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Cage rage: Dublin's new sport that pulls no punches; As America's latest craze sweeps Ireland, modern day gladiators unleash their skills.

Byline: JIM GALLAGHER

A BRUTAL and bloody new sport is set to take Ireland by storm.

Cage Fighting, which makes wrestling look like a pass-time for grandmothers, is the new sensation in the back streets and pay-per-view cable channels of America.

It is beginning to pull in more viewers than boxing - and now it is coming to Dublin.

On April 19 some 30 Irish fighters will battle for victory in the first ever Celtic Rage event at the City West Hotel.

The modern-day gladiators are all experts in their own field of martial arts and they will be taking on champions in other fields.

And the action will all take place in a 18ft cage with the referee inside with the combatants.

"There is no escape. People are going to see thrills and spills they never dreamt of," said a spokesman for the event.

"Cage fighting has become a massive hit on pay per view. It is absolutely huge in America and is fast growing everywhere else in the world.

"It pulls in huge TV audiences and the last fight drew more viewers than the Sugar Shane Mosley boxing match.

"The Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) held in Las Vegas is absolutely massive."

Cage fighting has also become popular elsewhere in the world, pulling in live spectators in crowds of up to 20,000 in Holland and 100,000 in Japan.

The sport is a mix of martial arts and the three Olympic sports of boxing, judo and wrestling.

Each fighter is an expert in his own field, whether it be judo, karate, kung-fu, kickboxing or tae kwon do, which uses only legs and no hands.

Organisor Shane Lynch, two time world kickboxing champion and a member of Dublin's Bushido club, insisted last night the sport was not dangerous.

"It is safer than rugby and many other sports," he said.

"In rugby or soccer people pull hamstrings or break their ribs or legs. But in cage fighting the only injury you might see is a cut to the eye.

"Or sometimes you might get a dislocated wrist if one fighter is too stubborn and refuses to 'tap out' quick enough when he is in a lock."

That means he doesn't tap the floor quickly enough to show he is submitting.

The only other way the fight ends is either by time running out or by a knockout.

"We have got rid of the head-butting and the eye gouging and hair-pulling that they have in America," said Shane.

"We are basically sticking to martial art skills and all the fighters will be taking on people of the same weight."

Shane said he would not be taking part in the event himself.

"I would love to have a go but as I specialise in kickboxing I would need more expertise on the ground. If an opponent got me on the floor I would need more skills to get out of trouble."

The Irish fighters are all professional athletes who will battle it out in either two or three rounds of five minutes each.

The spokesman said: "The sport is safe because the fighters are professional athletes who have extensive training in several sports.

"They wearer lighter gloves and because the sport is full contact there are less blows to the head than boxing.

"It is a professional sport and is not a fight club or a form of street fighting. Some people have criticized the event without even knowing anything about it.

"Spectators will see plenty of passion, strength, commitment and pride.

"Those are the qualities of a modern day Gladiator."

Ultimate fighting is regarded as one of the world's oldest combat sports and appeared in the very first Olympics.

The sport was known back then as Pankration. When the warriors were not at battle they would use the arenas to train and tighten up their combat skills.

"This is no staged wrestling pantomime," said the spokesman.

"Celtic Rage is a unique opportunity to capture the excitement of two men unleashing their primal instincts in a battle of skills, wit and stealth.

"And it is something most people have never seen before."

Tickets for Celtic Rage are available from Ticketmaster for EUR25. Ringside seats are EUR49.

CAPTION(S):

BASIC INSTINCT: Cage fighters use martial arts and Olympic sports in a display of passion, strength and commitment as they battle for supremacy in a craze that's sweeping America; KICK START: Finland's Joachim Hansen fights Raffles La Rose in Galway
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Mar 30, 2003
Words:745
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