A BYRON BAY mixed martial arts professional has defended his sport against links to "coward punches", saying no one properly trained in the sport would do that.
Ben Pietzsch, owner and manager of Byron Bay martial arts gym Extreme MMA, said his members wouldn't be caught in a situation where there was a confrontation.
It is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, but MMA has received heavy criticism for inciting violence.
It's a stigma Mr Pietzsch says is likely a combination of the sport's fans and the fact it is still relatively new.
He said the cage element could also be a factor, with many people not realising it was necessary to ensure the safety of fighters.
"It's actually quite dangerous to do mixed martial arts in a boxing ring because when you grab someone around the waist and use your body to take them down, potentially they can fall out of the ring," he said.
Compared to other martial arts, like boxing and kickboxing, Mr Pietzsch said MMA was a lot less focused on strikes to the head, which had been shown to cause significant trauma to people competing in sports over many years.
He said newcomers to the sport looking for an "ego trip" were quickly weeded out due to the intensive nature of training and the discipline required.
"Quite often they take such a hit to the ego they don't stay around," he said.
Mr Pietzsch said the MMA fighters who trained at his gym understood that if they ever used their fighting skills outside the cage, their membership would be cancelled.
New MMA applicants are also required to go through a consultation process where they are assessed by staff and trainers.
"It's up to our discretion whether we decide to take them on as a member or not," Mr Pietzsch said.
"To say someone's a mixed martial arts fighter, they could be just watching it, or they've done one boxing class or one mixed martial arts class.
"But certainly if they have ever trained properly they wouldn't go around broadcasting it or advertising it," Mr Pietzsch said.