‘Cage’ needs to disappear from mixed martial arts says UFC head Tom Wright

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Cage. Caged. Cage warriors, cage writer. All terms appear frequently in mixed martial arts. A news story – away from the sports spill will often refer to cage fighter this, or cage fighter that. Semantics? Yes and no.

“I never use it,” Wright explained in an exclusive interview with The Telegraph. “I not only think it’s imperative for the long term strength and maturity of our sport, the term ‘cage’ could be eradicated from our vernacular.”

Wright, who before coming to the UFC three years ago was Executive Director of the Canadian Football League, explained:

“The word doesn't allow consideration for the strengths that the sport provides: Which is incredible athleticism; amazing competition; a fair level playing field and two athletes demonstrating their abilities to show who’s the more superior mixed martial artist.”

Wright, 60, controls a burgeoning market in Canada, where Georges St-Pierre, the UFC’s welterweight champion is a national hero, and where UFC events sit comfortably alongside ice hockey and other mainstream sports with the same vim and force.

But the ‘cage’ issue first reared its head in Australia, one of his going concerns. And is still ongoing. Again, it is for entirely different reasons. Politicians there believe that the ‘cage’ sends out the wrong signal, and that MMA fighters should be using a ring.

Against the advice of their own sports commission, the Government’s of Western Australia and Victoria want to force MMA regulations so that there is solely the use of boxing rings.

Politicians claim the ‘cage’ is seen as creating the wrong impression. In fact, it is just the word, semantically, which is doing exactly that.

Anyone versed in MMA at any level knows the netting is there for safety, just as the shape – circular not a square – assists the martial arts outside striking.

“I’ve heard the Premier of WA on radio saying ‘Listen, I just don't like what it looks like, I don't like the image’.” They would not attend an event when invited.

“No, they never do that stuff,” said Wright. “It took us forever to even get a meeting with the minister of sport.

“The crazy thing about not only in Victoria but also in Western Australia is that the commission, the paid bureaucrats that are actually brought in as experts to work with whatever Government is in play. They’ve recommended them to use the Octagon.”

But a pioneering zeal is still required, insists Wright. “We’ve got myths to dispel and perspective to inform and facts to come forward with, because so many people don’t take the time to actually learn the facts and they react emotionally, subjectively and they don’t take their time."

"MMA is sanctioned and legal in Western Australia and Victoria. But its only permitted in a boxing ring, not permitted in a combat enclosure. It's incredibly short sighted: it puts the athletes' safety at risk, the officials' safety at risk, the fans' safety at risk," said Wright.

There is high farce here, too. “But you know what they don’t like?

They don’t like the image. But they called it cage -fighting I'd never heard it being called that. Georges St Pierre is a mixed martial arts artist and he competes in an Octagon. That’s the challenge."

"Muhammad Ali was not a ring fighter, he was a boxer, and he competed in a ring."

"That kind of 'cage' or 'cagefighter' nomenclature is never going to help perception, so we need to change it." Wright had a look in his eye like a man on a mission.

A mission to change to perception. And that is why, as the sport progresses, so the door on the word ‘cage’ may eventually be slammed shut forever.




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