Stepping into the cage ahead of Troxy’s mixed martial arts night

From striking to grappling, through a series of oxygen-denying holds and vicious kicks, mixed martial arts could be the most brutal form of contact sport you’re ever likely to see.

So why am I dressed in a fighter’s outfit at the Diesel Gym in Butchers Row, Shadwell as the “daddy” of Ultimate Challenge Mixed Martial Arts, Dave O’Donnell, puts me in a “rear naked choke”?

“I’ve only squeezed you,” says Dave, as I let out a noise I didn’t know I was capable of making and I start to see stars flashing before my eyes.

Dave, the 50-year-old former kick-boxer and president of UCMMA, lives and breathes a sport he says is “very addictive.”

This Saturday, he puts on one of his biggest events yet at the Troxy in Commercial Road, with six main card fights including a heavyweight title fight between Mark Potter and Oli Thompson.

Anyone who has seen cage-fighting, which is now regularly televised on Sky Sports, will likely have felt a twinge of hurt as a fighter is knocked out or choked into submission.

Dave said: “It’s the most real fight you’ll ever get but it’s protected.”

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Once he’s finished scaring the life out of me, he explains some of the rules, including the moves which are outlawed such as striking the throat, eye-gouging or hitting someone in the groin.

Dave said: “Of course it can be dangerous.

“I’m very safety-conscious, we’ve been doing this a long time, and I know there are so many guys trying to earn a quick buck.”

Saturday’s show could help cement the sport’s reputation for providing entertainment in the East End.

He said: “The Troxy is probably one of the best viewing arenas. It’s very central, close to Canary Wharf and all the city boys and it’s just a very good atmosphere.”

Andy McEwan, who fights on Saturday’s card, said: “People thought it was two brutes getting into a cage together but we’re probably the most skilled fighters out there.”

Having spent just a couple of minutes in a cage with Dave, I can certainly testify to that.

For information and tickets visit

And click on the top-right link for our gallery of behind-the-scenes UCMMA snaps.

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