Wales This Week, The Right to Fight

Two fighters in the caged octagon
MMA is increasing in popularity with over fifty clubs now established in Wales Photo: ITV News Wales

Last weekend, Cardiff hosted a world-class fight night, not in a ring, but a cage.

Dubbed by some as "human cock fighting", Mixed Martial Arts, or cage fighting as it is more widely known, is legal, unregulated and gaining massive popularity here in Wales. While doctors' leaders call for it to be banned, it is currently attracting more fans and fighters than ever before, with many even claiming it to be the fastest growing sport in the world.

But what exactly is Mixed Martial Arts and should we be concerned about this dramatic increase in its popularity?

The sport is exactly as the name suggests - a mixed-discipline style of fighting which includes elements of sports including boxing, kickboxing, taekwondo, karate, judo and jui-jitsu. Its roots date back as far as the 1920s, in the many Brazilian 'Vale Tudo' ("Anything Goes") fight clubs, but it is only since the 1990s when MMA was brought to the USA that the sport really found its feet. Now it's well and truly established in the UK and there are more than fifty MMA clubs in Wales

Mixed Martial Arts is attracting fighters from a wide range of backgrounds and careers. Wales This Week features a former convict, an orthopaedic surgeon and a scientist - all keen to enter the cage

People are surprised sometimes, especially in my place of work, when they found out about me because they say im quite softly spoken... and they see a video and just think "oh my God"

– Tanya Merrett, Lab Technician and Champion Fighter

Despite the many concerns about the sport, there have only ever been three reported deaths as a result of MMA and there are very few serious injuries in the cage.

Most people don't understand that the cage is actually a safety device, so where MMA started, it was actually in a boxing ring and people would fall out of the ring. that was why a cage was introduced, so people had something to press against, not fall out of the ring

– Paul Hak, Surgeon and MMA Fighter

But with no governing body to oversee health and safety, or to enforce its rules and regulations, some suggest that this relatively clean record might be about to change and there are calls for MMA to be recognised as a sport in Wales to keep it safe.

Sport Wales doesn't recognise MMA as a sport and therefore doesn't fund it, which makes it extremely difficult to introduce a unified governing body.

It may well be legal in a constitutional sense... but there were a number of issues concerning a unique set of rules for the sport and without a unique set of rules we wouldn't recognise it

– Huw Jones, Sports Wales

For now the sport looks like it will continue to grow in Wales. For both fans and fighters, the lack of governance may make little or no difference to their enjoyment of MMA. But those at the centre of the sport are increasingly concerned that the lack of proper regulation is leaving MMA fighters at unnecessary risk.

The government has got to look at this and say, "do you know what, it aint going to go away, we need to regulate it, we need to control it and we need to do that with the major players in the game"

– Mark Woodard, MMA Referee

Wales This Week, The Right to Fight is on Tuesday 30th October at 730, ITV Wales

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With characters like Shaky and @marcgoddard_uk representing UK MMA, I think the negative opinions will change, soon enough! #walesthisweek

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Dedicated men and women keeping incredibly fit. Look at injuries every week in sports like football and rugby #walesthisweek

You can now watch the full programme here: