Why do the media insist on sensationalising the word "Cagefighter"?

My attention was drawn to an article in today’s (Oct 18th) UK tabloid newspaper, The Sun. On page 17 is an article written in reference to the horrific and extremely tragic story of a house fire in Harlow, Essex where a female doctor and four of her five children perished in the fire. Her husband, also a doctor, and their youngest child were also caught up in the blaze but survived, although that child has sadly since died, the father is currently receiving treatment in hospital for his injuries.

My sincere condolences go out to the family. However, the tragedy of the situation isn’t what I am here to discuss. It’s the lazy stereotype reporting that follows up on the incident.

The article suggests, after the reporter spoke to a neighbour of the victims, that the incident may well have been caused by a revenge attack that was intended for the property’s previous occupant, and this led The Sun to run with the headline: INFERNO REVENGE Cagefighter tenant ‘target of fire that killed family’

Quotes taken by the reporter from the neighbour (who I will not name) detailed that the previous tenant, a large bald-headed white male “looked a proper dodgy bloke”.

It then goes on to add: “He had this bull mastiff he used to walk around with. He looked a bit like a gangster type – the sort you would not want to cross.” And this next quote is when the whole situation gets really interesting: “I believe he was a cage fighter - he certainly had the build for it.”

OK, let’s back up a bit here and digest this properly. The neighbour said “I believe he was a cage fighter.” And it’s that word “believe” that really bugs me. No hard evidence. No solid facts, just belief that he was a “cage fighter”.

The article continues with the following quote from the neighbour: “I used to see dodgy-looking people go in and out all the time. When I saw the fire I thought it must be a revenge attack gone wrong. Maybe this guy owed money and they came not knowing he’d moved.”

Yes, quite possible, but maybe he was a drug dealer. Maybe he was a method actor getting in character for his next role. Maybe he was a reclusive dog loving war hero who had a penchant for Bull Mastiffs. The truth is who knows? And without a scrap of evidence, we shouldn’t just jump to conclusions.

There certainly seems to be a whole lot of assumptions flying around about this “dodgy-looking” man, but I find it frustrating that The Sun decided to make reference to the former tenant as a cage fighter, when they have no evidence whatsoever. If the former tenant had of woken each morning and started his day off with 100 laps of the local pool, would that make him a swimmer? What about if he played guitar for a few minutes each day whilst his dinner was cooking in the oven, does this make him a guitarist or a chef? Quite simply, no it doesn’t. The only reason I can speculate that The Sun decided to publish the word “cagefighter” in their title was to sensationalise the article and put an unnecessary spin on a what is a pretty pointless article in the first place.

It really bothers me that the media continue to dramatise articles with the terminology “cage fighter” in their reports. Every week I travel around the country, as do thousands of others, attending mixed martial art shows, where well-conditioned and disciplined athletes test their skillset against another similarly experienced opponent. I have had the pleasure to meet and speak with many of the combatants, and I have never met one who wishes to be credited with the title of “Cage Fighter” - A mixed martial artist, yes, but never Cage Fighter.

There was another article printed in a different UK tabloid only last week in relation to a young man who had taken his life after a row with his girlfriend. The man, who was a farmer by trade, regularly trained in MMA, but the newspaper insisted on referring to the man as a “cage fighter”. The absurd thing is, if he had of played golf every day, the newspaper wouldn’t have listed him as a golfer. It’s the stigma around mixed martial arts that lead uneducated observers to believe that the sport is little more that “human cockfighting” – a phrase once coined by U.S. senator, John McCain.

Since the dark days of early MMA the landscape of the sport has changed drastically. The introduction of a governing body and the inclusion of rules and regulations now ensure the safety of its participants at all times.

The BBC angered fans of the sport last year when they released footage of children grappling inside a cage, which spawned various headlines of kids “cage fighting”. To a casual viewer it may well have looked like something more sinister on first inspection, but in reality, it was nothing more than what children participate in in school halls up and down the country in any Judo or Jiu-Jitsu class.

It is ignorant reporting that drags the sport we all love back into the dark ages and continues to fuel the stigma that follows mixed martial arts around like a thick black cloud. Journalist should stop referring to the sport as “cage fighting” and its combatants as “cage fighters”, especially in situations where there is not a single conclusive fact that they have ever even competed in a mixed martial arts bout.

And for the record – I did run a search on earlier, but I couldn’t find a professional fight record for “proper dodgy bloke”, maybe he competes under a pseudonym.

*It feels sad to write about a subject off the back of what was originally a truly sad and upsetting story. My thoughts are with the father and husband of this terrible incident during this sad time.

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