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 411mania » MMA » Columns

The Science of Weight Cutting
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 09.04.2014

Greetings, 411mania readers. It is I, your friendly neighborhood 411 Jack of all Trades, Jeffrey Harris. For this week's MMA Zone column, I wanted to take a look at the massively controversial issue of MMA of weight cutting. The issue of weight cutting has long been a prevalent point of contention in recent years for the sport. This issue however became even more blaringly obvious with the failure of one of the main eventers, Renan Barao, to make weight. In fact, he became so ill cutting weight that he couldn't even make it to the fight. What's more? Henry Cejudo, an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling scheduled to make his UFC debut at UFC 177, also became sick making weight. This caused his fight against Scott Jorgensen to be removed from the fight card completely.

This is not the first time in UFC history that a title challenger has failed to make weight for a scheduled UFC title bout. Travis Lutter was the middleweight winner for season three of The Ultimate Fighter. That earned him a title shot against then-reigning champion Anderson Silva. When it came time for the fight at UFC 67, Lutter failed to make weight. The fight went ahead as scheduled, but the title was no longer on the line. For all title belts in MMA, both the champion and the challenger have to make the weight limit and are not given the normal one pound allowance. Even further back at UFC 56 in November 2005, Joey Riggs was scheduled to fight Matt Hughes for the welterweight title. Riggs also failed to make weight for the fight and it became a non-title bout.

The scheduled rematch between TJ Dillashaw and Renan Barao was cancelled after Barao was pulled from the card after he blacked out and hit his head during a difficult weight cut.

However, as far as I can recall for the ZUFFA era of the UFC and MMA, this is the first time a title challenger became so ill cutting weight that he could not make weight or make it to the fight. As a result, the UFC was forced to change opponents for the fight on only 24 hours notice. The only man available for the job? Former Bellator featherweight and Tachi Palace Fights bantamweight champion Joe Soto, who was set to make his UFC debut in the prelims at UFC 177 against the also debuting Anthony Birchak. To the casual observers, it was like a chaotic comedy of errors. To hardcore fans, it was an absolute farce and mockery. Now I do not want to get into the quality or value of the card too much. Personally, I enjoyed the card. I'm of the belief that big names and stacked cards do not automatically make a great card. I've witnessed it firsthand. Personally, I had more fun watching this card than say UFC 148, which I attended live. Other than Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II, that card was nothing to write home about, but I digress.

The story goes that Renan Barao was struggling so much with his weight cut that he was soaking in a bath tub, he stood up too quickly and blacked out. After blacking out he hit his head. His team rushed him to the hospital and he could no longer cut any more weight. His team claims he was close to the mark or so. In his interview earlier in the week with Ariel Helwani, Barao seemed rather hesitant and dismissive of the questions about his weight cut. Apparently, he had a tough cut for his UFC 173 fight when he lost the title against TJ Dillashaw earlier this year. This was the first time Barao ever had an issue before. He'd fought many times under the ZUFFA banner and been a UFC bantamweight champion. However, this was a time where he was set to be the main event, and it was a crucial mistake on him and his camp. Going by Barao's interview with Joe Rogan, he cuts 10 kilos or about 22 pounds for his fights. I have no idea if Barao actually came in to Sacramento 22 pounds over, if he started camp even heavier, or just started dropping around 10 pounds in Sacramento. However, if he was trying to cut over 20 pounds in just a few days on fight week that is absolute insanity, especially for a man his size.

Anthony "Rumble" Johnson used to cut as much as 50-60 pounds in order to fight at welterweight in the UFC.

We hear a lot about the so-called "science of weight cutting." Fighters basically kill themselves in order to make weight. The training and the risk of concussion damage is bad enough, but weight cutting is a whole other risk that fighters seem to not take seriously enough. I know it is probably something fighters do not want to worry about during camp, but to have to cut 20 pounds or more just days before you go into a cage with another person who is trying to take your head off with knees, punches, and kicks is insane. And quite frankly, I do not think it should be allowed. It did not come until it was nearly too late when we realized how horrendous it was for Anthony Johnson to be fighting at welterweight. It was a weight he missed twice in his UFC career. He missed weight again moving up to middleweight. He tried to cut weight and his body nearly shot down. In previous interviews, Johnson admitted to being as high as 230 lbs weight weeks out before his fight. I'm sorry, but that's freaking insanity. Now, I believe a large part of Johnson's problems are his own fault. He himself admitted he got lazy a lot between camps and wasn't very disciplined. However, I think his fighting at light heavyweight is a smart move and probably is his natural weight class. He's clearly having success there, and he even fought as high up as heavyweight. More to the point, the fact that he actually used to make 170-171 pounds seems like absolute absurdity.

If you ever have the time, I highly recommend watching the James Feng documentary Fight Life. That will give you a good idea of the things fighters are doing right before their fight in order to make weight. They are basically torturing themselves to deplete their bodies of water and dehydrate themselves right before a fight. Even when a fighter has worked himself to the absolute bone and there is almost nothing left, he still has another pound and a half to lose. Weight cutting has been a part of combat sports forever. It's a part of amateur wrestling at almost every level. It's a part of boxing as well. I think weight cutting will always be a sort of issue to watch out for, but I think there needs to be major reform and regulation for it now before someone in the UFC messes up so far and kills themselves. Leandro Souza, a lesser name fighter died cutting weight before his scheduled bout with Shooto in Brazil. Souza was also reportedly using banned diuretics for the bout in order to make weight. PEDs are also a major issue in this support, but so are banned substances like diuretics fighters also use to try and help with their weight cuts.

Ultimately, what should happen is that fighters need to be more sensible about their weight cuts. Meaning not cutting down 20 pounds two days before their fights. I am still flabbergasted that Jake Shields admitted that cut 20 pounds two days before his UFC debut fight with Martin Kampmann. Why would you want to put your body through that right before your UFC career? Daniel Cormier seems to do this the right way. There were a lot of question marks surrounding his move down to light heavyweight. This was where he was supposed to be fighting during the Olympics, except he tried cutting weight and his kidneys shut down and he almost died. The difference? Cormier is not dehydrating himself and trying to drain himself out in two days. He diets down across his training camp. As a fighter, it's a willing sacrifice he makes because its his job. Cormier has made weight at 205 pounds twice without incident. He had absolutely no trouble dominating in the cage either. I think other fighters throughout MMA could learn from his example, instead of trying to just dehydrate yourself two days before a fight and then gain 20 pounds back overnight.

Kelvin Gastelum, another UFC fighter who has had issues with cutting weight.

This probably does not sound feasible, but just as I suggested regulations of training camps due to this massive injury epidemic, the UFC and commissions probably need to consider regulating weight cuts as well. Meaning fighters should be weighed twice during fight week. They should not be allowed to lose or gain more than a certain amount of weight, say 10-15 pounds. Again, as an outsider, cutting that much weight may not sound like much, but if Barao is blacking out and cracking his head open when he's not even at 135 lbs, it shows that extra two pounds can be deadly. And if fighters cannot diet down in time without trying to cut a lot of weight, then they should try competing at their natural weight class. If that doesn't work, then they should probably consider retirement.

Also to be perfectly clear, I think it's the fighters that have to be held accountable for this. If they cannot make the weight, they have to suck it up and just say it is impossible and move up. Fighting and making weight is their job. Passing the medicals and drug tests is part of the job. If cutting weight is a science, just don't cut that much weight in three days. It is not worth destroying your kidneys and making your head more susceptible to a concussion.


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