The Fight Before the Fight: Weight-Cutting in Mixed Martial Arts

BARUERI, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 19: Renan Barao of Brazil poses on the scale after weighing in during the UFC weigh-in event inside the Ginasio Jose Correa on December 19, 2014 in Barueri, Brazil. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

When MMA fighters meet in the cage, they attempt to knock their opponent out with an array of punches, kicks, knees and elbows, or force them to tap out with painful submission holds from chokes to armbars. However, there’s a mandatory part of the sport that is arguably more dangerous than the fight itself: weight-cutting.

Fighters must make a certain weight one day before they compete in order to meet their respective weight class requirements. To do so, they cut weight, which entails artificial rapid weight loss through dehydrating themselves and sucking water out of their bodies in the days leading up to a fight. Fighters who fail to make weight are deemed to be unprofessional by fans and fellow fighters and are fined roughly 20 percent of their fight purse.

It’s not an easy process. Between dieting from about a couple months before the fight to sweating out their water just days before, fighters routinely lose around 25–35 lbs. Mixed martial artists have different reasons for cutting weight, but nutritionists, physicians, doctors and coaches regard extreme weight-cutting as an unsafe practice that constantly occurs in the sport of MMA. The process, if botched, has led to unconsciousness, kidney failure, hospitalization or even death for some of these athletes.

“It’s a dirty aspect of the sport.”

Between weigh-ins and fight time, fighters strategically rehydrate and regain most of the weight they lost in order to tip the scales at their weight class’ limit. For example, a welterweight who weighed 170 on Friday evening will be 190 on Saturday night. This has become the norm in all levels of MMA, different from when former fighter René Dreifuss competed on the New York regional circuit from 2004 to 2007 at 155 lbs.

“Weight-cutting has become an essential part of the strategy to win,” said Dreifuss. At 49, he is the head coach of Radical MMA in Manhattan and instructs a few amateur mixed martial artists. “At this point in MMA, it is something that you cannot avoid. It’s a dirty aspect of the sport.”

Dreifuss said he walked around at 165 lbs., as most of his fights had either same-day weigh-ins or no weigh-ins.

“It’s an integral part of fight strategy right now, but it is also something that I’m really conflicted about,” Dreifuss said. “I want my fighters to be safe. Obviously, we have to cut weight, but I really almost don’t want them to do it. We’re in this weird place where we have to.”

In today’s MMA landscape, fighters who don’t fight at a certain weight class face a size disadvantage. With skill-level being equal, size can be the determining factor in a fight to the point where the consensus is that fighters reach their “natural” weight class after cutting weight.

Ashley Cummins, a 32-year-old fighter for Invicta Fighting Championships, used to compete at strawweight (115 lbs.) in hopes that she’d manage to break into the UFC. The lowest women’s weight class the UFC has is strawweight, which meant Cummins had to compete against women naturally bigger than her to try and reach her goal.

She came close but lost via technical knockout to Lanchana Green on UFC reality show “The Ultimate Fighter” back in January 2016. Green was visibly the bigger fighter during the bout. After Cummins used her grappling to dominate the first round, Green was able to use her size and strength advantages to keep the fight standing in the second frame. Green delivered crushing knees that broke Cummins’ ribs, and Cummins lost her shot to reach the UFC.

That wasn’t Cummins’ first time suffering an injury in a fight against a woman bigger than her. In her first career loss in October 2012, Cummins’ vision went out on the first punch landed by her opponent, Joanne Calderwood. She fought on but was TKO’d a few minutes after. Cummins successfully underwent surgery to repair three broken orbital bones under her right eye.

She continued fighting at strawweight, but suffered three more losses in a row, including the eventual exhibition bout against Green. Then holding a 3–3 record after starting her career at 3–0, Cummins realized she needed to drop down a weight class to 105 lbs. — atomweight.

“I was just too small for the 115 lbs. division,” Cummins, who is 5’2”, said. “Every girl I fought was a lot taller, wider and stronger than me. I had the technique to hang with these girls, but I was getting out-powered size-wise. I knew if I wanted to continue in the pro level of the sport, I’d have to go to atomweight.”

Ashley Cummins
Ashley Cummins (Photo courtesy of Invicta Fighting Championships)

“Smashley” has since gone 3–2 as an atomweight, not including a win at a 110-lb. fight during her transition between the two weight classes. She holds out hope the UFC will add atomweight to its ranks so that she can finally accomplish her lifelong dream of fighting for the promotion but is chasing the Invicta atomweight championship in the meantime.

