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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2007
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Cage fights?
Not in Decatur

Lounge owner cites question of permits, cancels Friday event

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

A local lounge owner's battle to host a cage-fighting tournament in Decatur ended before it started.

Jeffery Hitt, who owns Frontier Lounge on U.S. 31, announced Wednesday he is canceling a cage-fighting event scheduled for Friday.

"In all honesty, it's more trouble than it's worth, so I'm going to hold off until more is known about the sport," he said. "I'm just trying to be a good neighbor and a good businessman."

Hitt said he made the decision after Building Department Director Jimmy Brothers asked him not hold the event on the scheduled date.

The Daily was unable to contact Brothers on Wednesday. But a spokeswoman for the Revenue Department said Brothers and license inspector Sal Jasso informed Hitt earlier that day he needed a temporary occupancy permit to hold the cage fight outdoors.

Hitt originally intended to hold the fight indoors, but he opted for the outdoor venue after a scheduled visit from the state fire marshal and Decatur Fire Marshal Darwin Clark last week.

"This was part of my annual inspection and had nothing to do with cage fighting," Clark said.

In any case, Hitt could not have obtained a permit to hold the event outdoors before its scheduled start time Friday. According to the Revenue Department, the Board of Zoning Adjustment needed to review the request before a permit could be issued. That voting body does not meet again until Sept. 25.

The news disappointed the event's promoter and organizer, Robert Clairday.

"They won this round with a knock-out punch," he said of city officials.

Clairday said he will try other venues, but he does not want to force anyone to accept his sport, which he describes as "safer and less violent than boxing."

"It's just the term 'cage fight' that gets people upset," he said. "If we called it mixed martial arts, no one would mind."

Clairday has another cage-fighting event scheduled for Sept. 22 in Hartselle, but he said he expects Hartselle officials to find a way to shut him down.

State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk has said the building at Chestnut and Sparkman streets in Hartselle, where the last fight card took place, does not comply with fire and safety codes and cannot host cage fighting.

"This establishment shall not be allowed to reopen ... until state law has been satisfied that will include building and fire codes," Paulk said in his report.

Hartselle city officials have requested an attorney general's opinion to determine if cage fighting is legal.

Decatur Mayor Don Kyle said Wednesday he did not know if the sport was legal, but he was not disappointed to hear the local event had been canceled.

"I think the perception of the sport is that it's awfully brutal and that it's unregulated and dangerous," he said. "I really don't think that fits the image we'd like to portray for our city."

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