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Last Updated: Friday, 2 September 2005, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
'It's a sport, not cockfighting'
By Ian Jolly
NewsWatch series producer

A report on the Six O'Clock News about cage fighting was criticised as misleading by fans of the sport. But correspondent Brian Barron stands by his report.

Cage fighting
Cage fighting is growing in popularity in the States

Cage fighting is a sport which is growing in popularity in bars and fairs across parts of the US.

Men - and sometimes women - get into a cage for what can be a brutal encounter. Sometimes the loser has to be carried out.

Councils in towns such as Sioux Falls in South Dakota are trying to get them banned. They fear that, because they are unregulated, someone could get seriously hurt.

But more than 20 people contacted the BBC to say the report was inaccurate. They felt a distinction should have been made between the unregulated and professional spheres.

They said that far from being the underground activity depicted in the report, professional cage fighting is a regulated, well-established sport with events attended by thousands of spectators.

Known as mixed martial arts (MMA) or ultimate fighting, it can be seen on cable TV in both the US and the UK.

'Human cockfighting'

Viewer Adam Curtis wrote: "MMA events are regulated in states and towns by the same governing bodies that regulate boxing events. As a consequence, the same level of medical support must be on hand for each fight."

There was concern that the film focused on a low-grade event rather than one of the many professional contests.

Viewers also pointed out that a DVD held up by Barron at the end of his report - "The contents are so horrible, you wouldn't want to see it," he said - was not from an actual MMA or ultimate fighting event.

It was produced by World Wrestling Entertainment - "not a sport but a bunch of set-up stunts", according to one viewer.

Mr Curtis summed up the feelings of many when he wrote: "The way you showed the sport was not as a large, international sport but more of a human cockfighting event."

Barron responded to the criticisms on this week's NewsWatch programme:

The phrase cockfighting is one that one of Sioux Falls' chief legislators used when he was talking about caged fighting in South Dakota.

Brian Barron
The BBC's Brian Barron stood by his report despite criticism

He said: 'We allow no cockfighting in cages in Sioux Falls, we don't allow dogs to fight in cages, but we do allow human beings to fight in cages at the moment and something is wrong.'

We were focusing on the American Midwest where this thing has come out of nowhere and has gained a lot of popular support on the ground.

It's another question to look at caged fighting in the context of cable television and so on and that's because it's an entertainment, it's under strict rules.

But most of that caged fighting comes out of Las Vegas and is a mixture, as some sports commentators have called it in America, of soap opera, ritual semi-sports and showbusiness.

Grossly overweight

What happened in South Dakota and the reason why I did the story is there's absolutely no control whatsoever, no regulation.

Certainly in the last two major bouts which have taken place there in recent weeks, people who weren't completely sober have got into these cages, the medical supervision is derisory, there is no doctor, people who were grossly overweight were allowed into the cage.

As another councillor says in Sioux Falls, it's only a question of time before someone is seriously injured.

But even ultimate fighting is not sanctioned in many states. For instance in New York, a liberal state, it's banned. In Pennsylvania it's banned. In Ohio, a conservative state, it's banned.

I can see these viewers are riled up and they love their sport or semi-sport, but there is no regulation to it.

So when they say I held up a DVD which wasn't in fact their sport, I can read a DVD and let me tell you there's a whole raft of DVDs out there, all sorts of caged fighting.

Some wrestling, some this mixed martial arts, others just totally street brawling in cages at a low level, and they were video taping this one I reported on in South Dakota.

We were very careful what we showed - I left out all the blood, I left out all the horrible bits and it was still extremely disturbing, and that's the bottom line in this in places like the American Midwest.


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