SPORT

It's Not Thuggery: Challenging Cage Fighting's Violent Image

The ultimate goal is submission. But of course, nobody wants to submit.

13/07/2016 2:47 PM AEST | Updated 25/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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For a sport like Cage Fighting, also known as Mixed Marital Arts (MMA), it's hard to see it as anything but a game of thuggery.

A sport where ripped fighters showdown in a cage surrounded by fans baying for blood, culminating in the eventual submission of one fighter to the other due to being 'choked out' or tapping out just short of a broken bone.

But in a new documentary 'Caged', airing on SBS July 20, that idea of thuggery is challenged as filmmaker Ivan O'Mahoney investigates the sports culture over the course of a year by following three caged fighters and coach, Fari Salievski, in Sydney's western suburbs.

Guy Patrick
Fari Salievski says MMA fighting is "About the honour. The warrior spirit.

Salievski has been apart of the game since it's beginning, taking his martial arts background to this relatively new form of fighting.

"It's the challenge, it's a complete fight, you can win or lose by not even getting a punch, not even getting a bruise. No other sport can do that, he told The Huffington Post Australia.

"In boxing you've got to beat the crap out of the person, and it's all targeted around their head where their brain is. I mean that sort of trauma, people talk about violence in MMA but we're not hitting a person in the head for 12 rounds."

In an MMA fight submission is the ultimate goal. That can be achieved in the best case scenario where a fighter taps out before injury occurs. But of course, nobody wants to submit.

Guy Patrick
Like Ali Cevik, 23-year-old fighter admits, "If I hadn't found my love for this sport, I reckon I'd be in jail right now.

Over the year, director Ivan O'Mahoney said he came across many people in the sport who defied any pre-conceived ideas he previously held about MMA.

"The first girl I interviewed while developing the film had a degree in physics. Another had just finished an English Literature degree in Bristol. And a third was writing a PHD thesis."

It's the kind of sport that attracts family men and women, the film insists, and turns others away from a potential life of crime.

Like Ali Cevik, 23-year-old fighter who admits, "If I hadn't found my love for this sport, I reckon I'd be in jail right now".

Whilst Martin Nguyen a 26-year-old genuinely is that family man the game wants you to see, a father of three and car mechanic who trains, works, trains and works until eventually, he can fight.

Stephen Dupont
Martin Nguyen is the ultimate family man. The kind of man that dispels the thuggery image of MMA.

However, both the film and the sport take an ugly turn when it comes to the extremes fighter go to cut weight.

When Cevik is introduced in the documentary, we see him in a hot salt-water bath trying to dehydrate himself enough to lose six kilos.

This weight cutting sees fighter Claire Todd, 36, ultimately battling for her life after she spent a day in and out of a sauna trying to reach her weight potential.

The same year 'Caged' was filmed, a young fighter died in Asia trying to cut weight.

It's a part of the sport of which O'Mahoney was most critical, believing athletes should fight at their walking weight.

"It is just very dangerous, even if it is done in a controlled environment," he told HuffPost Australia.

Stephen Dupont
When Claire Todd cuts weight before a fight, she ends up in ICU. Weight cutting is arguably the most dangerous aspect of the sport.

For Salievski's the sport is all about marital arts respect. His students are to call him Master Fari, or Sir, both on and off the mat.

"It's about the honour. The warrior spirit."

Although he concedes the sport does have its bad apples.

"I have to say that in some MMA gyms that class themselves as a fight gym, they're not into that culture. For me it's about breeding martial artists than MMA fighters."

'Caged' airs on SBS at 8:30pm July 20.

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