“The fact I know I’m fighting someone my size, I feel more powerful and that I can control the fight better,” Cummins said. “I can dominate more positions I couldn’t at a heavier weight class.”

While Cummins moved down to atomweight, Calderwood has since moved up to compete in the UFC’s 125-lb. division. Cummins said she surprisingly has an easier cut to 105 than she did to 115 thanks to an improved diet and working with her nutritionist, Teri Howell. Cummins is naturally around 120–123 lbs.

“People are getting so good at weight-cutting, the weight-cut is turning into the fight.”

Jordan Dowdy, a professional MMA fighter competing on the Midwest regional scene, finds himself between two weight classes: 170 and 185. Dowdy, 33, is 6’1” and about 200 lbs. Top-tier middleweights are generally in the 6’2” range and weigh around 215. Dowdy said he’s considered big for welterweight but small for middleweight. As a result, he can compete at middleweight on the regional scene against less-skilled competition but said he would have to drop down to welterweight if he wanted to compete for larger promotions. He’s not thrilled by the concept.

“I think it’s archaic and outdated,” Dowdy said of weight-cutting. “I think originally, it was a way to make sure people were on the same page. People are getting so good at weight-cutting, the weight-cut is turning into the fight.”

While fighters like Cummins and Dowdy cut weight to avoid being at a size disadvantage, some fighters discovered they were cutting more weight than necessary, which was not conducive to good fight performances. James Krause, a 6’2” UFC fighter who naturally weighs in the low-190s, used to compete at lightweight (155 lbs.), a weight class he was big in. However, in many of his recent fights, Krause has since moved up to welterweight, where he intends to compete going forward.

Krause, 33, pointed out past performances at lightweight and welterweight as case studies for weight classes in which he feels better competing. In January 2018, Krause fought Alex White in a lightweight bout and won a very close unanimous decision.

“I think that fight speaks for itself,” Krause said. “I fought like shit. I fought terrible. I think I was just stuck. I just felt slow, lethargic. I felt terrible to be honest with you.”

He then fought in August as a welterweight against Warlley Alves, a tough Brazilian prospect with a handful of good wins — Colby Covington, Alan Jouban and Nordine Taleb to name a few. Krause finished Alves with a second-round TKO with knees and punches. It marked Krause’s first win via strikes since May 2014 against Jamie Varner. He followed the Alves win up with a knockout of Sergio Moraes – also at 170.

“After un-objectively looking back, I legitimately perform better at 170 than I do at 155,” Krause said. “My cardio was great, my movement was good, my mind was good, I was having fun.”

Krause said he had more trouble making 155 against White than earlier in his career and attributed it to being older, having a family and the fact that he’s been a professional fighter since 2007. He added that he’s not as strong at welterweight compared to lightweight, but he makes up for that by being even faster in his new weight class.

CHICAGO, IL – JULY 24: James Krause steps on the scale during the UFC weigh-in at the United Center on July 24, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Krause isn’t the only UFC fighter who’s felt better in the Octagon since moving up a weight class. Louis Smolka, 28, moved up from flyweight (125 lbs.) to bantamweight (135 lbs.) and won his debut fight against Su Mudaerji via armbar. While the reasons for that were the UFC’s looming shutdown of its men’s flyweight division and Smolka taking the fight on short notice, he said he felt faster and more explosive since he wasn’t “depleting” himself to make 125.

“If the weight class was 124, I couldn’t make it,” Smolka said.

Alex Minor, a 27-year-old martial artist, said he cut roughly 20 lbs. down to 156 for a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match earlier in 2018. He said after his cut, he felt woozy, weak and lacked energy.

“You definitely don’t feel like your body is operating optimally,” Minor said.

Fighters are some of the most physically and mentally tough athletes on the planet; it’s almost a prerequisite in their line of work. Extreme weight-cutting, however, causes them a great deal of both physical and mental anguish. Cris “Cyborg” Justino, who’s 34 and the former UFC women’s featherweight champion, is shown in her 2016 biographical documentary film “CYBORG” to be crying and suffering while attempting to make 140 lbs for a UFC catchweight bout before the UFC created a women’s featherweight division. She now competes in Bellator and is fighting for the featherweight crown against Julia Budd.

“I should probably be hospitalized at that point.”

Dowdy, who cuts roughly 28 lbs. to hit the welterweight limit, detailed some of the physical and mental hurdles he encounters during his weight cuts. In order to lose weight before his water cut, Dowdy cuts his carbohydrate intake while controlling his portions, which he admitted makes him “feel like crap.” He says watching his emotions is then key, because being angry or stressed can negatively impact a weight cut.

