Weight cutting is as much a part of combat sports as punching someone in the face. It’s a necessary evil that pretty much every fighter endures as part of their preparations for a fight and in the past, I never really gave it any great deal of thought, that is before now.
The stark reality of the weight cutting process really hit home while watching episode 9 of The Ultimate Fighter. The episode focuses on bantamweight contender Cody Bollinger’s struggle to get down to the minimum 136 pounds required to compete and we witness this young man, already looking horribly gaunt from cutting weight, go through hell both physically and mentally while trying to lose a final 5lbs, a mere few hours before weigh-in. Cody simply can’t do it, gets an ear bashing from Dana White, and is sent home.
I was a little troubled to see this whole process in the cold light of day. Before I continue I must stress that I fully understand an element of weight cutting, when managed properly, should not affect a fighter’s performance or health too much. Boxers do it very well in fact. But in this article I am focusing on the extreme weight cutting culture that is still present in MMA today.
There are some fighters cutting 20 pounds or more just days before a fight. That’s madness. Unfortunately, the pressure on fighters to win is so great, they must be willing to push their body into the absolute danger zone in order to gain a ‘legal’ advantage in a fight, or much less even maintain a decent career in MMA.
Let’s look at this another way, would four time Formula 1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel drive a car that in the 24 hours previous to a race was perilously close to the scrap heap? Not a chance. Neither he, nor his team, would risk his life by giving him anything short of a well oiled machine. Yet in MMA, fighters expect the human body to cope with such rapid dehydration 24 hours before asking it to perform at its absolute optimum in a gruelling 3 to 5 round fight.
Essentially fighters want to be monsters by competing in weight classes they should really be nowhere near. All very well in theory, or is it? There is so much that can go wrong with extreme weight cutting; organ failure, seizures, brain damage, or even death.
To give you a couple of examples; UFC light heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier couldn’t compete in the 2008 Olympics Wrestling events having being diagnosed with kidney failure thanks to weight cutting. As recent as September this year tragedy struck as Leandro ‘Feijao’ Souza died trying to cut weight for his 125 pound fight at Shooto Brazil 43. He was only 26.
Thank God that the UFC (MMA’s flagship promotion) has been largely unaffected so far by serious health issues relating to extreme weight cuts, but unless this process is reviewed, it is surely only a matter of time before we have a high profile example.
Dana White fiercely defends the safety record of MMA fights and rightly so, but safety needs to be extended to the efforts of a fighter before they step into the cage too. No longer can we leave it in the hands of the fighters, their teams, or their ‘appointed’ doctors.
The commission, the UFC, or whoever needs to rewrite the rules. We need an absolute limit to the maximum number of pounds any fighter can cut and a strict time frame to do so. Their hydration levels must be monitored more rigorously and frequently. If they are 20 pounds above their fighting weight 5 days before a fight, then they don’t fight. They are simply in the wrong weight class.
Let’s be honest here, not only does extreme weight cutting risk fighters’ health and well being, but it’s actually cheating the fans. How many times have we watched fighters gas all too quickly and lose fights because their cardio is shot? That’s not what we paid good ticket or PPV money for!
Maybe the WBC is a good place to start looking. They introduced new regulations back in 2007 whereby they have weigh ins thirty days before a fight and at that point they must be no more than 10% above their weight class, then 5% seven days before the fight. That seems reasonable enough.
New regulations would no doubt send ripple effects throughout the sport with some fighters being none too happy. Tough shit, this is your health we are talking about. Plus you are in the fighting game and shouldn’t be looking for an easy pay day.
Frankie Edgar is a shining example of a fighter that is happy to fight in the division closest to his normal weight. Frankie hardly cuts a pound and as such has cardio almost unrivaled in the sport. His fights are amazing to watch and he has been champion. Frankie is a true warrior.
I am not, nor have I ever been a professional fighter, but what I do know is that if I was, and had spent my career fighting opponents that were naturally much smaller than myself, then I don’t know if I could truly hold my head up high. I would want to be remembered for picking on guys my own size and beating them by pure ability alone rather than by just a size or strength advantage. That’s not fighting, that’s bullying.