Watch as a medical professional in Victoria, Australia argues against increased fighter safety

Given the UFC has about fifteen events a month now, it’s easy to forget that people still sometimes debate the legality of MMA. But there are indeed a handful of holdouts, like post-WWII isolationists stuck on otherwise uninhabited islands in the South Pacific. This is where the emotional debate about violence has potential to get really strange.  As you will see below, it can cause an actual licensed physician to argue against a change that would increase fighter safety.

In Victoria, Australia, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is already legal.  They just don’t allow the use of a cage.  So while you can enjoy fifteen minutes of Mixed Martial Arts in a respectable boxing ring, you can’t flip the switch and go full-cage fighter.  That’s problematic for guys who want to tell women in bars that they cage fight for a living.

Banning the use of a cage seems like a weird line, the sort your four year old nephew would draw on some construction paper after a really bad nap.  But not for Damian Drum, the Victorian Sport and Recreational Minister.  It’s a shame, because he has a potentially kick-ass fighter name.

“To put the combatants into the cage, to effectively glamourize what is effectively a glamourized form of street violence, we don’t agree with that,” he explained.

Interesting point.  After all, appearances are very important, especially when you have a very distinguished-sounding Australian accent.  To double-glamourize MMA by bejangeling it with a decorative cage may seem excessive.  Keep it in a boxing ring, and you can stem that rising tide of violent glam.

Mixed Martial Arts practitioner Dan Kelly notes the obvious, that the ring is actually more dangerous.  Another experienced fighter points out that the cage functions as a “safety enclosure.” But Damian Drum isn’t buying it.  “It’s absolutely negligible, and it doesn’t carry any weight compared to the message that it sends to the community that this type of glamourized street violence is encouraged.” Of course, Drum has never launched himself over a rope after a failed superman punch and crushed a totally innocent beer vendor.

The remainder of the video is a debate between Bernie Balmer, a member of the Victorian Professional Boxing Board, and Gordian Fulde, the head of an emergency department at a hospital.  This is where the hypocrisy of the debate becomes most evident, and why people in Australia should realize that this particular debate isn’t really about fighter safety at all.  It is about keeping the cage-committed UFC from infecting the area and attracting a greater following.

Bernie points out that the Octagon is a great deal more safe than a conventional boxing ring.  After all, he has considered actual studies about comparative fighter safety.  Professor Fulde is more interested in talking about things like head injuries. But he came a few years too late to a debate about Mixed Martial Arts in general.  And as a medical care professional, he seems weirdly oblivious to the medical benefit of providing a safer environment for professional fighters.

Fulde does offer one strained example: describing how a fighter can get pinned against a cage, unable to escape punches.  But his example ignores that fighter’s ability to submit at any time, it forgets the presence of a referee who intervenes when a fighter is defenseless, and it presupposes an endangered fighter might somehow escape through the ropes and down onto the safe haven of a concrete event center floor.

Now let’s be honest. Fulde isn’t concerned about taking steps to increase fighter safety during MMA events in his area.  This particular debate isn’t about the health and welfare of MMA fighters in Australia at all.  It is about appearances, and about keeping the biggest MMA organization in the world out of the neighborhood.

“It really isn’t a good look,” he concludes. “It really isn’t what we want put out there.”  

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