Western Australian Government bans use of cage in MMA

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Officials of the state government in Western Australia have confirmed that legislation has been put in place which will prohibit the use of a cage during MMA events from March 2013 onward. Their reasoning behind this appears to be that they feel the use of the cage attracts controversy due to the negative preconceptions related to it.

Department of Sport and Recreation Commissioners met with promoters and gym owners yesterday to inform them of the decision. The local MMA community is obviously up in arms regarding this and will no doubt be looking at possible avenues of appeal, however, it is unlikely that anything can be done before the intial ban comes in.

It is important to point out that they have not banned MMA itself, but just the use of a cage during contests. I can’t help but wonder if the government actually did any form of research or study into the reasons behind a cage being used before coming to this decision. They seem to have completely missed the point of using a cage in the first place and that is fighter safety. The cage is primarily there to stop participants from falling to the floor of the venue/arena and potentially seriously injuring themselves. Here is an example of such an occasion:

http://youtu.be/MJ0_9UAs1g4?t=4m50s

They are right that there are negative preconceptions regarding the cage, but surely the right thing to do is to educate people on why those ideas are incorrect and not to simply look for a quick fix which in fact puts fighters safety in danger?

The main problem people have with the fight being in a cage is in fact due to the way the term ‘Cage Fighting’ has been portrayed by the media over the past 2 decades, which has left the majority of people who have never watched or researched the sport to have the idea through no fault of their own that they sport is some akin to “Human Cock Fighting” to coin that famous phrase from Bob Arum all those years ago. If you ask someone what they think of cage fighting they will invariably use words like ‘barbaric’, ‘brutal’, ‘disgusting’, etc However if you ask them what they think about MMA then the answer you are most likely to get is “What is MMA?”

It is unfortunate that referring to the sport by it’s actual name does not sell papers or get hits online and up until recently the only time anyone heard the term cage fighting was usually when it was attached to a completely unrelated negative story in the press which happened to involve someone who was a mixed martial artist (see Lee Murray for an example). It is for this reason that we cannot blame the general public for holding this misconception of MMA and it has led to those same people associating the cage with being a problem, after all, many forms of combat sport have existed for years without the use of a cage, boxing thrived in a ring and various Jiu-Jitsu/Judo/Taekwondo competitions take place on a mat. Buying into to this view without any further thought or consideration on the matter can be the only reason behind the Western Australian Government taking this action.

Pro Wrestling’s popularity, especially the WWE, has also had an impact on people’s idea’s on what ‘cage fighting’ really is. Whenever they present a cage match or something similar it is billed as being an extra brutal, extremely dangerous version of their normal matches, therefore the assumption is created that if a legitimate martial arts contest were to take place in a cage then this would also apply.

Another common complaint is that fighters are “locked in the cage with no escape”. Yes it is true that the doors on a cage are locked but this is also for fighter safety and is to prevent them from flying open if the fight ends up against them. What is not true is that they cannot leave. A fighter at any point before or during a contest can declare they want to stop and end the fight, this is not some gladiatorial situation where 2 men enter and 1 man leaves, this is after all a sport we are discussing with athletes competing through choice and no one would ever be forced to fight in a legitimate organisation.

Lets look at the other possibilities aside from using a cage. The main alternative, and likely one to be used after march, is a ring. MMA contests have taken place in rings around the world for many years and given that it was and still is Boxing’s arena of choice it made sense to present the sport that way to begin with. Unlike Boxing however, a major part of MMA is the ground game which often leads to fast paced grappling matches as well as battles in the clinch which end up against the ropes. In a ring this presents a danger since there is a gap between the ropes which can very quickly lead to one or both fighters falling between them to the floor below. The potential for injury or even death here cannot be overlooked, if someone was to land the right way it is conceivable that they could break their neck. Using a cage obviously prevents this and for me, when there are other alternatives available, it makes sense to avoid the use of a ring.

Once that argument has been presented I have heard some present having some form of solid surface in place instead of a cage. This argument is a non starter as far as I am concerned. Like any other sport part of how it survives and grows is through fans and spectators. The reason a cage is not a solid surface is so that fighter safety is preserved while people are still able to view the event. If you were to use a solid material then your options would either be to put the audience above the fighting area or to have a clear material like plastic used. Putting the audience above the fight would essentially create pit fighting and if you are worried about the connotations of a cage fight then this is surely not a viable alternative. Using a substance like solid plastic also presents potential dangers to fighter safety as there is no where near as much give in it as there is in a cage.

At the end of the day, MMA is a contact sport and often a violent one at that, this we cannot get away from and would not want to as it is part of the excitement of the sport. However we do need to accept that because of this there will always be detractors from the sport. This is fine though, it is not for everyone and we all have differing opinions. All that I would ask is that people form educated, researched opinions before making knee jerk reactions like this one in Western Australia.

I hope that those who came to this decision are open to discussions surrounding the issue from the local MMA community there and they reconsider in the near future. I have no doubt that if they actually took some time to get to know the sport and the people involved in it then they would realise how naive and ignorant the misconceptions are that they are helping to reinforce.

Anyone in Australia, or further afield for that matter, wanting to express their view on the matter is encouraged to contact WA Sports Minister Terry Waldron – Minister.Waldron@dpc.wa.gov.au – We would ofcourse ask that you remain polite and courteous in any communications as we simply want to help educate and move the sport forward as opposed to handing out more ammunition.

Ross Stevenson

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