Tom Wright, Managing Director for UFC Operations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand has hit the pavement in Perth to drum up support for the lifting of the ban on fenced in enclosures for MMA fights, following a whirlwind media tour in Melbourne and Sydney to promote UFC 193.
Wright spoke candidly with 6PR’s Adam Shand yesterday afternoon about the difficulties the UFC has had pioneering a promotion that is really still only in its teenage years when it comes to the sport of mixed martial arts.
“We’ve taken it (the UFC) from a very modest start to around the world and we’re now competing in all continents in world class cities including Melbourne. We’d love to come here to Perth at some point but we can’t come here, at least we won’t come here with our sport, until such time that the fenced in enclosure ban is lifted,” Wright commented.
The conversation around the ‘cage ban’ has been prevalent in Australia for some time, however Western Australia is now the only state in Australia which doesn’t allow the Octagon. The fights themselves take place in a boxing ring, much like they did in Victoria prior to the ban being lifted earlier this year.
The UFC, and many other organisations, continue to argue that the Octagon is the safest environment for its athletes however it seems to be a matter of perception.
“I think it’s the image of a contest in a cage. The cage adds to a gladiator environment. I think there are many people out there who don’t regard the image of people fighting in a cage as appropriate,” Premier Colin Barnett told 6PR’s Paul Murray back in 2013.
Wright acknowledges the distinction between calling it a cage and an octagon is an incredibly important discussion point, noting “I think often times the term ‘the cage’ conjures up optics and images. Danny Green, Muhammad Ali are not ring fighters they’re boxers and Georges St Pierre, Soa Palelei, Ronda Rousey, they are mixed martial artists and where they compete is a fenced in enclosure, in the case of our sport, it’s called an octagon. The nomenclature of the term cage is part of the problem, it is one of optics, people don’t like that environment, they don’t like what that looks like.”
Despite optics, as Wright calls it, playing an obvious part in the ongoing discussion, athlete safety is the paramount concern for the UFC.
“Our athletes are men and women, they’re world class athletes of various weight classes and it’s important that we provide them with the right environment to compete and from our perspective the only right environment is a fenced in enclosure; our fenced in enclosure is called an octagon. It is (the octagon) style neutral but more importantly it provides a safe environment for our athletes to compete. A mixed martial artist competing in a boxing ring can be thrown under the ropes, between the ropes and over the ropes and often times will fall onto the floor or onto the referees table and on the spectators as well.”
Current UFC Fighter, and Perth local, Soa Palelei also reiterated Wright’s comments stating “there’s many risks (when fighting in a boxing ring) with people falling out of the ring, the octagon holds you in, it is a safety mechanism to keep opponents in there. When it comes to whether the sport is brutal or not, I got more injuries playing rugby which is far more of a contact sport than mixed martial arts.”
Tom Wright will be spending the better part of Tuesday, 22nd September with members of parliament to provide education and to answer questions.
“I’m not trying to change people and make them all fans, I just want to provide individuals with the information so they can make an intelligent and enlightened decision.”