Will ultimate fighting be banned in area?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Anti-domestic violence advocates want the city to ban cage fighting, claiming it promotes violent behavior among men.

The Webster County Family Violence Response Team is urging the City Council to consider an ordinance that would prohibit staging a cage fight within city limits. The group is made up of officials from law enforcement, court, probation services, counseling and victim services agencies.

The sport is a mixed martial arts competition for professionals and amateur fighters.

The fighting promotions have also come to Storm Lake, with no such outcry.

The Iowa National Guard has been renting out its armory to host the events. This past week, the Midwest Fighting Alliance had unveiled its new six-sided fighting cage there.

"We are not concerned at all. We don't put on the show, we just rent the venue.

"They seem to put on a very good show," a Guard official said.

About 235 fans were on hand for the most recent fighting series in Storm Lake.

"This isn't a technical sport like boxing. It can be violent and there are no heavy gloves or any protection of any kind, so there is blood. But the promoters seem to be quite safety-conscious and had a nurse and an EMT on hand here as well as off-duty police officers," the Guard official said.

"As far as promoting violence, I don't know about that," he added. "I think the crowd is just here to see action, and everyone seems to treat it as entertainment."

Teresa Larson, who heads the response team in Fort Dodge, said she's noticed a trend of men who attend court-ordered domestic batters' education classes are participating in the sport.

"Young men with violent tendencies are naturally drawn to it," Larson said. "It makes it difficult for those of us who are trying to teach these men nonviolent means of handling conflict. Why listen to me as their counselor when someone is willing to pay them for being violent? They feel they finally fit in somewhere and their violence is acceptable."

In the last year, four of the 125 clients referred from the six counties she oversees reported they were either already competitors or training to fight, she said. In another two cases, men who had been spectators at an event were later arrested on domestic charges.

"We have fighters with lengthy criminal histories often involving violent offenses," she said. "They are training, bulking up and learning fight skills that they are not only using in the cage but outside in their homes and the community."

But cage fight organizers argue their sport isn't a staging of raw, lawless violence.

Chad Bergmeier, who works for Ultimate Productions and Extreme Challenge in Waterloo, is organizing an event May 17 in Fort Dodge. He said there are efforts in place to monitor the fights.

"When the sport first started out in the '90s it was violent," Bergmeier said. "Since then it's changed dramatically. Rules have changed, commissions have become involved and proper sanctions are in place. We have good referees, qualified referees."

Promoters are cautious of competitors who are violent behavior outside the ring.

Larson isn't satisfied. "To us, it's not necessarily the sport itself," she said. "It's the culture it has created with young people. It promotes violence."

* From staff reports, the AP and Fort Dodge Messenger.

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