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Victoria Could be Overturning its Cage Fighting Ban

Last year, the Labor Party announced they'd repeal the state's cage fighting ban if voted into government. With their election victory in November, the MMA community is still waiting to get back inside the bars.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is one of those hybrid fight styles that allows contesters to kick, punch, choke, and knee one another with minimal interruption by a referee. Matches are often held in steel cages, which gives them a certain hard-core aesthetic. This in turn attracts community outrage, and in the state of Victoria, cage fighting was banned in 2008.

This ban is now likely to be reversed, and the Australian Fighting Championships (AFC) has already scheduled an event in Melbourne on March 22. Furthermore, the 2000 capacity fight is already close to selling out. But given no formal announcement has been made, and that a sports ministry spokesperson recently admitted the government is still "sorting through the mechanics of how the law will look," are we jumping the gun?


Notice the absence of cages. These images are from recent MMA events at the Melbourne Pavilion. Images via the AFC

As mentioned, Mixed Martial Arts was legal in Victoria until 2008. What happened was that the previous December, with no clear catalyst (Australia has never had a death or even a notable injury) the Victorian Sports Minister James Merlino announced he'd no longer approve the use of cages. "I believe the spectacle of two competitors in cage combat-style competition does not meet the community's standards of what is acceptable," he said.

Both sides of parliament agreed, with many assuming the banning of cages would spell the end of MMA in general. In fact the wording of the ban meant that MMA events could be held, as long as they were in boxing rings. When the amendments to the legislation became official, the sport changed its setting but didn't go away.

In October last year, cages returned to the spotlight when Labor announced they'd repeal the ban if voted into government. With their election victory in November, the MMA community is still waiting to get back inside the bars.

Adam Milankovic, CEO of the AFC, says he's been in contact with the Professional Boxing and Combat Sports Board and while they haven't given him a direct timetable, they've assured him MMA will be back in its old format. "At this stage we're moving forward and planning to have to have it in a cage," he told VICE of the March 22 event.

The new Labor government claim their law reversal comes after the Professional Boxing and Combat Sports Board advised that cages make the sport safer for competitors because they're less likely to fall through the ropes. Kael Coster, a Melbourne MMA fighter and gym owner, also agrees they want cages back for safety reasons."When running by wrestling rules and you're spending more time grappling it's really easy to fall through the ropes," he said. "Cages mean the guys can compete in a safer environment."


In addition to these benefits, the decision to reintroduce cages also eases pressure on Victorian fighters who currently travel interstate to compete in big ticket events. "They probably fight more often out of the state than they fight in," said Coster. "Victoria is missing out."

Certainly it's hard not to look at the money to see another benefit for Victoria. Hosted by companies like the US based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), previous events in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Brisbane have brought in more than $10 million in ticket sales. According to Coster, over half the tickets sold to the first UFC fight in Queensland were to Victorians. For their part, the UFC insist that their events alone would bring in $35 million.

Not that the ban's overturn is universally welcomed. Cage fight competitors have died overseas, which is a point the Herald Sun recently highlighted with a front-page story quoting anti-violence groups, the Australian Medical Association, and Melbourne's Lord Mayor. "Normalising violence like this can lead to the wrong attitudes, " wrote the Mayor. "We should be condemning violence, not promoting it.'' Australian of Year and anti-domestic violence campaigner, Rosie Batty also weighed in describing MMA as "quite barbaric. It's not something I'd pay to go and see."

Adam Milankovic has hit back at these claims, saying they're based on misconceptions about how people come to be violent on the street. He says that there's no way cage fighting encourages violence and there just isn't any proven link between street fights and cage fights. "What people need to understand is that if there was more participation in MMA there'd actually be less street violence because people would learn more respect for one another."

Whatever your own feelings cage fighting, it's returning to Victoria in March, leaving Western Australia the only state where it's still banned.

Follow Chris on Twitter: @chrisjmshearer