James is the uncivil servant!

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WHEN civil servant James Mair comes into work at the Scottish Executive with a thick lip, his colleagues don't bat an eyelid.

Even if he had two black eyes and a broken nose, no-one would need to ask what he had been doing the night before.

For they know he has been preparing for his first professional appearance in "a fight club", battling in a no-holds-barred contest in a cage.

When he steps into the cage tonight, at a social club near Newcastle, he knows he risks serious injury, as he does every time he takes part. The fight is only likely to end when either he or his opponent has been knocked out.

James spends his days at the Scottish Executive in Leith teaching staff telephone etiquette and how to calm irate customers. But the 27-year-old has no fears about entering perhaps the most unforgiving arena in any legal sport.

His chosen discipline - a brutal mix of boxing, martial arts, wrestling and brawling - has been known as ultimate fighting and cage combat.

James, of Woodburn Road, Dalkeith, took up the discipline seriously a year ago after training in various martial arts since his school days. After coming across the sport while flicking through satellite television sports channels, he decided to find out more, eventually teaming up with Edinburgh trainer Willie Scott.

"My friends said I was absolutely crazy," he said. "They still watch it on TV and can't believe I'm getting myself into it."

The sport is now known as Mixed Martial Arts in Britain and the rules have been tightened a little. "It's actually a very skilful sport, almost like a game of chess, and it involves all kinds of styles and approaches," said James, who has a daughter Ellie, aged five.

"I've fought six semi-pro fights since I began and am picking it up quickly.

"The only rule change in the professional game is that you are allowed to elbow drop, so I'll need to look out for that one."

Standing at six feet and weighing around 13 stone, James' approach to the fights relies more on athleticism and speed than brute strength.

His rival, Steve Stringfellow, who will be fighting tonight in front of a rowdy home crowd at Ellison Social Club in Jarrow, has been described as more of a "brawler". "My mum is petrified every time I go in the cage, but she likes the aftermath if I've won," said the 27-year-old, who trains at Holyrood Amateur Boxing Club in Craigmillar.

"This kind of arena is where I want to be and if I perform well it could open all sorts of doors for me," said James.

His mother Christina said she always knew he would end up in some kind of combat sport.

"When he was five and everyone else his age was watching Fireman Sam, he was watching Fist of Fury," she said. "I do get terrified every time he goes into the cage and can barely look because although I know he can look after himself, I still just see a wee laddie.

"I'm confident for him tomorrow night though and looking forward to the whole thing. I really think he's destined for big things in this sport."


What's banned:

• No kicks to the head of a grounded opponent.

• No groin strikes.

• No eye gouging.

• No head butts.

• No strikes to the neck or spine.

• No neck cranks which twist the spine.

• No strikes to the elbow or knee joints.

• No full suplex throws.

• No biting.

• No fish hooking.

• No hair pulling.

• No throws that aim your opponent's head at the ground.

What's allowed:

• All punches to the head and body from standing.

• All punches to the head legs and body while on the ground.

• All kicks to the head legs and body from standing position.

• All kicks to the legs from standing to a grounded opponent.

• All kicks to legs from the ground to a standing opponent.

• All knees to the strikes to head, body and legs from standing position.

• All knees to the body and legs on the ground.

• All elbow strikes to the head body and legs from any position.

• All throws and takedowns (except as listed above).