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Naperville looks at takedown move on cage-fighting matches

Maps

Naperville could deliver a roundhouse kick to the prospect of organized cage fighting within city limits.

Cage fighting, also known as mixed martial arts, features an enclosed ring in which pugilists punch, kick and grapple with one another — typically until one participant submits, gets knocked out or fight officials otherwise pick a winner.

On Tuesday, the west suburb’s city council will hold a preliminary hearing on several measures that, if approved, would restrict cage matches. The rules would ban alcohol sales, limit fights to daytime hours and bar minors from attending without a parent or guardian.

City officials say the proposal would not be an outright ban on cage matches, which are sanctioned under Illinois law. The measures would “create reasonable regulation,” said Kristen Foley, an attorney for the city.

“I’m not even going to call it a sport because, to me, it sounds like professional wrestling. You go on YouTube and you see there’s a lot of people whipped up into a frenzy,” Councilman Bob Fieseler said. He said his colleagues were concerned that the fights could move to bars in downtown Naperville after an event.

But promoters and proponents say the fast-growing sport gets a bad rap. Contrary to the drunken chaos envisioned by some, the sport has become professionalized in recent years, they say. And much like other nighttime sporting events, alcohol concessions are key to making a profit.

“It’s fear of the unknown,” said Mike Herron, vice president of XFO Mixed Martial Arts. “I remember heavy metal. My parents grew up in the ’60s and it was ‘Oh my gosh, AC/DC is going to destroy our family.’ ”

Hoffman Estates hosts cage fights at the Sears Centre Arena and events also have been held at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park and in Sandwich and Cicero.

Until recently, Schaumburg refused to allow cage fighting. But that has since been changed, said Herron, who bills his organization as the largest in the Midwest.

“Would you go to a rock concert at noon?” said promoter Michael Marchese, who questioned the daytime restriction. “People don’t want to get crazy, they just want to have a night out.”

Events draw people who will spend money on parking, restaurants and hotels, said Marchese, who promotes bouts under the title Chicago Cagefighting Championship. And like everyone else involved in the production, the host town gets a cut.

But Marchese allowed that some amateur MMA organizations, with “a backyard brawl” feel, have cast the sport in a bad light.

Foley, the city attorney, said the issue surfaced in September after the council balked at a request from American Predator Fighting Championship, which sought use of a city-owned lot for event parking.

Since then, there has been growing interest among council members to go for a pre-emptive takedown of large-scale fights booked in the city.

“It’s not us thinking we’re on our high horse with what people view as entertainment,” Fieseler said. “The one thing the city can do is regulate liquor sales — and not having liquor at something like this is bound to keep it more tame.”

Email: bslodysko@suntimes.com

Twitter: @BrianSlodysko



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