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Combat Sports Insider: The Cage vs. The Ring

One unique thing in working for M-1 and getting to travel with the M-1 Challenge is that I get to routinely watch MMA take place in a ring.

Having been a fan of PRIDE, I’ve always had an appreciation for the ring but understood why so many promotions have elected to brand around the cage, especially those with television deals.

From a marketing perspective, going with a cage as the combat sports contraption of choice makes more sense than a ring since MMA is so easily identifiable with a six-sided or eight-sided cage.

If you are channel surfing and see a ring, you might not immediately be certain whether you are watching MMA, boxing, kickboxing, or even pro wrestling. But when you see that imposing looking structure with an even amount of sides, there is no mistaking what’s on the tube.

Take television out of the equation and analyze things from a strictly grass roots perspective, the cage still sells. After all, how can you advertise “extreme cagefighting” on your poster without a cage?

There are also practical reasons for using the cage. For one, it makes for a better fight. Unless a promotion is using a big ring, there often isn’t enough of a surface for a wrestler or jiu-jitsu specialist to implement the full range of their game. In a small ring, it’s real easy to bounce into the ropes every time an opponent attempts a takedown.

But most importantly, fights are more fluid in a cage. In a ring, there are far more stoppages and pauses in order to re-adjust combantants who find themselves with their head and shoulders practically on the scorer’s table.

That being said, I believe the ring is vastly superior to the cage when you look at things exclusively from the perspective of a live attendee.

MMA was just recently legalized in the state of Pennsylvania and I actually had the time to see my first show in the state last Friday in Scranton, PA. I went up to see two up-and-coming fighters from my school, Matt Nice and Lionel “Noriega” Borreli compete (they both won, by the way).

There were a ton of people at the event (probably over 2,000) to witness a card largely comprised of amateur bouts. The fights were held inside of a indoor soccer arena that didn’t have the best sight lines for MMA but was still well-suited for the needs of the promoter and the fighters.

However, with so many people and a lack of video screens, watching the event between a series of tiny fence holes became very tiresome. So tiresome that when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu United’s last fighter had competed, a group of us that had made the 2 1/2 hour trip from the Philadelphia area all bolted.

Grassroots MMA is all about friends and family. While people will spend money to see Double A and Triple A baseball, most casual MMA fans stick to the big brands on television as opposed to going out to see a local MMA show with fighters trying to work their way through the ranks. Unfortunately, unless someone has some sort of direct tie to a local fighter, they are unlikely to buy a ticket unless it’s for the UFC, Strikeforce, or Affliction.

A promoter who has a smart matchmaker can do very well by booking the right fighters with the right gym affiliations and never have to worry about trying to bring in the casual fan. However, in order for the sport to truly grow, promotions are going to have to learn how to bring in Joe Sixpack whose MMA viewing is currently limited to watching The Ultimate Fighter on Wednesday nights along with a monthly pay-per-view purchase.

In order to capture that mainstream audience, a promoter’s vision for production elements has to go beyond just dropping a cage in the middle of a room. A venue with good sight lines is a must, as are video projector screens. Watching MMA through a fence is pretty cool if you’re sitting close to the cage but it’s not always fun to watch if you’re in the cheap seats or even the not-the most expensive seats.

Unfortunately, not every promoter has an unlimited budget. Renting projectors and bringing out a crew to film the action isn’t cheap. But if that’s truly the case, there’s an easy solution in that a promoter can simply ditch the cage and spend their money on a ring. If you’re not watching an MMA show on a television or seated with the VIPs, the benefits of a cage become minimal. For example, I spent a good deal of money to see UFC 94 live this past January. My biggest complaint wasn’t the fact that Georges St. Pierre was allegedly greased up but that I basically paid to watch the event from the video screens.

While a ring doesn’t look anywhere near as opposing as a cage, it makes for a much better live experience because it’s so much easier to see the action that you paid to see. I am curious to know how other people feel. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment thread of this post.


I wanted to show some love and support for the recently launched “Independent World MMA Rankings.” I have long been an advocate for a rankings system that modeled itself after the AP Coaches Poll in College Football. It is an endeavor that I worked hard to try and build while I was with WAMMA. It would be great if this new poll could take it to the next level. I am excited to see that the new poll includes (former?) WAMMA pollsters such as Jonathan Snowden, Jesse Holland, Jared Barnes, Michael David Smith, and Todd Martin. All were active participants in the WAMMA poll whose opinions I have a great deal of respect for. I also have a great deal of respect for other members on the poll (including but not limited to) such as Jordan Breen, Robert Joyner, Jim Genia, and Ivan Trembow.


With Combat Sports Media assisting M-1 Global with its U.S.-related PR efforts, I have had the pleasure of getting to work with Lloyd Marshbanks up close. Lloyd is a great person with a tremendous ground game and an amazing back story. Kyle Nagel is one of the first people to chronicle his amazing story in the latest column for his awesome “Fight Path” series.

I highly recommend you check the article out by clicking here. Also, in response to those who have issues with “Kadillac’s” backyard fighting days, please keep in mind that those fights took place in his home state of California during a time in which MMA wasn’t legal. Additionally, Lloyd was an All-American wrestler in High School so he’s not just some random guy who got involved with MMA.


The Lloyd Irvin family has three new black belts in its ranks as Mike Easton, J.T. Torres, and Jay Hayes were all promoted this past Wednesday in Jenkintown, PA at Jared Weiner’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu United. I was on hand to shoot some video and get some interviews for a story that we’ll hopefully have up by next week.

Easton is the current UWC bantamweight champion and someone who is capable of competing in the WEC’s 135 lbs. division right now. However, he is only improving on the regional level and when he gets the call, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with on the national level.

I’ve seen Torres and Hayes grapple on multiple occasions at tournaments that my wife has competed in and they are two of the best competitive grapplers around right now. Perhaps I am biased but there are a lot of people who aren’t affiliated with BJJ United that will tell you the same thing.