However, the water-cutting part of the weight-cut is where Dowdy said it gets terrible. He starts to lose a bit of his vision and wants to slam every piece of food and liquid around him. He cuts roughly 15 lbs. of water after dieting down to about 185, which equates to nearly two gallons.

“I should probably be hospitalized at that point,” Dowdy said.

Jordan Dowdy (Photo courtesy of Shamrock FC)

There have been suggestions from the MMA sphere that promotions abolish their 170-lb. weight classes and introduce 165 and 175, which Dowdy said he would love.

“Those last five pounds are where all those voices in your head come in like, ‘Fuck this. This is the last time I’m ever doing this. I don’t know why I do this. This is the dumbest thing we do. I can’t wait ’til this part’s over.’”

Adam Cella, 34, is a pro fighter who competed on the Midwest regional scene and is a former UFC member. He used to compete at welterweight but finished the last few years of his career at middleweight. When Cella, who is 6’2” and walks around at 205 lbs., used to cut to 170, he cut roughly 17 lbs. of water. Cella explained trying to lose 10 lbs. of that weight on Thursday night before Friday evening’s weigh-ins, pointing out the final seven lbs. are more difficult to get off.

“The weight isn’t going to come off as easily because you’ve already put your body in a state of shock by sucking 10 lbs. of water out of it,” Cella said. “You’re extremely thirsty, you’re weak, you’re kind of delusional a little bit because you’re starting to get spacey. Mentally, it’s defeating. I’ll just say, ‘Fuck it, I’ll be heavy, I don’t care.’ I’ll have someone with me to motivate me.”

Adam Cella
Adam Cella celebrates a victory. (Photo courtesy of Shamrock FC)

If these fighters’ accounts of weight-cutting make it sound dangerous, that’s because it is. Dr. Frederick Kaplan, an internist based on Long Island, said severe weight-cutting through dehydration can cause a myriad of problems for the body. Kidney failure, weakened muscles, and lowered blood pressure, which decreases blood flow to the body’s organs, are all potential risks of extreme dehydration. Sodium and potassium levels can be altered to dangerous levels, which can cause confusion, seizures or rhythm problems.

“None of the functions of the brain will work as well,” Kaplan said. “Your speech may be a little off, your perception, your vision, your hearing. You can pass out or fall into a coma.”

MMA fighters make weight dozens of times throughout their careers, and if not done safely, Kaplan said there could be potential long-term effects — especially on one’s kidneys.

“It depends on whether there’s damage to any of the organs,” Kaplan said. “You may not be able to measure it at the time, but it can add up. These people are having high protein diets which is a strain on the kidneys. And then they’re dehydrating which is a strain on the kidneys. So, every time they knock off a few more kidney cells, they can be closer to kidney failure.”

According to a post by the Heart and Vascular Institute on UPMC, lower blood flow to the heart from dehydration can cause palpitations. Nicole Cutler, a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, wrote on LiverSupport.com that not drinking enough water can increase the blood’s thickness and make it harder for the liver to perform its detoxification abilities.

A lot of fights at the highest level of the sport have been cancelled as a result of a fighter struggling with a weight cut and being hospitalized.

Nicco Montano, 31, was supposed to defend her UFC flyweight title against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 228 on Sept. 8, 2018. Instead, the UFC medical team decided she had to cease cutting weight and that she required medical attention due to issues regarding her kidney function. Montano was hospitalized and stripped of her UFC title, which Shevchenko claimed against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 on Dec. 8, 2018.

Khabib Nurmagomedov, 31, was slated to fight Tony Ferguson for the UFC interim lightweight championship at UFC 209 back on March 4, 2017. However, the bout was cancelled when Nurmagomedov was taken to a hospital hours before the Friday morning weigh-in after experiencing undisclosed issues during his weight cut. Nurmagomedov was released from the hospital that same day but was deemed medically uncleared to fight.

“I feel I almost died,” Nurmagomedov told then-MMAFighting.com reporter Ariel Helwani on his old podcast, “The MMA Hour.”

Nurmagomedov has gone on to make 155 lbs without much issue four times since UFC 209, defeating Al Iaquinta for the lightweight title and defending it against Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier in the process.

Former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao, 32, was set to fight T.J. Dillashaw in a rematch for the title at UFC 177 on August 30, 2014. Barao fainted during the weight cut to 135 lbs., and Dillashaw defended his title against promotional newcomer Joe Soto instead.

