Why Do Fights Take Place in a Cage?

Posted on June 5, 2010


Shigeyuki Uchiyama and his ear in better times, which was literally up until a minute after this photo was taken.

Part of my goal with this blog isn’t just to espouse opinions and entertain, but also to inform both casual observers and those that may be apprehensive towards MMA in the finer points of the sport, the reasons behind many of the rules and practices, and to address safety concerns.

One of the first things brought up by critics of MMA is the cage. The word itself carries a negative connotation to the casual observer and elicits thoughts of animalistic cruelty and immoral behavior. The inference by many is that the sport is so barbaric it has to take place in a cage in order to prevent the fighters from murdering everyone around them and keep its bloodthirsty fans from jumping into the cage and getting in on some of that good old fashioned gladiator action.

As is the case with most conversations about MMA, the perceptions and statements of its detractors are in direct conflict with reality. In fact, the cage is actually there to make the sport safer.

A recent incident at a Pancrase show in Japan showed the need for a cage when, after an awkward tumble through ring ropes after a takedown, fighter Shigeyuki Uchiyama has lost his Ear (MMAFighting.com).

The above link provides a full recap of the incident as well as some grisly photos. In short, his ear either got caught on the vertical ropes that hold the horizontal ropes in place, or it’s possible his ear got caught on the horizontal ropes themselves. In either case, the ropes were the prime culprit for the detachment.

So beyond protecting your ear, what makes a cage safer than a ring?

  • Having a cage prevents dangerous falls to the outside. This is the biggie. An overzealous takedown artist, as was the case at the Pancrase show, can cause some very serious harm to himself and/or his opponent if s/he falls into or through the ropes and falls to the outside.
  • Prevents having to re-start and move competitors. You’ll see this often in Japan: a fighter will be on top, grappling for position, and the referee will have to pause the match to move them back to the center. The ref also has to position them exactly as they were when it was stopped it, which can be precarious and potentially dangerous if someone is working for a specific submission.
  • The absence of ropes prevents injury. The ear incident is the most obvious example. Ropes are tricky: too tight and the tension can literally bruise, tear muscles and ligaments, or break bones. Too loose and it runs the risk of someone falling into and then subsequently getting caught up in them.

More educated experts than I could provide more  reasons for the presence of the cage. The fact is, however, that a cage in lieu of a traditional ring has safety benefits that can’t be refuted. There are also rules in place that prevent using the cage as a weapon (eg. dragging your opponent’s face across it WWE style) or grabbing it for leverage, so any potential safety hazard presented by the presence of a cage  is negated.

It’s just a shame that the fight industry in Japan is stuck in its ways. A lot of injuries could be prevented, and poor Uchiyama would still have his ear.