Children as young as eight have been filmed cage fighting at a city social club.
The bout, which lasted 10 minutes and featured a scantily clad ring girl parading between rounds, was part of a packed out ticket-only fight night at the Greenlands Labour Club, in Chatburn Road, Preston.
At one point, one of the youngsters appeared to be crying, and qualified medical staff were brought into the ring to assess the youngsters, who were not wearing head gear or padding.
Event organiser Steven Nightingale claimed it was an ‘extremely good event’ and the club’s owner defended the spectacle.
But medical experts at the British Medical Association today branded the bout “disturbing”.
There is no suggestion any of the bouts at the Reps Retribution night, which included semi-professional bouts, breached any rules or licence laws.
Other cage fighting events have taken place at venues around the city featuring adults.
Today Timothy Lipscomb, the Vicar of Preston, said: “It is not the way we want children to be brought up.
“Up to a certain age they need protection, they do not need to see the senior side of life.
“It should not be a public spectacle to see them bashing the living daylight out of each other.
“Do you not think it encourages bullying and trying to use force to get your own way?”
A spokesman for the British Medical Association, said: “The BMA is opposed to boxing and cage fighting.
“This example of cage fighting among young children is particularly disturbing, especially as they are not even wearing head guards.
“Boxing and cage fighting are sometimes defended on the grounds that children learn to work through their aggression with discipline and control.
“The BMA believes there are many other sports, such as athletics, swimming, judo and football, which require discipline but do not pose the same threat of brain injury.”
The sport, also known as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), encompasses a range of martial arts which are used during bouts which take place in cages.
It has become popular partly due to reality star Alex Reid, the sport’s most high-profile figure in the UK.
In cage fighting events, contestants are allowed to punch, kick, wrestle, knee and elbow each other into submission. Some moves are banned including gouging, elbows in the spine and putting fingers in the opponents mouth and pulling.
Steven Nightingale, 28, a professional cage fighter who runs the Reps MMA gym, off Longridge Road, Preston, said the sport is safe and growing in popularity.
He said: “Competitions start from the age of five, it is definitely a big up-and-coming sport.
“It is all based around martial arts. The kids are not getting hit or anything at all when they are under age.
“We do not let them strike – punch and kick – until the age of 14 or 15.”
Asked about the crying child during one bout, he said: “The kid has never been beaten before, he is the one who wins the gold medals.
“When they get beaten, they are going to get emotional, also the referee and corner man said you do not have to carry on.
“He (the youngster crying) had come from the far side of Manchester, he came with his coach, and it is something he had trained for.”
Mr Nightingale denied a packed social club was the wrong environment for the bout, claiming it would help their progress.
Paul Jackson, manager of Warriors Gym – a facility for kickboxing, self defence and fitness in Hawkins Street, Plungington – questioned the lack of protective gear.
He said: “The main question I would ask is why were the parents allowing them to do that? I wouldn’t really agree with anything like it.
“It’s like a circus performance but if it’s consenting adults, that’s different.
“It depends on what the rules were as well.
“If they were joint-locking then I’d be questioning that because the bones aren’t developed fully yet.”
Michelle Anderson, owner of Greenlands Labour Club, who attended the event on Saturday September 10, said: “There was nothing wrong with it.
“The kids were there to fight, they have fought before.
“The parents were there.
“Would people rather these kids were out on the streets with guns and knives?”
She added the club hosts a variety of other sports events for youngsters, including Thai boxing.