Barao weighed as much as 160 lbs. on UFC Fight Night 88 fight week in May 2016 when attempting to cut to 145 lbs for his UFC featherweight debut, according to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. Barao, after starting his MMA career at 32–2, has since gone 2–7 since fainting at UFC 177.

Aspen Ladd was visibly shaking on the scale after making the bantamweight limit for her bout against Germaine de Randamie in July 2019 at UFC on ESPN+ 13. After showing up to weigh-ins at 135 lbs, Ladd weighed 159 lbs the next night at fight-time, Yahoo! reported. She gained more than 17 percent of her body weight in a day.

Conor McGregor, while never missing weight, used to cut to 145, where he served as UFC champion. He has since fought at 155 and 170. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, a longtime light heavyweight contender, used to cut to the welterweight limit. He is now considering a return at heavyweight.

LAS VEGAS, NV – DECEMBER 11: UFC interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor of Ireland weighs in during the UFC 194 weigh-in inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 10, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

While those examples of fighters experiencing weight-cutting issues led to cancelled UFC title fights, there are many more examples of fighters missing weight and looking dreadful stepping on the scale while doing it. However, in some cases, fighters have died due to extreme weight cuts.

Jessica Lindsay died from extreme dehydration in November 2017 at the age of 18. She was cutting weight to reach the 142-lb. limit for her second amateur Muay Thai fight when she collapsed while running near her gym in Perth, Australia, according to Perth Now. It was 30 minutes before Lindsay was supposed to weigh in for the bout. Doctors placed Lindsay in a coma, which she never came out of. Four days later, her family took her off life support.

Chinese professional mixed martial artist Yang Jian Bing, 21, died of severe dehydration and a potential heatstroke after cutting weight to fight Geje Eustaquio at 125 lbs. at ONE Championship 35 in December 2015. The fight was cancelled by the promotion one day before Bing’s death due to dehydration from the weight cut. He collapsed on the morning of Dec. 10, 2015 and was hospitalized at the San Juan De Dios Hospital in Pasay, Philippines, according to a statement from ONE Championship. He died the next day due to cardiopulmonary failure. The fight was supposed to take place on Dec. 11, 2015 in Manila, Philippines.

Rondel Clark died three days after his second amateur MMA fight, which was held August 12, 2017. He was 26. Clark, who walked around as heavy as 230 lbs. before working out to lose weight according to his sister, Tanigh Clark, cut down to the welterweight limit of 170 for his Cage Titans 35 fight against Ryan Dunn in Plymouth, MA. The narrator of a video on Clark’s death made by Books Media said Clark had nearly 10 lbs. to cut the night before the weigh-in. To cut weight, Tanigh said her brother worked out a lot and cut weight in a hot tub.

“We want to make sure that nobody ever goes through what we went through and what Rondel went through”

Clark lost the fight via third-round TKO but collapsed after the fight. He was carried out on a stretcher and rushed to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where he suffered from exertional Rhabdomyolysis, or the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue, for three days before dying. Tanigh Clark said it affected her brother’s kidneys first, and that blood transfusions were futile because his muscles were breaking down. From there, one organ after another started failing until Clark died of cardiac arrest.

Clark’s exertional Rhabdomyolysis was brought on by extreme exercise, but Dr. Kadhiresan Murugappan, who works at the hospital that attempted to treat Clark, believes it was the exercise compounded with the weight cut that led to Clark’s condition.

“Rondel is a finely-tuned athlete who was training every day, and on those days, he didn’t suffer exertional Rhabdomyolysis,” Murugappan said in the video. “The day that he suffered this profound problem was after he underwent a significant weight cut for a fight.”

After Clark’s death, several of his friends and family members created the Rondel Clark Foundation; its mission is to end extreme weight-cutting through education and regulation, as well as helping other families who are negatively impacted by extreme weight-cutting.

“We’re all still so devastated about his passing,” Tanigh Clark, the foundation’s secretary of the board, said. “We want to make sure that nobody ever goes through what we went through and what Rondel went through.”

She said the foundation tries to teach fighters’ families, trainers and the general public the effects extreme weight-cutting has on the body and how deadly it can be. On its website, RondelClarkFoundation.org, the foundation lists all the physical and mental effects weight-cutting could have on someone, shares the stories of Clark and his fellow victims, and has a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to weight management. The foundation has a donation button on its site and raises money with fundraisers such as flag football tournaments.

