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Radio 4 goes inside the cage

Friday 29 October 2010, 11:20

Jane Ray Jane Ray

Editor's note: The video shows a real cage fight and if you're uncomfortable with the kind of aggression that characterises 'mixed martial arts' you may not want to click 'play' - SB.

As a radio producer I think it's very healthy to make programmes that challenge one's own ingrained ideas. I had grown up with the notion that 'hitting people is wrong' so I was naturally intrigued to meet someone apparently sane and immediately likable who was trying to make a professional go of doing just that.

I also recognised in Mike 'The Goods' Wood that here was a bloke who could fight with his fists but also with his mind. It is rare to meet someone who can be that articulate about their sport and that open to being quizzed about their motivation.

Mike first approached me to make a programme about other cage fighters. He was sick of the unthinking bad press about the sport and even the tabloid name stuck in his craw. Mixed martial artists do not actually fight in a cage; it's more of a giant hexagonal play-pen made of plasticized chicken wire.

But the more Mike spoke the more I thought 'never mind these other guys you're the one'. Convincing Mike of this took a little doing but I am eternally grateful that he succumbed.

From a producer's point of view all the levels of conflict that go into making a good story were there. I wanted to know about the phenomenal rise of mixed martial arts despite official attempts to ban it and whether or not it was linked to the recession. Was it a proving ground for young men (for it is usually but not exclusively men) with precious few other options and an outlet for their natural aggression, or really just a pantomime of thuggery. There is also inevitable conflict with the sport itself; however much disciplined devotees such as Mike would like the sport to be ennobled, the crowd pay to see blood and carnage.

It was important I felt not to pussyfoot around this. I needed listeners to engage with the visceral nature of the fighting itself but without choking on a roast potato and so I was relieved when the transmission slot was moved away from its original slot on Sunday lunchtime to a Friday morning.

Then there is the level of personal conflict. Mike's partner of more than 8 years is a ward sister who specialises in the care of stroke patients. One of the most dangerous risks of recognised fight moves such as the triangle which involves having your carotid artery squeezed to cut blood to the brain is that it could trigger a stroke.

Gill has never seen Mike fight. She puts it simply "I have no interest in watching him getting punched" but she's proud of his dedication, even when his obsessive nature and subsequent absenteeism from the family nest drives her bonkers and the rainy day money has gone on yet more specialist pre-match training. This ambivalence is why I made sure a colleague, Katie, recorded Gill's thoughts as she was coming off shift just as Mike was entering the 'cage' for his big fight 130 miles away.

Finally of course there's the murky arena of inner conflict. Mike regularly asks himself 'why?' and the answer he gets back is elusive but as the programme progresses I hope listeners will hear that at its heart it is really a programme about fathers and sons, both the hovering spectre of the biological father Mike never knew but also the close relationship with his own son 7 year old Joe. For me their conversations are the most revealing parts of the programme and why I gave Joe the last word.

Jane Ray is producer of Inside the Cage

  • Listen to Inside the Cage, presented by Felicity Finch, on Radio 4 at 1100 today or on the Radio 4 web site.
  • The video shows Mike Wood's fight featured in the programme.
  • Mike fights under the BAMMA code. The next BAMMA fixture is at Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle, on 4 December.

Comments

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    Comment number 1.

    A good program in general, I thought. The emphasis on the supposed dangers of choke-holds was strange, Judo players have been choking each other for more than a century without any recorded fatalities. The dangers of being hit in the head a lot are far more real and better attested.

    Also weird that a doctor campaigning against MMA wouldn't be aware of these things? If that's the basis of his opposition why aren't the BMA campaigning for a ban on Judo as well?

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    Comment number 2.

    A very interesting and well-balanced documentary, and what a nice guy Mike is - just shows you don't have to be an animal to enjoy MMA, and if you have that much innate competitive aggression, perhaps it's better to release it under the controlled and supervised conditions of the ring or cage than elsewhere.

    A little disappointing that we didn't see the end of Mike's fight, but there you go.

    MMA is a young man's sport, so the concern about carotid artery compression potentially releasing plaques is somewhat less than it might otherwise be. It would have been informative to compare the injury rates per competitor per hour of competition against other sports - I would suggest that MMA would not stand out as particularly dangerous in that respect.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    @PointyShinyBurning: perhaps the doctor campaigning against MMA did know about other sports that have used similar choking techniques, but preferred not to mention them because it would detract from his argument?

    There is certainly enough long-term data available now to judge these sports on actual injuries rather than speculation, however expert.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    This prog was totally unworthy of Radio 4, not least because of the breathless awe with which Felicity Finch presented it, also the vox pops of spectators looking forward to blood and knockouts at the fights.

    I should have switched off, I don't know why I didn't, except that possibly it brought out the worst in me as it seems to do to everyone involved. I felt and feel dirty.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    finally ;)

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    @paurina Would a program about boxing be similarly 'unworthy'? I'm sorry that MMA isn't to your tastes, but I think if anything its popularity has been rather under-reported by the BBC.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    I think it's unfair to bring up Michael Kirkham in the article without fuller research into his circumstances. Not only was he a 6'9" Lightweight (8 stone) which suggests an unhealthy balance between weight and height, but he had fought 30 days prior in which he was concussed with illegal blows to the back of the head (same rule in Boxing). The Athletic Commission should have medically suspended him for longer, and the Commission that cleared him to fight in what would be his last didn't even have the fighters undergo a Catscan or MRI.

