Cleat Geeks

Rousey in Australian Controversy

MELBOURNE, Australia – Ronda Rousey has been caught up in a simmering controversy regarding the violent nature of mixed martial arts, with Australian politicians and child protection groups saying minors should be banned from attending UFC 193 this week­end.

ronda-rousey-ufc-rousey_3330166Rousey’s huge popularity has spread Down Under, with a crowd of up to 70,000 expected at Etihad Stadium on Saturday when she battles Holly Holm. But the sport is not without its detractors in these parts.

The discussion of whether ­legislation should be passed to forbid youngsters at mixed martial arts events has reached the state government level, while a leading children’s charity has said exposing kids to live fights could even constitute child abuse under existing laws in the state of Vic­toria, of which Melbourne is the capital.

That prompted Rousey to speak in defense of MMA in an interview with a Melbourne television station Tuesday, although her description of the sport somewhat stretched the bounds of reality.

“I don’t believe it is violent at all,” Rousey told Channel 7 News. “I believe it is called martial arts for a reason. It is an art.

“It might look a little graphic; it doesn’t actually mean it is that dangerous. Most of the injuries in the sport are actually cosmetic.”

Rousey is not likely to say anything negative about the sport that has helped turn her into an international superstar and provided her with a ticket to fame and fortune, yet insisting MMA is not violent is unlikely to sway detractors.

UFC Managing Director for Operations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand Tom Wright said he believes Rousey’s views stem for her time in judo, where she competed in two Olympic Games and won a medal at Beijing in 2008.

“I suspect when Ronda said that she meant that when she competed for the U.S and won a bronze medal they didn’t look at her as a violent athlete, they looked at her as a proud Olympian who was at the top of her sport,” Wright told USA TODAY Sports. “For her (fighting) is an opportunity for her to demonstrate her skills in a safe environment, that’s why she doesn’t think it is violent.”

Australia is an important expansion market for the UFC and despite the vocal criticism, has established a strong base of support.

RouseyBloodyYet critics have been undeterred, with Phil West, co-founder of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, a prominent Australia child safety group, highlighted the infamous incident involving UFC’s Leslie Smith last year, when a punch from rival Jessica Eye caused Smith’s left cauliflower ear to explode, sending a stream of blood shooting into the air and the 125lb fighter’s ear dangling from her head.

“It is brutal and savage,” West said. “(MMA) involves extreme violence, hitting people in the face while sitting on their torso.”

West also wrote an open letter to Victoria’s Premier, insisting the issue was “about our state’s child protection and safety laws being upheld.”

While the Victorian government clarified that there would be no restrictions placed on children watching the fight card highlighted by Rousey’s bout with Holm, others waded into the debate.

“I am yet again staggered by the fact that this brutality on show, which features people locked in cages, gouging, punching, kicking and spitting, allows children in as paying witnesses,” Bernie Geary, leader of the government-affiliated Commission for Children and Young People, told reporters.

MMA has faced challenges in gaining acceptance in this part of Australia, and this event was only made possible by a shift in legislation at the start of the year.

MMA-Cage-600x330_vice_670Previously, while MMA was allowed in Victoria, the cage positioned around the octagon was not, with Australian medical chiefs casting doubts about the fence’s safety and police officials insisting its use sent a negative message to children about vio­lence.

John Eren, sports minister for the Labor Party government, ordered the ban to be lifted when his party came into power and has been a supporter of this weekend’s event.

“Where do we stop?” Eren said. “The (WWE) wrestling, in a cage, hitting each other with chairs and tables, do we stop children going to that?”

For the UFC, the opposition is merely part of the process of growth, and mirrors similar experiences in the U.S. and Canada in the formative years of the organization.

“It is an educational process,” Wright added. “When you are a young emerging, growing sport you are often misunderstood.

“We feel very strongly that the decision as to children should attend is made by parents or guardians who are best prepared to make them. But why do parents put their kids into martial arts. It is to learn respect, discipline, honor and time management.”

(Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

(Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Rousey’s presence has generated significant buzz in what is Australia’s foremost sporting city and UFC fans had begun to filter into town from other parts of the country even four days out from the fight.

“I love it, my kids love it, and I am not worried about them being traumatized,” said father-of-two Aaron Baxter, whose 14 and 12-year-old sons will join him at Etihad Stadium. “MMA is about athleticism and learning to look after yourself. They are into it and I won’t discourage them.”

Parts of this story were written by Martin Rogers

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