MMA fighters – athletes or thugs?

As a sports writer with no meaningful political leanings it is not often that I feel compelled to jump into the political ring and throw a few punches at the people who run this country.

However, this is one such occasion where I feel I have no choice but to don the gloves, pop in the gumshield, look out my spitbucket and ready myself for action (fear not, the fighting analogies will become apparent in a minute – just as soon as the bell rings). 

 Ding ding, round 1.

My opponent for the day is Sandra White MSP and the reason for this verbal joust is her comments towards the thousands of people in this country (and millions abroad) who partake in the sport of MMA (mixed martial arts).

Despite the fact that elite competitors in this sport will train upwards of four hours a day, spend years learning specialist techniques and skills from a variety of fighting disciplines and look after their bodies with the utmost care and attention by stringently regulating intake of fats, sugars and alcohol, the right honorouable Sandra White has branded it human cock fighting rather than a sport.

Her comments, on a Scotland Today news bulletin – which asks whether fighters are thugs or athletes – can be seen on the video below.

Mrs White has saddled up and mounted her high horse on this particular occasion because of the upcoming MAX Xtreme Fighting event in Glasgow next month. The event at the Braehead arena on 15 March will attract around 4000 spectators and will see some of the most highly trained fighters on the planet compete.

However, her attitude is a real roundhouse to the face of these fighters who display the kind of dedication and determination that is so lacking in this country – including from many of our MSP’s.

Who is she to detract from the skill and athleticism of these fighters and to brand their sport “human cock-fighting” when she has never been to an event? What makes them any different from footballers, rugby players, racing drivers, jockeys and boxers?

Every time they participate in their chosen sport they risk serious injury or even death. Just last weekend Arsenal forward Eduardo saw his leg shattered in a challenge and I could spend all day listing other serious injuries (and sadly, worse) in other sports.

Yet they are not faced with the same derision and calls for their sport to be outlawed. There can be no doubt there is an element of danger to MMA but that is the edge on which many sports are based and  is what separates elite athletes from normal human beings.

MMA fighters have spent years becoming expert in accepted sports such as boxing, Karate, Tai Kwon Do, ju-jutsu, wrestling and Muay Thai to name just a few. They then pull all of these disciplines together to perfect the ultimate combat style.

Sandra White on the other hand, spends her days bickering with opponents, engaging in political one-upmanship, trying to make the most friends, arguing about which party has the best ideas and telling anyone who will listen that they could do it so much better. The Scottish Parliament – powerful political chamber or primary school playground?

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Hype sees Scots left with egg on their faces

Despite the fact that I am left suffering from Sky Sports withdrawal every Sunday, I was not tempted to tune in to the BBC’s coverage of the Scotland v France rugby international in the Six Nations at the weekend.

I’m not averse to watching a bit of the egg-chasing on TV, especially when Scotland are playing. I usually watch the Six Nations and almost always try and catch most of the Scotland games during the World Cup.

However, on this occasion I was really put off by the pre-match build up and the fact that many seemed to have dismissed France – recent world cup semi-finalists – as also rans because they are in a state of transition.

Surely we have learned by now that whenever we build ourselves up to something we are, more often than not, left with egg on our faces. On this occasion it was an entire omelette as the French outclassed their Scots opposition.

To be fair to the Scottish team, I doubt anyone within the camp was guilty of such overconfidence. Confidence, yes, but they won’t have taken the French lightly.

Instead it was the pundits that I had listened to and read before Sunday who had the game won for the Scots before an oddly shaped ball was kicked. This was the best chance Scotland had in some time of winning the Six Nations according to the experts. One of those experts was even former England star and Question of Sport captain (well, that’s where I knew him from!) Bill Beaumont who had described the Scottish team as dark horses for the tournament.

There’s no question the Scots are in a better position than they have been for a good number of years and we have every right to feel good about the future. But surely we can do so without the hype?

Sky Sports leaves me holding the baby

I used to love nothing better than my Super Lazy Sundays (as Sky Sports should call them) nursing a hangover in a darkened room, the only natural light – and reminder that there was an outside world – coming from the small chink in the venetian blinds while the rest of the room was bathed in the soft green glow from seemingly endless supply of live football on Sky Sports.

