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Cage Warriors chief talks safety first

JUST who is running mixed martial arts in the UK?

Graham Turner, left, will star at Cage Warriors 50 in Glasgow next month. Pic by Dolly Clew
Graham Turner, left, will star at Cage Warriors 50 in Glasgow next month. Pic by Dolly Clew

MMA has no recognised governing body, no-one to whom competitors and promoters have to answer and no-one to stand up for it when the all too frequent negative headlines scream out at it from the pages of newspapers which often know little about the sport they are so quick to demonise.

On web forums and in gyms across the UK, the subject of a governing body is regularly discussed by those who have MMA in their hearts.

Boxing has a cast of people in charge, as do other combat sports such as Muay Thai.

MMA, still in its infancy here in the UK, has so far flown under the radar of officialdom.

In America, each state has its own athletic commission - most of which have accepted MMA into their jurisdiction and provide referees, judges and standards to which the sport is held accountable.

The commissions are not perfect, but they give MMA a legitimacy which, though still fragile, is becoming more robust every year.

In the UK, anyone can put on a 'professional' MMA show. Many of the shows fall well short of the standards set by the likes of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and voluntarily adhered to by the bigger UK promotions such as Cage Warriors, BAMMA and On Top and Vision here in Scotland.

These promotions are doing it the right way. But for every event in the UK which has trained referees and an army of medical staff on hand, there is a show which sells the sport on the bloodlust and 'no holds barred' image of its shady past.

True MMA fans cringe at the thought of such events and few will bother to attend them.

But if there were a commission in place, these rogue promotions wouldn't be granted licences in the first place and MMA could finally make real progress in shaking off the 'cagefighting' tag.

While a British commission is still some way off, there have been major leaps forward in recent months.

The founding of SAFE MMA last month is a potentially game-changing moment in the evolution of the sport in the UK.

The country's best MMA promotions have signed up to the initiative, which is backed by The Centre of Health and Human Performance in London's Harley Street and is designed to ensure fighter safety is at the heart of every decision made by a competitor or promoter.

From January next year, no fighter will be able to compete on Cage Warriors, UCMMA, BAMMA or On Top events unless they are signed up to SAFE MMA.

It will provide a medical database of fighters, with compulsory blood tests and medicals brought in for fighters.

SAFE MMA can also hand out medical suspensions, temporarily banning fighters from action after a knockout or concussion, in line with the US system and other sports in the UK such as rugby.

For Cage Warriors promoter Graham Boylan, it's about time.

He brings his show to Scotland for the first time next month. Cage Warriors 50 will feature Scots stars like Graham Turner and Paul McVeigh.

Boylan said: "SAFE MMA is exactly what the sport needs.

"It it doesn't happen now, it never will. Without SAFE MMA, there would be no doctors or medical experts standing up for and defending MMA.

"It will produce official statistics and reports on the safety of the sport and deal with things like fighter insurance.

"It's all about legitimising MMA.

"People have been crying out for a governing body for MMA in the UK. Well this is the first step towards that.

"SAFE MMA is the start of something big for the sport."

The hope is that coaches and fight teams refuse to put their fighters into events which are not following the SAFE MMA approach.

So far, the only voices of dissent have come from some fighters not happy with the £225 annual fee.

The bill is paid by the professional fighter him or herself, many of whom are paid little more than £200 per bout depending on the level at which they are competing.

The fee of £225 will quickly eat into the profits of a sport that already costs more than most.

But Boylan has no time for anyone who grudges paying up.

He said: "Listen, if you're fighting in the UFC you have to pay for your own medicals, which cost around £1300 each time.

"The British Board of Boxing Control's medicals cost fighters £750.

"So £225 for a whole year is nothing.

"It is worth it to know for sure that the guy you're fighting has no blood borne diseases."

In time, SAFE MMA will iron out its inevitable early flaws and hopefully win the support of the entire MMA community.

Without that support, we can likely look forward to continued one-sided media coverage and fire fighting while the sport grows the right way elsewhere in the world.

So to answer the question of who is running MMA in the UK, the answer currently is a combination of the biggest promotions. Thankfully, they do a largely admirable job.

But just how much better will it be with SAFE MMA calling the shots, at least in regard to fighter safety?

Time will tell, but surely getting behind SAFE MMA is, for now at least, a complete no brainer.

Cage Warriors 50 takes place at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall on Saturday, December 8. For the latest news on the fight card and for tickets, visit www.cagewarriors.com

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