MMA: The Problems of Weight Cutting
By Arwen Sheridan
Last weekend we witnessed one of the biggest upsets in recent MMA history when Stipe Miocic defeated Daniel Cormier via TKO in the 4th round.
Going into the rematch, much had been made of the fact that both fighters weighed less than they did for their first encounter last summer. The assumption being that both men were choosing to sacrifice a little bit of brute strength in order to optimise speed and endurance.
This ultimately proved to be a wise decision for both as they ended up going almost 15 minutes deeper into this second match up.
In the wake of UFC 241, the official prefight and fight day weigh ins have been revealed by the promotion.
I was not surprised to see huge variances among the majority of the fighters. I was, however, impressed to see that Miocic’s weight only increased by 1% on fight day. By any assessment, this increase is negligible, essentially meaning that he is walking around at as close to his fighting weight as makes no difference.
It is also worth noting that his weight on fight day was still significantly below the upper limits for the heavyweight division.
I am a qualified nutrition coach. This coupled with the fact that I have heard more horror stories of weight cuts gone bad than I care to remember, makes this issue an important one for me.
With more than half of the fighters on last week’s card having in excess of a 10% variance, it is obvious that something has to change.
In recent times TKO have brought in new regulations for their fighters. Under these guidelines, fighters will weigh in three times during fight week. The first weigh in will be 48 hours before the fight. The second will happen during the usual weigh in window. Lastly, they will weigh in on the afternoon of the fight.
If there is a deviation of more than 9lbs between the fighter’s contracted weight and either of the first or third weigh ins, he or she will forfeit 15% of their purse.
While these measures are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it could be argued that 9lbs is an arbitrary amount. After all, 9lbs at strawweight is not the same as 9lbs at heavyweight.
Other suggestions to combat the culture of excessive and potentially dangerous weight cutting have included the introduction of more weight classes. This would serve to give the fighters more options and should help them to be more responsible in choosing the correct division.
However, my instinct is that if fighters have the option to cut 10-15lbs to get down to a lower division and give themselves a perceived “edge” then they will do exactly that. If for no other reason than if everyone else is doing it, failing to follow suit will leave them at a disadvantage.
Perhaps a more practical solution would be to impose same day weigh-ins. This would mean that the fighters have no option but to manage their cut sensibly, as there would be insufficient time to adequately recover from a dehydration cut. It would also encourage fighters to adopt a year-round approach, which could have the added benefit of increasing their longevity in the sport.
A year-round approach would also be encouraged if the UFC and indeed other promotions were to carry out spot checks on the athletes’ weight periodically.
John Kavanagh suggested this during a recent conversation I had with him, and he seemed to feel that is would be easy to implement. Especially considering most promotions already enforce random drug testing.
The simple truth is that the current system is not working. We saw Aspen Ladd recently struggle on the scale. Going through the indignity of having to weigh in behind the screen was less concerning than how awful she looked during the ordeal.
She went on to lose her fight and it is not too much of a leap to presume the toll taken on her body trying to cut excessive weight had a part to play.
These drastic weight cuts also rob the spectators of the opportunity to see their favourite fighters performing at their peak.
There is simply no way that a 36-hour window is enough time to recover from the level of dehydration a 15+ pound weight cut would cause. That is without considering the risk of longer-term damage, with the kidneys being particularly vulnerable. It is small wonder that fighters sometimes seem sluggish and lacking in conditioning, despite having trained hard for their octagon appearance.
For the sake of the fighters, the fans and the sport itself, I hope the UFC and other promotions begin to make changes to bring these weight cutting practices to an end.