A glass bottle of Irn Bru (Scotland’s best hangover cure) and the leftovers from last nights’ pizza or kebab the only sustenance needed to make it through the day, while a mild overdose of paracetemol being just enough to dull the searing pain caused by Andy Gray’s excellent, if excitable, commentary.

Those were the days when I lived a batchelor’s existence. Lived for the weekend’s excesses and used Super Lazy Sunday’s to recharge the batteries ahead of the coming week.

Then I got myself shacked up with the girlfriend. This was no bad thing as it prompted me to live a cleaner life, making sure both the pennies and my liver were looked after much better than they had previously been. Somehow, and everyday I ask myself how, it meant moving in with her and not renewing my Sky Sports subscription.

I still haven’t managed to fathom exactly how it happened, but it did and to be honest it was no great hardship. A plethora of nearby pubs offered shelter, generous libation and access to that green glow every Sunday for my footballing fix.

I now, however, find myself in a dark place without the warming green glow (the hangovers and leftover pizza I can do without) and fatherhood is the reason. Fatherhood itself is not to be feared. It provides its own warming glow for which the TV can provide no substitute (no matter who is playing!).

But in recent months I have found myself missing those Super Lazy Sundays. The combination of Arctic weather and the responsibility of looking after a five-month-old baby every Sunday has seen me trapped in the house, a slave to both the TV and a screaming baby (whoever shouts the loudest usually wins).

As those with kids will testify, the pennies which were once frittered away on niceties such as beer and expensive Sky Sports subscriptions are earmarked for other things such as nappies and baby milk. In addition, the pubs which once provided salvation are now strictly out of bounds – although the wee man’s screams are surely only slightly more shrill than Andy Gray’s commentary?!

Therefore I have had to make do with the best sporting action council TV (terrestrial) can provide. Sadly, snooker, Ski Sunday and even the Six Nations coverage (good though it all is) can’t see the BBC and ITV compete with the big boys nowadays (although the BBC’s coverage of the African Cup of Nations and the recent Australian Tennis Open was excellent.)

This really hit home on Sunday just past when I had the wee man all day (usually it is just the afternoons). I had to be content watching Tiger Woods’ amazing back nine comeback in the Dubai Desert Classic on the live internet scoreboard, try to overcome a noisy baby and crackly reception to catch the Hibs v Rangers match on the radio and keep up to speed on the day’s three Premiership matches via the news ticker on Sky Sports News (available on Freeview and an absolute Godsend!) Later that night I could have treated myself to some Spanish football action had I been a Sky Sports subscriber.

The one top notch sporting event I was able to watch (Ghana v Nigeria) I ended up missing the crucial last 30 mins because the wee man needed his bath.

There is no doubt that Sky Sports and to a certain extent, Setanta, have got me and countless other sports fanatics by the short and curlies. To get your weekly fix you have to pay the going rate.

I’m off to get myself a calculator and pen and paper to work out how I can save myself £35 a month.Surely the wee man doesn’t have to eat eight times every day………………….

Murray’s conqueror Tsonga proves Grand Slam run is no fluke

I sincerely hope any Andy Murray detractors tuned in to see Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s demolition of world number two Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open this morning.

On hearing that the Frenchman was two sets to love up and already had a break in the third set, I allowed myself a half hour’s break from the computer screen to watch the climax to the engrossing match. (the BBC Interactive red button coverage is tremendous, isn’t it?)

I was utterly amazed to see the previously unknown (at least unknown to non-Tennis afficionados like myself) Tsonga make Nadal look completely ordinary as he destroyed him 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 to set up his first Grand Slam final.

It wasn’t as if Nadal had come into the match on a poor run of form. He hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament up until that point and was many pundits’ tip for the title. This makes the annhiliation all the more incredible.

All of which must be music to Murray’s ears. The Scot was criticised in some quarters for failing to beat unseeded Tsonga in the first round, like it was his God-given right to march straight into the latter stages of the tournament because he had the number nine next to his name in the seedings.

Some asked whether Murray took Tsonga too lightly, whether his preparations were what they should have been and whether or not he simply bottled it because it was a Grand Slam. I had also wondered whether his decision last year to ditch Brad Gilbert as coach had a negative effect.

