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24/11/2017
BBC Radio 4

    Radio 4 goes inside the cage

    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.
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