When we associate chainwire fencing with sports, we think about the fence around the playground, perhaps a fence around a football pitch to keep fans from rushing onto the field, or as part of the safety infrastructure on a motor racing track to keep debris from wrecks from injuring spectators. If there is a chainwire fence, it is part of the boundary which the competitors (and often the fans) will do their best to ignore.
The exception is in the combat sport of Mixed Martial Arts. MMA bouts take place in a cage, more formally known as The Octagon. MMA has risen to popularity over the past three or four decades, but the origins of the sport go back much further, as far back as the Ancient Greek Olympic Games.
The Western roots of MMA include both boxing (“The Sweet Science”) and wrestling. Some of the earliest MMA type exhibition matches were promoted as contests to see who were better overall fighters, boxers of wrestlers. Although amateur, or “real wrestling” is a valid and intense discipline, what the crowds wanted to see were professional wrestlers in an authentic athletic competition. Pro wrestlers are incredible athletes, but it is hard to consider pro wrestling a sport because the element of competition has been removed. The major pro wrestling associations readily admit that their bouts are scripted and rehearsed events.
The Eastern traditions which led to MMA are harder to trace, but perhaps more interesting. Although the traditions are rooted in the Orient, they have as much to do with Hollywood as they do noble Samurai or warrior monks. Supposedly, fighters in the various martial arts and combat disciplines of the Orient, judo, karate, taekwondo, and muay thai (Thai kickboxing), would debate whose style would be most “effective” in a “real combat” situation.
Whether these arguments ever took place is debatable. What did occur was that an incredibly gifted martial artist named Bruce Lee began to buck tradition by incorporating many different martial arts into his personal fighting style. Lee also went into the movies,which brought even greater attention to his mixed styles.
Anyone seeing an MMA bout for the first time can be forgiven for thinking that the fight has no rules. In the beginning of organised MMA rules were indeed kept to a minimum to allow fighters to fully express their different styles. What rules there are have been enacted to protect the fighters from injury and to remove any stigma of barbaric, fight to the death matches.
Although some MMA organisations fight in a ring similar to those used in boxing, the cage or Octagon. The origins of the Octagon are as fuzzy as the rest of MMA. There is probably a connection with the popular cage matches from professional wrestling. The shape is though to have been chosen to differentiate MMA from its roots. Amateur wrestlers compete in a circle on a mat, while boxing and Muay Thai are contested in a four-sided ring. The Octagon has elements of both shaped spaces. There was also a famous martial arts movie entitled The Octagon which came out while modern MMA was in its infancy.
The Octagon is surrounded by vinyl coated chainwire fence. All posts and rails are heavily padded to protect the fighters. The diamond pattern of the chainwire fencing has become an image as closely associated with MMA as the fierceness of the fighters.