Thankfully Tsonga has put those questions to bed because he has proved he is a top player and, on this form, it is no disgrace for Murray to have lost – although there is no question that he played below par in the match.

After Murray’s loss, some of his fans also claimed that Tsonga’s victory was a fluke. That he played out of his skin for one match that would never be repeated. Those words are now being swallowed down along with a large helping of Humble Pie.

Tsonga will now likely face Roger Federer in the final – although Novak Djokovic will have something to say about that in the semis.

I am a big fan of Federer -anyone who dominates a sport as he does commands respect. However, it would be great to see another name on a Grand Slam trophy for once.

I had hoped it would be Murray’s name this time, but his shot will definitely come. This particular tournament belongs to Tsonga and I would love to see him add Federer’s name to his collection of scalps in the final.

Viking so close to Strictly Come Dancing debut

A night out with golfing PR guru Pete Richardson always yields an array of interesting and entertaining stories and last Tuesday was no different.

I joined Pete, managing director of golf marketing company The Azalea Group, in his home village of South Harting (fewer than 1000 residents and three pubs!) in West Sussex to watch his darts team, The Ship, take on bitter rivals The Club.

Much drink was taken and various darts and media drivel spoken – but as always Pete came out with a tale to make me smile.

During his time representing larger-than-life darts legend Andy Fordham, he was approached by the producers of a new reality TV show (it was new at the time) called Strictly Come Dancing. It was to feature Bruce Forsyth and a host of celebrities learning to dance.

And amazingly for their first series, they were desperate to get The Viking involved. Fordham, who at the time weighed 31 stone and drank 25 bottles of lager a day, was keen to take part but had to turn it down because it meant clearing Saturday nights for up to 12 weeks and the big man was already committed to playing in high profile darts tournaments across the globe.

In any case, the show went on to prove a ratings winner but, despite having never watched it, even I would have been tempted to tune in had The Viking been strutting his stuff on the dancefloor.

A few years ago, Fordham suffered a health scare and was rushed to hospital suffering chest pains just before a World Championship match. But just last year the new slimline version returned to the darts scene and has given up drinking completely. Great news. You can’t beat a bit of bully and they don’t come much better than The Viking. I hope to see him regularly competing at the oche again soon. Maybe he’ll even need to look out those dancing shoes again.

For the record, The Ship beat The Club 4-3, including a particularly impressive 12, 12, Bull finish from Pete. Not the conventional way to hit 74 but ask him about it sometime – he’ll not be long in telling you and you might get a few other gems in there too.

Scottish sport mourns the loss of another star

So soon after the tragic and untimely death of Motherwell captain Phil O’Donnell, the last thing Scottish sport needed was another tragedy in quick succession.

The death of cycling champion Jason MacIntyre in a car crash marks yet another black day for Scottish sport. The BBC report can be read here.

For a country with so few genuine sporting heroes we can ill afford to lose the ones that we do have.

Although I can’t claim to be an avid follower of cycling – other than during the Olympics when even synchronised swimming becomes a must watch – it would seem that MacIntyre possessed some considerable talent and represented an outside medal chance at the Olympics this year and the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Away from the sport MacIntyre, like O’Donnell, leaves behind a wife and kids – Caroline and eight-year old twin girls. Of course, the loss to Scottish sport pales into insignificance when compared to the loss experienced by his family.

During my time as a news reporter I was no stranger to dealing with tragedy on a regular basis and it never ceased to amaze me how people are able to cope with such grief. Unfortunately some people never get over the loss, outlined in another tragic story in today’s Scotsman where mother Moira Vivian found herself unable to cope with the suicide of her daughter and ended up taking her own life.

I can only hope that MacIntyre’s family receive the support that it seems Mrs Vivian wasn’t privvy to and that they are able to move on from this loss.

Wouldn’t it be a good gesture if sports minister Stewart Maxwell’s newly reformed sportscotland saw fit to support the MacIntyre family, both emotionally and financially, in their hour of need.

I will wait with baited breath to see if that happens but it seems that at the moment they are content simply to say that their thoughts are with his family – here.

In the meantime I will simply join them in offering condolences to the MacIntyre’s.