The adherents of mixed martial arts (MMA), aka cage-fighting, claim that it's the fast-growing sport in the world. Not in Britain, according to this entertaining account of fly-by-night promoters, mismatched opponents and sparse crowds.
Given the atavistic appeal of boxing for many, you would have thought that a sport which allows competitors to add skills as diverse as jiu jitsu, judo, wrestling and Thai boxing to their repertoire would appeal even more, but Mick Bower, a journalist and enthusiast, puts his finger on the problem. The stand-up stuff, the punching and kicking, goes down well, but too many bouts suffer from lengthy periods of groundwork; the purists might appreciate the finer points of technique but for the rest of us it's two sweaty blokes lying down with their arms and legs locked around each other, "the combat sports equivalent of mogadon" in Bower's words.
In the UK, a sport which is ecstatic if it gets even a short-lived deal with the likes of Nuts TV is clearly struggling, and Bower looks wistfully towards the United States, where the Ultimate Fighting Championship organisation have made cage-fighting into a billion-dollar industry, sucking in the best fighters from around the world. This, he says, has bred a couch-potato fan-base over here who prefer to watch the best from abroad on television rather than turn out for a live promotion at their local leisure centre, unless it features a novelty act such as Katie Price at ringside supporting her boyfriend of the time, Alex Reid. Sloppy proofreading and Bower's political tub-thumping are minor irritants, but as an insider's view of a world which, much to its regret, remains largely hidden from the public eye it more than punches (or kicks, or grapples) its weight.