The subject of cutting weight has always been controversial, at least for as long as the mainstream public has been aware of the practice. The criticism heaped upon weight cutting is almost on par with the overwhelming disdain for MMA judging, finger-less gloves and fighter pay. The rampant use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is probably the only hot-button issue more loathsome.
While the UFC’s partnership with USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) is the most significant action taken by a fighting organization to eradicate PED abuse, they’ve done little to put an end to the unhealthy and unsustainable act of rapid weight loss, known as weight cutting. The only step that the UFC has taken was the ban on IV re-hydration which does not allow fighters to re-hydrate via intravenous saline bags after weighing in for competition. It’s a gesture that implies Zuffa’s desire to address the problem, but the ban does little to deter the practice and really only makes weight cutting more dangerous than it is to begin with. The only promotion to truly tackle the issue of weight cutting is ONE Championship.
On December 23, 2015 they unveiled their new weigh-in policy, which essentially states that a fighter’s weight will be constantly monitored in order to ensure that they compete at their natural a�?walk arounda�? weight. ONE FC’s Yang Jian Bing, a Chinese fighter just 21 years of age, passed away December 11, 2015 while cutting weight ahead of ONE FC 35. Rushed to the hospital after collapsing from heat stroke, his cause of death was acute myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack. Read the official autopsy report here.
ONE FC CEO Victor Cui told the MMA Media, a�?ONE Championship is leading the way for enhanced safety standards for professional MMA athletes. We believe that with the implementation of this program, our fighters will enjoy a safer and healthier life inside and outside of the cage. I invite the other two major global MMA organizations, Bellator and UFC, to follow in our footsteps to protect athletes and to eliminate the process of weight cutting by dehydration.a�?
That ONE FC took such drastic measures in response to a fighter’s tragic death should come as no surprise, but the question of whether it will solve the problem remains. The Sports Post caught up with several professional MMA fighters to gain perspective from the individuals whose careers are affected by these kinds of decisions.
A few of them think it’s good for the sport, including Ultimate Fighter contestant and Bellator middleweight Bubba McDaniel. a�?I believe it will make it safer for guys in hard spots between weight classes like I was; I’m a giant for 185 but too small to compete at a level I want to compete at. In the 205-pound division I don’t have the muscle mass needed,a�? he said.
a�?I’m definitely for the ONE FC plan if we get newer weight classes. I feel like cutting weight took years off of my life, given everything I was doing to get ready for a weigh-in. This sport has taken more than just the years I competed. I’m concerned for future problems I may have as well.a�?
Former World Series of Fighting Lightweight Champion a�?Notoriousa�? Nick Newell shared McDaniel’s sentiment about ONE FC’s new measures, saying, a�?I think it’s good. It encourages a healthy lifestyle and safety. I typically cut around 20 to 25 pounds over a period of about two months.a�?
Newell’s process is a better example of healthy weight loss than it is of weight cutting, per se. For an athlete to lose 25 pounds in 60 days is a testament to discipline, proper diet and exercise that differs greatly from the act of a�?cuttinga�? weight. It’s when a fighter attempts to lose 15 or more pounds in around 24 or 48 hours that it becomes a completely different scenario and is indeed very dangerous.
Many athletes spend several days or even weeks starving themselves, abstaining from water and spending hours inside a hot sauna trying to squeeze every last drop of water weight they can manage to sweat out. There comes a point of diminishing returns and one has to wonder if the supposed advantage a fighter hopes to gain is a mere illusion. For example, if a fighter competes at 170, then it’s likely his natural weight outside of training camp is in the 190s. By the time he drops 20 lbs. to weigh in, he’ll be somewhere in the mid-180s 30 hours or so later. But, if that person’s opponent does the exact same thing, don’t the respective sacrifices cancel each other out?
Some fighters see it differently, like Ultimate Fighter winner Colton Smith, who told the Sports Post, a�?Athletes have been cutting weight for hundreds of years. Whether it be as a jockey or an Olympic Wrestler, athletes look for any edge over the competition. MMA is no different. Promotions should educate athletes on proper weight cutting and more importantly, how to re-hydrate. Whether through a fighter summit or utilizing funds to hire weight cutting gurus like George Lockhart or Dan Leith, fighters need to be educated on the subject.a�?
One might think experts would have the process down to a consistent and well-supervised science given that this is still a staple of modern MMA, but that’s not the case. Even at the championship level, disasters have reared their ugly head time and again. Current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier, was forced to withdraw from the 2008 Olympics when he fell victim to severe dehydration. Hours after reaching his target weight, he was hospitalized and nearly died of kidney failure. In August 2014, Renan Barao, the former UFC Bantamweight Champion had to pull out of a scheduled rematch with TJ Dillashaw after being hospitalized on the day of weigh-ins. The same thing happened in 2015 when former UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks was removed from a scheduled bout after being hospitalized due to complications endured while cutting.
Hendricks hasn’t fought since pulling from the Tyron Woodley bout and his upcoming opponent Stephen a�?Wonderboya�? Thompson was critical of him when we spoke with him. a�?It’s definitely a huge disappointment,a�? he said. “We’re professionals and we need to act like professionals. In his last fight he wasn’t really focused on weight, like he didn’t care, which is why he didn’t make weight. To cut as much weight as he does, walking around at 220a�� trying to make 170 is dangerous.a�?
Between the hospitalizations, cancelled bouts and now a fighter’s death, there’s more than enough evidence to support the need for a major overhaul in the rules regarding weight cutting. The California State Athletic Commission recently held a summit with the discussion centered on the issue. Big John McCarthy was in attendance and commented on his podcast about it. a�?We have to change the culture. Sometimes you have to take action when you know there’s a problem and we know there’s a problem. Something needs to be done in a systematic way.a�?
Joe Rogan had some ideas about how to improve the situation when he spoke about it at a UFC Fan Expo, saying a�?I think weight cutting is very dangerous. I would love to have an intelligent way to eradicate it from the sport, but I don’t know what that is.a�? On his podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, he elaborated on possible solutions saying, a�?The UFC needs to restructure the weight classes badly. Look at the jump between 170 and 205. It’s crazy. There should be three weight classes between welterweight and light heavyweight. The 125 lb. division through the 155 lb. are separated by ten pounds. Why is there such a big difference between the heavier weight classes? It makes no sense.a�?
ONE’s new program went into effect on the 23rd of January at ONE FC 37. As of now there has not been much feedback from any of the fighters, media, or MMA community as to whether or not the program is effective but there were no unfortunate incidents either. UFC and Bellator have neither commented on ONE’s policy nor have they given any statements about following suit or restructuring weight classesa��though both may be long overdue. It’s only a matter of time before another fighter in one of the top organizations succumbs to the dangers, hopefully it won’t take the death of another one to influence the major promotions to follow suit.