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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.

  • ultimoshogun says:

    I think the soul purpose of the cage is to give off that aura of danger like the steel cage in pro wrestling or the thunderdome in the Mad Max movie. Some may say the cage is used so that MMA doesn’t get confused with boxing or pro wrestling, but I don’t buy that excuse. All someone has to do is look at what kinda gloves they’re wearing to know if its boxing, kickboxing, or MMA. The cage is too much of an advantage for wrestlers also. I’ve seen alot of fighters shoot in from the center of the cage, drive their opponent into the fence and then take them down once they had them trapped against the fence. Thats one of the many reasons I chose to watch PRIDE rather than UFC. The ring is a more level playing field.

  • munche says:

    When I watched Affliction’s card and saw 2 different fights have fighters fall through the ropes out of the ring doing a takedown, that’s when I decided that the cage was the way to go.

    Resetting the fight in the middle of the ring and falling out while shooting a takedown are not good things.

    I do agree with the point of the article though, in that it is hard to see through the cage when you’re at the event live. Unfortunately it makes for much better fights

  • edub says:

    Another great article sam.

    I have the sampe pov with ring in that it is much better for a live mma audience without a big tv scrren at the event.

    However I think a cage is a must. UltimoShogun said that it is too big of an advantage for wrestlers, and while i agree mostly I think the cage is jkust more fluid. The fact that u can be stacked up against the fence coinsides with the ability to force urself up from sitting on the cage.

    You stay classy Sam Caplan.

  • hindsightufuk says:

    i always loved the ring, thats why i love dream, senguko, affliction etc.
    i just think the cage is still a novelty, and also a poor way for mma to become a fully fledged sport, legal across the globe. to some it will always be cage fighting, not mma. and that sucks.
    i dont have anything against the cage, and i’ll always watch mma in a cage. just prefer the ring. just seems like more of a sport in the cage.
    and there is nothing wrong with having all combat sports in the same arena. boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, mma. they arent the same, and only people who dont give a shit about them may possibly think they are.

  • hindsightufuk says:

    meant more of a sport in the ring

  • meatloaf says:

    Because of all the wresting, take downs, and grappling MMA was made for a cage.

    Too often in a ring fighters get caught up in the ropes or even were fall through and the action has to be stop and restarted in the ring with a cage there is a continuous flow. Except of course in the Yamma!

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    I have a few problems with this. So allow me to retort.

    1) “For one, it makes for a better fight.” Says you! Pride Affliction and other MMA orgs have just as exciting if not more exciting fights in rings. I have watched 99% of all major MMA main cards and to say that the cage makes for a better fight is…wrong.

    2) “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.” MMA is mixed martial arts not grappling, you could use this argument in reverse to say rings make it more even for strikers. Striking is just as big a part of MMA as grappling my friend if not bigger. How many grappling based arts can you name and how many striking based arts can you name? Guys who depend on the ground game heavily such as Nog, Coleman, and Saku did very well in a ring. And if people are using the ring to avoid takedowns twice as many are using the cage to takedown. Couture says it is 80% easier in a cage to perform a takedown.

    4) “fights are more fluid in a cage” Yeah when a wrestler uses the cage to first takedown an opponent and them pin him to it whilst giving him little slaps for five rds “fluid” is the first thing that comes to mind, I mean that wrestler just avoided a fight rather than participating in one.
    The pride rules of readjusting the fighters in the middle of the ring was to make the fight more fluid rather than have a ring or a cage INTERFERE with the actual fight. Come on Caplan you must admit the cage has far more influence on a fight than the ring did in Pride. I can’t really remember many fighters USING the ring to stop too many takedowns like you imply.

    P.S. K1, Rings, Pride, Dream, Sengoku, WVR, Pancrase, Shooto, M1 Global, Affliction and me disagree with you Caplan.

  • Patrickk says:

    Great article!

    My opinion is that the ring is good because of the live view, and because there is minimal interference with the dynamics of the fight. The cage is good because there is virtually no stopping until each bell.

    The thing about the cage that I really don’t like is when a person goes for a takedown, it ends up turning into dirty boxing pretty much all of the time.

    There is no pure wrestling, and that to me is a bad thing. In a street fight, if someone goes for a takedown, you really aren’t going to get in the position of dirty boxing, you’ll have to use pure grappling to battle for position.

    I’ve seen plenty of times where one person goes in for a sweet double leg, drives through the opponent, and then he gets stuck on the cage and the other guy ends up with superior position. It takes away from the dynamics of a true street fight.

    Whereas the ring if they get by the ropes during a takedown, or inside the clinch, they get started back in the middle of the ring in the same position. This keeps as many of the dynamics as possible, but it can get pretty annoying if the match keeps going on the ropes. Which it turn causes the events to linger on longer than they should.

    From a marketing standpoint is the cage, from a spectator standpoint is the ring. From a time management standpoint is the cage, and for pure fighting dynamics is the ring.

    It all depends on how you want your organization to be perceived.

    I honestly with they would put a ton of martial arts mats together, and use the whole main floor for fighting room, so they could allow the most pure dynamics of fighting be portrayed. That to me would prove the ultimate fighter. Wrestling gets overthrown because of the cage in the UFC, especially when you have a shot that drives through people, it doesn’t leave you any room to do so. And that will cause many different outcomes in these past years of fighting.


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