Cage-fighting: A brief, brutal encounter

Tonight, Wembley Arena will host Britain's biggest cage-fighting event. Ticket sales for the sport are up 800 per cent - but the BMA disapproves. Guy Adams goes a few rounds to see why

Alex "Reidernater" Reid takes hold of my face, and grinds it into the floor. His knee pummels my kidney, and a forearm the size of Popeye's slips round my neck and begins to squeeze. I'm being throttled, and it hurts. Five more seconds, he tells me, and I'll lose consciousness.

For about the 15th time that afternoon, I tap Reid's back to signal that he's won our little sparring contest. He drops me like a crushed insect and grins. There are 72 hours until his next professional fight, against Tony "the Freak" Fryklund, and I've just provided a gentle warm-up.

This is cage fighting, an extreme form of martial arts where two men beat each other up ... in a cage. To some, it's the most exhilarating form of combat ever invented, a flamboyant mix of kick-boxing and wrestling. To others, it's a brutal and violent spectacle that demeans fighter and audience alike.

Either way, this human blood sport has become remarkably popular. Tonight, Wembley Arena will host the Cage Rage 18: Battleground, Britain's biggest event. More than 8,000 seats have been sold and action will be televised across four continents.

For up to £1,000 for a ringside seat, the sell-out crowd will see fighters called Machine, The Beast, Professor X and Gentleman James cause each other extreme pain. They'll get dry ice, loud music, scary tattoos and girls in bikinis.

"Four years ago, we were playing in a leisure centre in somewhere like Romford in front of 1,000 people," says Rob Nutley, a former fighter who now commentates for Sky TV. "Since then, there's been an 800 per cent increase in crowds. In fact, very few boxing fights would now draw our sort of numbers."

But the British Medical Association has called for the "highly dangerous" event to be outlawed, saying: "People face a serious risk of severe brain damage if they take part in boxing or close-combat events of this kind. All such events should be banned." Many local authorities agree. Last year, a fight in Birmingham lost its public entertainment licence after medical experts intervened (it was held in Evesham).

"They say what they say," adds Nutley. "But if you go back through time, people have always watched men fighting men. It's natural, part of human nature, and has been since Roman times. In a sense, we're bringing back the gladiatorial spirit."

The promoter of tonight's card, Andy Greer, says "every step" has been taken to minimise the chance of serious injury when his fighters knock seven bells out of each other. "I can't deny there's an element of risk," he says. "It's a full combat sport. There will be blood and people will get hurt. But I believe as many safety measures as could possibly be taken have been. We've never had a death, whereas in boxing you get deaths all the time. What we're doing is safer. Yes, the aim is to knock people out, but you don't get repeated blows to the head. People can win by submission, a referee's decision, or by points."

Cage fighting was invented in the US during the 1990s, when an organisation called Ultimate Fighting decided TV audiences would pay to watch an organised version of the no-holds-barred Wild West bar-room brawl. Top fighters in the States now command purses of £500,000 per bout, and viewing figures may soon overtake those commanded by WWF wrestling, the staged combat "sport" made famous by characters such as Hulk Hogan. The UK is fast catching up.

Part of the draw is a technical marriage of four combat sports: Queensbury rules boxing, kick-boxing, ju-jitsu, and Greco-Roman wrestling. Another hefty part is the prospect of witnessing a gory spectacle that resembles a human version of cock-fighting. Like many combat sports, it also boasts more than a passing acquaintance with the underworld. One of the suspects charged in connection with the £53m heist on a Kent Securitas depot in February was "Lightning" Lee Murray, a top fighter. He goes on trial next year.

Grant Waterman, who will referee tonight's fights, describes cage fighting as: "More addictive than crack, more complex than chess, and more athletic than triathlon." But Waterman and his colleagues do not wholly conform to the stereotypes. As well as working as a nightclub doorman, Waterman has a part-time career as a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Portsmouth University.

In an effort to scotch the myths connected to cage fighting, they invited The Independent to a session at London Shootfighters, an old-fashioned spit-and-sawdust gym underneath a railway arch at White City. I fought Alex Reid, a former Hollyoaks actor (he played a character called Jason Cunliffe) who fights on tonight's under-card. The encounter was brief, brutal, and one-sided, since the rules forbid all my favoured playground fighting techniques, apart from the "nipple cripple" and "Chinese burn".

And despite being repeatedly smeared across the canvas, it was invigorating, genuinely enjoyable, and surprisingly technical. There was also a (very brief) moment of glory: I accidentally caught one of Reid's colleagues in the face with a stray elbow, causing an explosive nosebleed. Watching my opponent attempt to repair the damage with a bloody handkerchief, I felt like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. This, I suddenly realised, is the sort of "moment" that will bring the 8,000 baying fans to the Coliseum of Wembley tonight.

The rules of cage fighting

* Anything goes, except butting, eye-gouging, biting, hair-pulling, fish-hooking, groin attacks, putting a finger into any orifice or into any cut or laceration, joint manipulation.

* For safety reasons, no striking to the spine or the back of the head, no striking downward using the point of the elbow, no throat strikes, including, without limit, grabbing the trachea.

* When on the ground, no clawing, pinching or twisting the flesh, no grabbing the clavicle, no kicking, kneeing or stomping the head of a grounded opponent, and no kicking the kidney with a heel.

* Throwing is permitted, except spiking an opponent to the canvas on his head or neck, throwing an opponent out of the ring or fenced area, holding an opponent's shorts or gloves.

* No spitting, no holding ropes or fence, no abusive language, no attacking during the break, after the bell has sounded, or while the opponent is under the care of the referee.

* Timidity, and the corner throwing in the towel during a contest is forbidden.

News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players