For a few hundred pounds and an adrenaline rush, opponents assault and batter each other inside a floodlit ring
I have never been punched in the face before – but I liked it. I’ve got 11 bruises, whiplash, a headache and a lot of showing-off to do to my friends. After a packet of codeine, a family-size Dairy Milk and a good cry, I call them up. I have been in my first cage fight! They are appalled. But I don’t give a damn because now I am officially “hard as f***”. Who knew? Obviously I don’t mention the crying.
The theme song for the Ultimate Challenge cage night sounds like it was written by 2 Unlimited. An irritating, catchy dance loop that pants: “Ultimate, Ultimate Challenge. Ultimate, Ultimate Challenge.” But that’s just foreplay for the voice-over introducing the fights. “Two men. One cage,” growls what could be the trailer to a Hollywood action film. “Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Cage rage!”
The cage is a 7ft-tall, 24-ft wide black-netted octagon, shimmering under a halo of spotlights. It’s accessed by a raised walkway, where during the breaks “cage girls” in hot pants bounce their booties to the beat.
A hush comes over the Troxy, an art-deco theatre deep in London’s East End. At the back of the room, through a smoke-machine fog, the first fighter emerges. He punches his way through the smog and towards the cage, snarling into a camera, which throws his bonce up to a screen at the back of the room. In the crammed auditorium, four people watch. Everyone else is at the bar.
His entourage includes burly team-mates, a trainer, two corner men and a strutting girl in heels, a Wonderbra and tiny hot pants. There are a lot of hot pants in the Troxy tonight. His challenger follows with a similarly puffed-up entry. The bell sounds. “Get him, you c***!” someone cries, and the first fight begins.
Galore Bosando (23, 5ft 10in, a welterweight making his debut fight) slams Jerome Carol (20, 5ft 9in) onto his back, pummelling his fists into his head, body and chest. Galore cracks his knee into Jerome’s head, who appears to pass out. The paramedics jump into the ring. Galore does a handstand. The crowd screams with glee.
One minute 20 seconds and it’s over. Jerome staggers up to be declared winner, “due to disqualification by an illegal knee”.
There are 31 rules in cage fighting. They read like a medieval torture table mixed with tips from my brother. No eye gouging, no biting, no hair pulling, no groin attacks. No grabbing the clavicle or trachea, clawing, twisting or pinching the flesh. No putting your fingers in opponents’ orifices, cuts or lacerations. And so they go on?
And no fear. Yes, it’s a rule. “No timidity.”
Azran Quasid, a 23-year-old lightweight, staggers around the ring, the blood rushing so fast into his eyes from the cuts on his forehead he’s wiping it away with his gloves between punches. Now I know why Senator John McCain once dubbed this sport “human cockfighting”. And why for years the British Medical Association (BMA) has called for its cessation.
“This kind of competition hardly constitutes a sport,” says Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA. “As a civilised society we should be campaigning to outlaw these activities. It can cause traumatic brain injury, joint injuries and fractures. The days of gladiator fights are over and we should not be looking to resurrect them.”
But cage fighting, unsurprisingly, isn’t going anywhere without a fight.