The Rondel Clark Foundation advocates for the universal adoption of the California State Athletic Commission’s 10-Point Plan, which was passed in May 2017 and enacted one month later.

MMA promotions must adhere to guidelines adopted by the state athletic commission of wherever they’re holding an event. California adopted a 10-figure plan regarding athletes’ safety when it comes to weight-cutting. The steps are as follows:

1) Athletes select the lowest weight class they intend to compete in, and the Commission follows up with questions related to dehydration and weight-cutting. Fighters then take a physical examination, and the licensing physician must certify that the fighter can safely make the requested weight class.

2) Fighters who fail to make weight are fined 20 percent of their show money, with half going to their opponent and half going to the Commission. They’re also fined 20 percent of their bonuses (including win money), which all goes to the fighter who made weight as a reward for fighters who take the fight against the larger opponent and lose.

3) The introduction of four new weight classes: 165 (super lightweight), 175 (super welterweight), 195 (super middleweight) and 225 (cruiserweight). They have since been approved by the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports and officially written into the Unified Rules of MMA.

4) Emphasizing the way matches are approved with a focus on appropriate weight classes.

5) Fighters who miss weight more than once are required to move up a weight class. They can only return to the weight class they missed weight at the discretion of a physician and approval of the Commission.

6) Early weigh-ins will continue (as opposed to evening) to give fighters the maximum time for rehydration.

7) A second weight-check is conducted the day of the event to ensure fighters haven’t gained more than 10 percent of their body weight back in the 30 hours between the official weigh-in and the fight. Fighters who gain over 10 percent back will be advised by the ringside physician that he or she should move up a weight class.

8) Ringside physicians test fighters for dehydration at both the official weigh-in and second day weight check.

9) For high-level title fights, combatants have their weight checked 30 days and 10 days out from the event.

10) Promoters, matchmakers, trainers and athletes are educated on weight-cutting and dehydration related to the offering, accepting and contracting of official fight bouts.

The full document can be read here.

“The fight should be the dangerous part of this activity,” Andy Foster, the executive director of the California State Athletic Commission, told MMAJunkie in a January 2018 interview. “The weigh-in should not be more dangerous than the fight. That’s just an absurd thing that’s happening, but in many cases, that has become the reality.”

In order to make weight-cutting safer, ONE Championship is leading the charge in its policies, which the promotion revamped less than two weeks after the death of Yang Jian Bing.

Its website says ONE Championship fighters must regularly submit their current walking weight and daily training weight via a web portal. From there, athletes are assigned to their weight class based on data and random weight checks. They’re forbidden from dropping a weight class less than eight weeks out from the event. Fighters’ weights are checked daily during fight week, and urine specific gravity will be tested for dehydration on the day the fighters arrive as well as three hours prior to the event; if an athlete falls outside the weight or fails a test, they’re disqualified.

For example, Ben Askren told Joe Rogan on his podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, that he fought at 185 lbs. when he was with ONE Championship. Askren competed at 170 lbs. when he fought elsewhere. Askren, a former ONE Championship champion, was traded to the UFC in October 2018, where he went back to competing at welterweight. Askren told Rogan that ONE Championship’s policies essentially forced its athletes to move up a weight class to curb dehydration-based weight cutting. The promotion even considers its 185-lb. division welterweight as opposed to middleweight, which is the case for all its weight classes.

“I think every MMA organization should do it,” Askren told Rogan, calling the system fantastic.

Fighters have also called for additional weight classes; specifically, the ones that the California State Athletic Commission added, but most top promotions don’t use them. Dowdy said he would like to see this scheme used for weight classes: 125, 135, 145, 155, 165, 175, 185, 195, 205, 225, 265. For women, 105 and 115 should be available as well at all top promotions.

Teri Howell, a certified weight-cut and rehydration specialist and founder of nutrition business Gut Uppercut, encourages fighters to hire a nutritionist who can assist them with weight-cutting to make the process healthier and safer.

“When you’re talking about your health, if you want to [compete] for a while and safely, it’s definitely worth the investment,” Howell said. “You don’t pick the bum up off the street and ask them to be your striking coach.”

Howell is based in St. Louis, MO, but works remotely with most of her clients. Some of the fighters she works with include UFC flyweight Gillian Robertson, UFC strawweight Mallory Martin, atomweight Ashley Cummins, bantamweight Tamikka Brents, PFL lightweight Bobbi-Jo Dalziel, Bellator featherweight Amanda Bell and plenty others.

