THE first Ultimate Fighting Championship event to be held in WA will kick-off next weekend at Perth Arena.
The hexagonal arena used in UFC was banned by the former Liberal government in 2013, amidst perceptions that “cage fighting” was too brutal, with then-premier Colin Barnett describing it as a “gladiatorial” sport, and the WA branch of the Australian Medical Association opposing it.
But last year Mark McGowan’s Labor government lifted a state-wide ban on the hexagon-shaped cage used by mixed martial arts.
Despite the sport getting the political nod of approval, local MMA fan Martin Nathan, 25, says he still gets a few negative reactions when he tells people about his passion.
A bakery manager by day, he did Taekwon do and became interested in the sport when UFC bantamweight Ronda Rousey became hugely popular a couple of years ago.
“A lot of people still just see it as cage fighting,” Nathan says.
“But I used to watch it with my brother and his friends, and they’ve all got a martial arts background as well, and it wasn’t the violence that drew us to it: we loved watching athletes who are really great at what they do…If you’re into martial arts or boxing, or whatever code it is, you really appreciate what they’re attempting to achieve.”
UFC, which is the peak league, can also be less brutal than some of the less prominent leagues like Bellator MMA, which sometimes have mismatched fights and end up being gory slugfests with more blood strewn across the mat than a typical UFC fight, which tends to be more skill-based.
Many matches are ended via advanced jiu jitsu techniques, an art so intellectually-entwined it’s described by practitioners as a “human chess match”
“That’s part of why I prefer the UFC to Bellator, because I find the fighters that are signed to the UFC are much more technical and enjoyable to watch.” Nathan says.
“I find Bellator to be a bit more of a slugging match.”
UFC continues to be divisive, with many disliking the caged element of the sport.
The UFC hierarchy argue that boxing rings are actually less safe for MMA, where fighters could slip out of the ring during ground-based wrestling, while the hexagon has a fine mesh all the way to the ground.
And MMA supporters point out that football’s rife with head injuries, and whereas boxing is solely strike-based, many MMA matches end because one fighter out-grapples the other, with little blood spilled.
Perth’s first UFC event has lost a bit of its shine for Australian fans, as Aussie UFC fighter Robert Whittaker dropped out of the title defence fight against towering middleweight Luke Rockhold.
Even so, tickets for WA’s first UFC event are expensive: the cheapest seats were snapped up, leaving only tickets in the $206 to $511 price range.
by DAVID BELL