MTV tried to edit the opening moments of the first episode of Caged so that it had a vibe familiar to its viewers: a Teen Mom aura, with a Louisiana girl named Red narrating, describing how difficult it is to be an unwed mother, a student, and the ex-girlfriend of Wes, the father of her baby. But the show is, at bottom, really about what its title implies: Cage fighting, mixed martial arts, as conducted in a Southern town.
And so instead of the endless inarticulate maundering of the Teen Mom protagonists, Caged wisely substituted action for talk: We watched a lot of punching, kicking, and pounding. The male “characters” in Caged — the show follows blond, easy-smiling Daniel; stolid, stubborn Wes; and wiry Matt, known as “Danger” — train hard; in at least one area of their lives they have more discipline than anyone on any other MTV series. Boy, would I like to see The Situation put into the ring for one round against Wes.
As a pop-documentary show, Caged follows the traditional arc of an old boxing movie: Fighters who have little else in their lives except their fists try to become champs to gain fame, some money if not fortune, and — a distant dream — a career. The Ultimate Fighter this ain’t. But that’s okay, because the first episode did a good job of sketching the personalities of Daniel, Wes, and Matt. Even better, the second half hour contained some good footage of training and some crazy-amateur fighting. The boys get no points for technique, but they had spirit and gall.
The most agonizing moment, however, wasn’t in the ring. It was watching Wes try to make weight for his match. He had to drop about eight pounds, and where pro fighters use a sauna and the gym to shed weight, Wes just took a car out into an open field in the blazing sun and shut himself inside. “You’re gonna have to sweat over a gallon of sweat,” a friend told Wes, who earlier had bragged he was on “a Bud Light diet.” He wasn’t laughing by the time he literally rolled out of the car onto the ground, drenched, having lost a mere three pounds. (He ultimately dropped enough to qualify.)
Only a few more weeks will prove whether Caged has any long-lasting life as a sports soap opera. But for a premiere hour, it maintained a certain rigor to its drama that made you root for at least a couple of these mugs.