Child Cage Fighting Sparks Outrage in Britain

Children as young as 8 square off in front of hundreds of spectators.

LONDON Sept. 22, 2011 — -- The tiny frame of an 8-year-old boy, young but ready to fight, enters from one side of the room. From the other, his 9-year-old opponent gets a last minute fighting tactics talk. Both walk past the jeering crowd, a 250-strong throng of spectators, shouting taunts encouraging them to fight in what has been described as a popular and an up and coming sport -- cage fighting for children.

The two boys have been filmed attacking one another in the confines of a cage in front of spectators who have paid almost $40 to watch. One of the boys breaks down and cries. Ever since that video went viral, so too did the widespread shock and outrage.

British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has described it as "barbaric," saying "we have to recognize that sport has a very, very important role but I think with this particular sport, I think some people will ask some questions."

It's a brutal and macabre site and has caused a huge uproar in this country, but because the club where the fighting takes place has a license to stage such events, it's perfectly legal. But police say they will look into issues surrounding the safety of the children.

Steve Nightingale who trains the young boys at the Reps Gym in Preston, Lancashire, 190 miles north of London, told ABC News that ''there is no is a mixture of martial arts and wrestling known as mixed martial arts, MMA."

Nightingale said that he was ''shocked'' by the criticism and said that it all comes from people who were not there and are ignorant of the sport.

Marcus Holt, the event promoter, defended the matches, telling the BBC, ''It's a discipline, it's a mixed martial arts, it's what they want to do. They are not being forced to do it. It's better being up here training week in week, out than running the streets and causing trouble on the streets.''

Nick Hartley, the father of one of the boys who took part in the controversial caged bout insisted it had been safe. "He loves the sport. It's not one bit dangerous, it's a controlled sport…until he gets a bit older and he starts doing physical contact, kicking and punching, then maybe, but at his age it's wrestling, like grappling."

The British Medical Association has condemned the event saying it is "particularly disturbing." The BMA made the point that the children were not wearing protective head gear or other protective padding.

"Boxing and cage fighting are sometimes defended on the grounds that children learn to work through their aggression with discipline and control. The BMA believes there are many other sports, such as athletics, swimming, judo and football, which require discipline but do not pose the same threat of brain injury," the BMA said in a statement.

The organization which ensures child protection awareness, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has joined the chorus of condemnation of the fights.

"We would strongly discourage parents from letting their children take part in this kind of fighting. It's quite disturbing that some of those involved in the bouts were as young as 8, an age when they are still developing, physically and mentally,"said Chris Cloke, head of the NSPCC.