Sport on TV: Fighting to make ends meet, especially if they're broke

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The Independent Culture

"Behind every great man..." giggles Maria Fletcher in Fighter's Wives – The World of MMA (Five, Thursday), and behind the facade of long blonde hair and pneumatic cleavage you might expect the scheming devices of a footballer's wife. But these women who watch their husbands getting regularly beaten to a pulp need to be clever and calculating in a different way.

Not only do they have to keep their scary menfolk under control as they build up to bouts, but they also have to cope with the fact that, unlike footballers, cage fighters earn only a few hundred quid for fighting in venues such as the Watford Colosseum, unless they can make it into the world's top 10.

It's surprising how normal they are. Maria accompanies her husband Colin, who unsurprisingly goes by the more entertaining sobriquet of Freakshow on stage, as he wonders around dressed like a nightmarish clown from a Stephen King novel. The couple from Tyne and Wear have known each other since they were teenagers.

"Coming from my background, fighting without rules, she said she would leave us if I kept doing it," admits Freakshow. The compromise was Mixed Martial Arts, which has regulations, despite looking like a ghastly free-for-all.

While Maria tried to tame her other half, there is something about the fighting that attracts unlikely partners. Sarah Beddoe from Kingston-upon-Thames admits: "My parents wanted me to bring home a rugby-playing lawyer. I brought home a Cockney cage fighter." That's Brad "One Punch" Pickett, who did make it big in the USA through the Ultimate Fighter series. One supposes that her parents decided to keep mum. Then there's Maeve and Paul McVeigh: he's called "Metabolic", she's called Doctor. As a GP she is on hand to provide more than moral support. Clearly fascinated by the physical specimens – in a purely professional way, of course – she acts as ring doctor for fight nights in Glasgow (the sanctioned variety).

Poppy Thompson of Portsmouth seems at first to buck this trend. She started as a ring girl and says: "We make it glamorous. To be out there in front of all those men, half-naked, it's amazing." But just when you think her slip might be showing, she says: "My main job is engineering and that's what I want to do for the rest of my life." One day, like Maeve, she will be able to put her Humpty Dumpty back together again.

There is a dark side to this heart-warming, bone-crunching story, of course. Freakshow's three-year-old son watches his father's fights on DVD and we see him examining some fake blood-stained machetes. "Freddy probably thinks all dads do the same," says Maria. He may not understand what's going on now. Let's hope he doesn't beat himself up about it in later life.

Neil "Razor" Ruddock came fourth in Celebrity Big Brother (Five, Friday), whatever that means. He was so nice that the winner, Rylan, adopted him as his "dad", which may have come as a surprise to his blonde, pneumatic footballer's wife Leah Newman, who was waiting when he came out. He greeted her thus: "Now that's who the warthog ****s when he's at home." The man Ruddock replaced on the show at the last minute, Jim Davidson, couldn't have put it more sweetly.