She assists her clients with what meal preparation is and how to do it, making grocery lists, providing recipes and offering knowledge on how to cut weight and rehydrate safely. Cummins called Howell a “mad scientist,” which is fitting as Howell said she writes her fighters’ meal plans and beverages down to the gram or ounce.

“Anytime you mess with electrolytes and hormones within the body and you create an unsafe balance, it can definitely be life-threatening,” Howell said of the practice of weight-cutting. “It can be very scary. I’ve been in some pretty scary situations with fighters myself where they don’t follow the plan to the ‘T.’”

Some of the key safety issues Howell warned against is fighters completely cutting carbohydrates out of their diets and cutting their sodium intake 10 or more days out of the fight; that can be taxing on the body, as kidneys will stop urinating because they’re trying to hold on to as much sodium as possible.

“The trick is to trick the system for as short of a time period as possible,” Howell said. “My fighters are drinking two-plus gallons of water the day before we even try to sweat out any kind of water weight. You want the body to believe that it’s completely hydrated, and you want to put the body in that state of a little bit of dehydration for as short a time period as possible, get the weigh-in done, and then rehydrate exactly how the body needs it.”

When fighters starve themselves in order to make weight, it’s counterproductive, said Howell. When one’s body goes into severe caloric deficit, it believes it’s starving and tries to hold onto as much body fat, water and sodium as possible.

“[The body’s] going to hold onto all those key electrolytes that it needs to survive because it thinks it’s a life or death situation,” Howell said.

After Howell’s fighters make weight, she provides them information on the foods and drinks they must consume in order to get their electrolytes back to proper levels.

Rehydration is crucial to the weight-cut process; it’s how fighters get their body weight back up to par as well as ensure a good performance on fight night. However, there’s a reason why fighters tend to not reach their natural walk-around weight and peak performance level by fight time after rehydrating: it takes time.

“If you’ve ever tried to over-water something while the ground is really dry, the water doesn’t get absorbed properly,” Jacob Sherer, a physician based in Illinois, said. “Same thing with us.”

Sherer pointed out the extreme importance of rehydrating after weight cuts, which are rough on the body by nature. He says that muscles are 79 percent water, and fighters lose a lot of muscle mass when they dehydrate themselves.

“Think of a sponge that isn’t hydrated and how easy it is to rip and tear,” Sherer said.

This can also impact the brain. In a 2005 study titled “The Effects of Dehydration on Brain Volume-Preliminary Results” by Jon M. Dickson et al., it was suggested that dehydration may significantly increase the risk of brain damage after a head injury.

According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 39 percent of MMA fighters compete while significantly or seriously dehydrated.

Dr. Steven Sunderraj, a physical therapist at Recalibrate Physical Therapy in Manhattan, pointed out that’s particularly dangerous for fighters with a striking base. When two strikers compete, they’re more likely to land blows to the head, including a potential knockout.

Overall, fighters tend to see weight-cutting as a necessary evil to succeed at the highest levels of the sport. If they don’t cut weight like their fellow athletes, they end up at a size disadvantage on fight night; a natural 170-lb. fighter could fight a 190-lb. fighter in a sanctioned welterweight match-up. In a sport where athletes aim to batter one another, extreme weight-cutting has become the gravest aspect of MMA.

Many fighters, fans and pundits are hoping for weight-cut reform so fighters can compete at their natural weight without facing a size disadvantage. Unfortunately, there’s no immediate signs of most promotions overhauling the weight-cutting system. Krause and Dowdy agree with UFC lightweight Kevin Lee, who told MMAFighting.com’s Luke Thomas on The MMA Hour in July that “everybody is kind of waiting for somebody to die,” before any serious solutions are made.

A handful of fighters have died from weight-cutting, but Krause and Dowdy both feel it would take the death of a high-profile fighter in a major organization to spark serious weight-cut reform.

For now, what all fighters who cut weight can do is take precautions to do so in the safest manner possible, such as hiring a nutritionist or ensuring that they’re cutting a safe amount.

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1 COMMENT

  1. State athletic commissions could provide better deterrents, such as one or more of these:
    1. Increase the percentage of a fighter’s win money that goes to his/her opponent if the fighter misses weight and goes on to win. Make the penalty at least 50%, or even 100%.
    2. When a fighter misses weight, only the opponent who makes weight can get a win. If the overweight fighter wins, the fight is ruled an NC.
    3. Minimum 6-month suspension for any fighter who misses weight. Since most state athletic commissions recognize suspensions from other states, the fighter would effectively be barred from fighting anywhere (in the US) for that period.

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