    The real danger in MMA or Cage Fighting isn't the fight itself, but the inconsistencies among the sanctioning bodies who are meant to protect them. Rules can be uniform but what good is that if their handling by government appointed sports councils aren't?

    Simply ignoring it won't help either, as it will drive it underground just like anything that is prohibited, leaving fighters in the hands of the Al Capones of the world. For both fighter and public safety it has to have an oversight like in licensed Boxing, but that oversight has to be effective and consistent across the board.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    Ignorance is an incredibly bad thing. I put it to Jane Ray and Felicity Finch that they should have really educated themselves, even to the slightest amount of knowledge before embarking on what is clearly uncharted territory. The word cage fighting is thrown around in this piece and in this country like a tattooed label. The sport is Mixed Martial Arts. You have a MMA fighting record which consists of all MMA fights. Some organisations choose to hold their fights in a RING some in an Octagon (CAGE). MMA has been around for a long time and before the UFC, Mostly in a ring. The fenced octagon was really introduced for two big reasons. It is seen as a way to favour no particular style of martial arts. A ring can be easily manipulated to escape from a bad situation and recover in a fight. MMA has stand up aspects like boxing and kick boxing, grapples like wrestling and ground aspects with jujitsu. So the octagon really acts as a way to balance the odds no matter what style you use. Secondly a Ring in commonly associated with boxing. As most fight fans will know boxing is on a rapid decline and MMA is thriving at an even more rapid speed world wide. To go backwards and compete in a ring just to appeal to the old generation of fight fans is not progressive. The marketing of the UFC has stretched out and grabbed a massive audience of old and new fans. It is now an automatic reaction to see a fenced octagon and think UFC or MMA. These are just some of the common misconceptions that make the UK media laughably ignorant to a sport that looks to be the fastest growing in the world today. These are the greatest martial artists in the world, and what is wrong with merely giving them a platform to show off their art.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 9.

    Ignorance is an incredibly bad thing. I put it to Jane Ray and Felicity Finch that they should have really educated themselves, even to the slightest amount of knowledge before embarking on what is clearly uncharted territory.
    The word cage fighting is thrown around in this piece and in this country like a tattooed label. The sport is Mixed Martial Arts. You have a MMA fighting record which consists of all MMA fights. Some organisations choose to hold their fights in a RING some in an Octagon (CAGE). MMA has been around for a long time and before the UFC, Mostly in a ring.
    The fenced octagon was really introduced for two big reasons. It is seen as a way to favour no particular style of martial arts. A ring can be easily manipulated to escape from a bad situation and recover in a fight. MMA has stand up aspects like boxing and kick boxing, grapples like wrestling and ground aspects with jujitsu. So the octagon really acts as a way to balance the odds no matter what style you use.
    Secondly a Ring in commonly associated with boxing. As most fight fans will know boxing is on a rapid decline and MMA is thriving at an even more rapid speed world wide. To go backwards and compete in a ring just to appeal to the old generation of fight fans is not progressive. The marketing of the UFC has stretched out and grabbed a massive audience of old and new fans. It is now an automatic reaction to see a fenced octagon and think UFC or MMA.
    These are just some of the common misconceptions that make the UK media laughably ignorant to a sport that looks to be the fastest growing in the world today. These are the greatest martial artists in the world, and what is wrong with merely giving them a platform to show off their art.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    @atScientific_EMC the reason for a fenced enclosure like an Octagon in the UFC is for the grappling element. In Boxing as soon as you're against the ropes, you're broken up because it's not really a part of the sport. Grappling is a huge part of MMA, and against Boxing ropes there have been instances of competitors falling through onto the floor. The fence is there for fighter safety.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 11.

    @KJ. Yes as I said in my comments, there are many reasons for the use of an octagon. One small part is safety, but it is more about strategy. In the pride days if a wrestler had you on the ground and you could make your way to the ropes. You could get enough of your body out of the ring and the fight would be stood up. The octagon works well as a neutral fighting ground for all martial arts.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    actually the fight would not be stood up if you reached the ropes, the fight would be reset in the cente, in the same position...i dont want to get into depth about mma posting on the radio 4 blog, but feel like the ring is fair to all styles, and not the cage.

    ..in fact the cage was introduced to the UFC in 1993 to add to the spectacle, ideas that were deemed too ambitious included a fighting surface surrounded by a moat with alligators in it.
    dont get the idea that mma is born out of a freakshow though, that maybe the case in USA, but professional MMA organisations have been around in japan since '85 i think.
    and let us not forget that its one of the ORIGINAL olympic sports from ancient greece.


    also..
    why are people..like the person who wrote this article, trying to educate others on something they no nothing about-?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    It's a pity the whole fight wasn't shown on Youtube; however, as a judo coach I can say with some certainty that if Mike Wood was having trouble speaking after the "strangle" then he was actually being choked; i.e. his windpipe was being crushed not his carotid arteries. What happens during a true strangle is rather more complicated than just interruption of blood flow to the brain: a good one will cause loss of conciousness within a couple of seconds and can be quite painless, the victim being unaware untill it is too late, simply interrupting the blood supply on one side shouldn't theoretically cause this. Are there any neurosurgeons who would like to comment?

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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