DECKED: Brett Balkie, of Alstonville, pummels an opponent during a recent event in Toowoomba. Scott Clark
DECKED: Brett Balkie, of Alstonville, pummels an opponent during a recent event in Toowoomba. Scott Clark

Fight night gets a mixed reception

THE brutality is back.

Mixed Martial Arts is returning to the Northern Rivers with Lismore Workers Club to host a knockout 12-bout fight card on March 27.

The Rainbow Region may not seem the ideal host to bloody violence in its rawest form, but it is hard to argue with figures that show American-born cage fighting is all the rage in our country.

Despite the Australian Medical Association wanting the sport banned due to its vicious nature, Australians snapped up the 16,500 tickets to the UFC event in Sydney last month within hours, recording the second fastest sell-out in the history of the sport worldwide.

When an MMA event was staged at Bangalow in October 2009 it also sold out, but was met with much controversy.

One fighter was knocked out cold in seconds and then attacked further while he lay on the ground, and such is the voyeuristic nature of the sport and its fans, footage of the knockout became an instant hit on YouTube.

Inevitably, the underground sport was forced into the light of day.

NSW Department of Sport and Recreation has amended its Boxing and Wrestling Control Act 1986 and replaced it with the Combat Sports Act 2008, thereby encapsulating MMA.

The new act requires all MMA competitions, tournaments, promoters, officials, referees, judges and competitors to register with the Combat Sports Authority.

MMA promoter Shane Balmer sees the new regulations as a big step forward.

"We are happy with the developments,"; Mr Balmer said.

"Hopefully it will take us another step closer to mainstream acceptance.";

Balmer compares his sport with others that are accepted by the wider public.

"We haven't had a single death in mixed martial arts. How many horses and jockeys have died in horse racing?"; he said.

"Rugby league players get an injury, go into the sheds and have a needle and come back out and play.

"In our sport if you are seriously injured it's game over.

"While these are amateur athletes it is a professional event and the safety of the fighter is paramount.";

But NSW president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Brian Morton, doesn't see it that way.

"We at the AMA believe cage fighting should be banned,"; Dr Morton said.

"I understand that rugby league players suffer serious injuries, but the difference in cage fighting is that the aim of the sport is to maim and injure.";

Shane McKechnie, of Strike Martial Arts in Ballina, has been in the game for 20 years and has never seen any discipline create as much interest.

He said that while the sport gets a bad rap from some, MMA has resulted in the greatest influx of customers since the gym opened.

"We see the upside where 15 and 16-year-old girls can defend themselves with an attacker on top,"; Mr McKechnie said.

Locals are divided in moral support for the event, but even some of those who find it barbaric admit they will attend out of curiosity.

Far North Coast amateur boxing promoter Arthur Maloney is less than impressed with some aspects of the sport, but is willing to fork out $50 to see what all the fuss is about.

"Being a boxing man I must say a person being hit while on the ground doesn't appeal to me, in fact it doesn't seem right,"; Mr Maloney said.

"But each to their own. I will go for the entertainment and maybe I will come away with a different point of view.";

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell was frank when contacted for comment on the event.

"It is certainly not something that I would be attending,"; Cr Dowell said.

Breakout box

MMA went commercial in 1993 when entrepreneur Dana White became president of UFC.

UFC collects annual revenue of $US250 million plus.

MMA fighters wear gloves weighing just 4-6 ounces - not more than padded knuckles.

Non-title bouts consist of 3 x 5-minute rounds, title bouts are 5 x 5.

Kicks, knees, punches and elbows are permitted, headbutts are not.

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