These are the rules: the referee frowns upon biting, gouging, or attacking with less than four fingers. He refuses to countenance strikes to the throat or groin. And he takes a very dim view of the use of oil or Vaseline. So it's quite all right to knee your opponent in the chest, kick them in the face, choke them, or grind their head into the floor until their eyes bleed. But it's a firm "no" to sinking your teeth into their oil-smeared testicles. That's Total Fighting. It's big in Japan, huge in Brazil - and quite popular in Milton Keynes, too.
Lee Hasdell, the man who brought the sport to this country three years ago, is a shaven-headed, 16-stone toughnut with a Marbella tan. His Wagnerian- sounding "Ring of Truth" tournament aims to find the best martial-arts fighter in any discipline. If you've seen the Jean-Claude Van Damme film The Quest (1997), you should be au fait with the concept.
The last few weeks have been trying for Hasdell. As interest in this Japanese hybrid of ju-jitsu and kickboxing has grown, so has disquiet in Milton Keynes, where the local council has already licensed five Total Fighting events. The local press have attempted to drum Hasdell out of town; the boxing promoter Frank Warren has damned his game as "street- fighting in a ring"; other reports have described it as "the human equivalent of cock-fighting". His regular tournament venue in Stantonbury has kicked him out, and everyone from The Guardian to the BBC has been sniffing disapprovingly around his gym.
On Sunday, however, he succeeded in staging Britain's biggest Total Fighting tournament to date - at the Sanctuary Leisure Centre, Bletchley: a corrugated hangar which sits between a branch of B&Q and a kids' roller-disco in a god-forsaken Buckinghamshire retail park. "We've changed the venue and we've had a lot of bad publicity," he told the crowd. "But the show will go on!"
And it did. Paul Ramsdale from Leigh grappled the generously dreadlocked Jeremy Bailey to the floor, sat on his face and was halfway to punching his lights out when a well-timed kick in the face effected a surprising reversal of fortune. Keith Dace, a monster from Kent with copper-blond highlights, hurled the massive Dexter Casey over his head, pinned him to the canvas with his huge wobbly thighs and beat him into submission with the combined force of iron-hard punches and several hundred pounds of cellulite. A crowd favourite, Louis Beale, came to a sticky end between the thick legs of Worcester's Leighton Hill - who, despite having a name like a Home Counties retirement village, turned out to be one of the afternoon's most implacable fighters. "Finish him off!" yelled a man with a builder's bottom peeking over the waistband of his Adidas track-suit pants. "Give it to him, my son!"
Lee Hasdell insists that Total Fighting is about discipline, control and focus - not just two semi-naked blokes beating the crap out of each other. "We try and outsmart each other," he says. "We're all highly skilled and we've all got tricks up our sleeve. A lot of people are disappointed that it's not violent enough. People have got the impression that we're bar-room brawlers, but in all honesty a bar-room brawler wouldn't last five seconds with one of us. You've got to be pretty smart. It's like a game of chess." Well, like a game of chess in which you're allowed to squat on your opponent's head and smack him in the face.
And what sort of people are Total Fighters? Just before the tournament began, I was led upstairs to the warm-up area, fully expecting to come face-to-face with a bunch of growling, toothless thugs; the kind of zombies you see lurching out of south-London boxing clubs. Nothing of the kind. The atmosphere was more cheerful and relaxed than backstage at your average am-dram Mikado. Louis Beale sat cross-legged on the floor while a friend gave him a back- rub. Two fighters grazed quietly at a buffet of pineapple, orange and cucumber slices neatly laid out on trestle table. …