targets of legitimising the sport, and how the British public take to the required adjustments of making MMA appear as safe as possible.


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