Weight cutting has been a part of combat sports for as long as there have been weight classes. However, it is particularly prevalent within MMA, due to our sports’ relationship with collegiate wrestling and BJJ. There is even an extensive TikTok community for collegiate wrestlers to support each other while cutting weight.
It seems like nary a week goes by when a fight doesn’t get canceled due to a weight miss, or a fighter making only 12k/12k gets fined 30% of their purse. Askarov vs. Royval was one of the best fights on this week’s card. Poof. Gone. The reality is that the penalties for missing weight are simply not severe enough. Even worse, there are no penalties whatsoever for being a “weight bully”.
Weight Cutting: The Bad
Evermore, the issues with weight cutting continue to worsen. There are two main drawbacks to the practice. The first is the logistical aspects. The second, more ugly aspect deals with athlete well-being.
Just this year, we’ve had two PPV main events affected by botched weight cuts. Both Rogerio Bontorin and Aspen Ladd were cut from the promotion because of botched cuts. BetMMA.tips compiled the data on weight misses, and it’s quite astounding. Of the 148 catchweight bouts in the UFC, the overweight fighter suffered defeat 53% of the time. However, fighters who were already favored before the weight miss pull off the victory almost 70% of the time.
This says nothing of the impact on the card. Logistically, this creates an inherent need for backup fighters for championship bouts, and the commissions begin to get involved. UFC 274‘s main event was almost scrapped when Charles Oliveira missed weight. UFC 229 had three replacements for Tony Ferguson before NYSAC approved Al Iaquinta. We all remember the chaos of UFC 279 when Khamzat Chimaev could not make weight.
This is compounded by the lack of scientific methods behind the actual measurement. The commissions are entirely in control of the measurement but fail in three key aspects:
- The use of the same scale for each fighter guarantees a lack of calibration by the end of the weigh-in period.
- One commission member reads the scale. While extremely accurate when calibrated, sliding scales are open to interpretation. What is half a pound, really?
- If UFC scales do not match commission scales for the above reasons, the athletes simply can not know whether they will be on weight when they are formally weighed in.
Weight Cutting: The Ugly
As if the logistical issues are not reason enough to try end weight cutting, the impact on fighters can not be understated. Severe weight cutting makes concussions measurably worse, and it significantly lowers your ability to take a shot. Kamaru Usman told Joe Rogan that while he’s never given birth, he has to imagine that the pain is comparable.
When an elite athlete like Usman is cutting so much weight, it puts immense stress on their body. Not only do your cells begin to break down without water, but it also serves a very important role in ensuring safe concentrations of various substances within your body.
For example, muscle cramps are caused by a build-up of lactic acid. No water severely reduces your body’s ability to rid itself of this and other wastes. This is before we even begin to discuss the strain that it puts on your kidneys.
We all know the saga of Khabib vs. Ferguson being canceled five times, one caused by a botched Nurmagomedov weight cut. However, on the other side of that pairing, Tony Ferguson also suffered from his back-to-back weight cuts when he fought Justin Gaethje and never looked the same.
Dustin Poirier went from doing 25 minutes with Dan Hooker and KO’ing Conor McGregor twice to being gassed after three minutes against Charles Oliveira due to his twenty-something-pound cut. Yang Jian Bing, a ONE Championship fighter, died due to weight-cutting complications at 21 years of age. That he was so young should emphasize the dangers of weight cutting. He didn’t have a long history of cutting weight, he was in his prime.
The Five Feasible Fixes For Weight Cutting
As a result of Yang Jian Bing’s death, ONE Championship ‘banned’ the practice. However, there is a lot of speculation about the legitimacy and efficacy of their hydration tests. ONE claims that their test ensures athletes compete around their walk weight.
However, at ONE on Prime 1, Adriano Moraes missed weight and hydration, only to come back weighing less and more hydrated an hour later, leading to questions regarding the legitimacy of ONE’s claims. However, there are several other avenues beyond hydration testing. The California State Athletic Commission put together a ten-point plan in 2017 to attempt to curb the practice but can be condensed down to five points.
1. Physician Clearance
Fighters must receive clearance from a physician to fight at a given weight based on physiology, mandatory moving up if a fighter misses weight more than once, and policy changes to how matches are approved with emphasis on appropriate weight class. This is simply all stuff that should be in place already.
2. Add More Weight Classes
Add more weight classes. This is the one that faces the most backlash from promotions and the most support from fighters. On the one hand, it would dilute the value of being a champion, make double-champ status much more attainable, and also dilute the relevant talent pools. On the other hand, it would give fighters who are too big for one, but not big enough for the next somewhere to go. Scott Coker recently weighed in on it, and is open to the idea, but doesn’t want to be a trailblazer.
3. More Pre-Fight Checks
Continue early weigh-in practices to allow fighters to rehydrate, and a second check on the day of the event to ensure athletes have not re-gained more than 10% loss. This one is complicated.
On the one hand, it ensures transparency and accountability, as was most recently seen at UFC San Diego, when Tyson Nam was told to move to 135 permanently or else permanently lose his license. It also suggests a urine gravity test and physical before the bout, but as discussed previously, this is fallible but should be standard practice.
4. 30- and 10-Day Weigh-In Checks As In Boxing For Title Fights
This suggests that MMA begin to mimic boxing, and institute weigh-in checks prior to high-level title fights 30 and 10 days out from the bout. However, there is fundamentally no reason why all high-level bouts can’t do this. We’ve seen Dan Hooker prove he can make 145 with a live video of the scales at UFC London just this year.
5. Increased Consequences For Missing Weight, But Make It Easier To Change.
This one is simple. Allow the athletes more flexibility in their divisions, but ensure they understand there are consequences if they do miss weight. It could also include incentives for making weight and providing a healthy urine sample. Make it unattractive to be a weight bully, and punish those who flaunt the rules.
What do you think should be done about weight cutting? Or should we simply let fighters figure it out for themselves.