Sunday, 27 April 2008

Strictly Baby Fight Club on Channel 4 - TV Review

As a life-long fan of combat sports, I always try to catch any documentary that’s shown on television, and this was the case this past Thursday night with the latest in Channel 4’s Cutting Edge series, Strictly Baby Fight Club. Although I have to admit that I had considered not watching the programme at all, given that the trailers had shown ten year old kids trying to beat the crap out of each.


So as the clock approached ten that evening, I have to admit I found the whole thing both shocking and eye opening.

The programme focused on five young children, ranging from five to ten years old. First there were the twins, Miah and Kian, whose parents, Darren, a shaven-headed quantity surveyor, and his wife, Lisa, a nail technician (the ones of the fingers and toes I presume), enrolled them in thai boxing classes seven months before filming began. Darren is very passionate about the sport, so much so that he’s converted his spare room into a gym so his son and daughter can undergo extra training. Darren believes his encouragement has strengthened his relationship with his children.

But it isn’t long before the first somewhat uncomfortable moment appears. Darren held Miah in his arms as she cried her eyes out before a fight. We’ve heard him say that he won’t force his daughter to fight if she doesn’t want to, but moments later we see him pushing the distraught youngster into the ring for her fight. Later we see Darren encouraging Miah to “bulk up” for her next fight against an older girl, a fight she goes on to lose. It is then we see Miah apparently losing interest in continuing as a fighter, something which doesn’t please Darren.

Young Thai is named after the sport his parents are passionate about. His father Mark and mother Maxine were also Thai boxers, and Thai and his older sister, a double world champion, apparently had no choice but to share their parents obsession with the sport. Although they both have a strong interest in succeeding in the sport, you have to wonder if they were ever given any other choices in their young lives.

Although Thai’s training regime is something that would put older athletes in any sport to shame, running fourteen kilometres a week, doing four hundred sit ups, and with sparring and bag work lasting another ten hours.

Then there’s Connor, being brought up by his single mother Nikki. She is her son’s most loyal supporter, taking him to training sessions four nights a week. Connor seems the most down-to-earth of the kids, and his trainer Terry has high hopes for me.

But the one that worried me the most was young Sohan, especially when his father Majhid said that his son is living the life he should have had, that he always wanted to be the best, to be the champion, and to get the adulation that goes with that. It was obvious that he was living his own life through his son, and even though thai boxing helped Sohan with illness, it made for uncomfortable viewing.

The documentary was building up to the big fight for the Junior British Cage Thai Box title between Thai and Connor. There was controversy before the fight even started as the parents and trainers argued over the rules, specifically if head shots would be allowed. During the fight itself both kids caught each other with head shots several times, and when one got warned, those in their corners at cage side screamed in total disbelief. The fight went the distance, and Connor won the decision, which didn’t please Thai’s parents, with mum Maxine in particular trying to start an argument with the referee about the number of head shots from Connor. Indeed, it would have turned into a full blown argument in the middle of the cage had Connor’s trainer Terry not stepped in and said that they should sort things backstage.

Which they did, and while the Thai’s parents and Connor’s trainer argued about the rights and wrongs of the fight I felt two things, admiration for the fact that they all stood up for what they believed was right, and that uncomfortable feeling, the same one I got the tearful Miah was pushed into the ring by her father.

While this documentary made for compelling viewing, it also made for shocking and uncomfortable viewing. Some of the children seen here looked as if they just didn’t want to fight in the first place, and the way that most of the parents acted made it obvious that they were living their lives vicariously through their children. It seemed to me that Connor was the only one who had any choice about getting into thai boxing in the first place, while the other kids featured here didn’t have any choice at all.

Should young children be discouraged from engaging in such dangerous sports? No. Wrapping them up in cotton wool wouldn’t do them any favours as they enter the formative years of their lives. All children must have something to aspire to as they grow up, whether they want to be doctors, politicians, writers, or fighters. Strictly Baby Fight Club is a fine example of how parents should overly push their children into doing things they’re uncomfortable with, and maybe after seeing this other parents thinking of doing similar things with their children will now reconsider their options.