If you are unfamiliar with what weight cutting is, it is the process where fighters drain body fat and body fluids (mainly water) in order to make weight to meet the requirements of their contract where they must make a specific weight in their weight class. Failure to make weight is seen as unprofessional and lazy and is not tolerated, fighters who have made weight are given the chance not to fight the person who failed to make weight as they have broke the contract. The UFC deducts their fighters pay by 20% if they fail to make weight.
Fighters cut weight so the can weigh in at a lower weight and have a competitive advantage when they rehydrate and gain size and strength. For example, if two fighters agree to fight at 170 lbs and one walks around at that weight but doesn’t cut any weight for the weigh ins but his opponent walks around at 190 lbs, if that opponent successfully weighs in at 170 lbs and rehydrates successfully they then have a 20 lbs weight advantage on their opponent come the fight.
Fighters cut weight using different techniques. They will start with a pre cut during training camp where they will try and shred away as much body fat as possible, whilst trying to maintain muscle mass. A week before the fight, fighters will drink large amounts of water so that there is an extreme amount of water in their bodies. They will also cut at carbs in this process whilst continuing to prepare for the fight. The fighters will then cut large amounts of water weight, some will use cardio, often with layers of clothing to drain more sweat. Others choose to use saunas and wrapping themselves up in towels to drain the water. During the morning of the fight whilst heavily dehydrated, fighters will stop drinking fluids completely.
After weighing in fighters were able to rehydrate themselves using intravenous fluid where they could insert water into their bodies, hydrating themselves quickly and safely. This would get them back to a state of normality where the bodies would now cooperate and be in good health. However, the UFC has now brought in USADA a strict drug testing policy which has banned the use of intravenous fluids because it can mask the use of steroids. This has made rehydrating much harder and fighters may not fully be hydrated when in the ring or octagon. When you take into account that their bodies are not fully hydrated and they are getting punched into the head and body it makes things even more dangerous. If a fighter has ‘dry brain’ and then takes 50 blows to the head, well thats just a recipe for disaster.
Weight cutting is extremely dangerous. Fighters are putting their bodies and organs through a monumental amount of stress. They are risking their lives. In the UFC a fighter named Vitor Belfort kicked a fighter so hard to the head he has now lost sight in one of his eyes, it was later found out that Belfort was using steroids, as a result he was banned and the UFC now uses very strict drug policies. In 2016, MMA fighter Joao Carvalho died after his bout in Ireland, as a result Ireland’s Minister of State Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring issued a pledge to regulate mixed martial arts in Ireland. At the time of Carvalho’s death there was no governing body for professional MMA in Ireland. In 2013, Brazilian MMA fighter Leandro Souza died after suffering a stroke in a sauna while trying to lose 15 kg in one week. China’s Yang Jian Bing was only 21 years old when his weight cut led to a fatal heart attack in 2015. There has yet to be any action taken to reduce casualties due to weight cutting and there is still no regulatory body to oversee it.
To show you how much these fighters drain their bodies here is UFC champion Conor McGregor weighing in at 145 lbs and here he is at his normal weight of roughly 170 lbs.
UFC commentator Joe Rogan is massively against weight cutting and has previously labelled it as cheating. “Weight cutting is dangerous, there’s a reason they weigh in the day before the fight; it gives them a chance to rehydrate. It’s crazy. Let’s call it what it is. It’s kind of cheating, but it’s cheating that everybody does. You’re allowing someone to pretend they’re 155 pounds. Motherf**ker, you’re not 155 pounds! You look at Gleison Tibau (picture below) and it’s like, ‘Dude, you are not a 155-pound fighter. You’re just not. I understand that you can get onto that scale and it can show 155 pounds, but that is for the briefest window possible.’ As soon as guys get off the scale, they suck on pedialyte, they drink coconut water and do whatever they can to get fluids back into their system, and they’re f**king dying. I just think that bringing your body to a state where it’s almost dying just a day before you’re going to fight is f**king crazy”.
One way to control this is to get rid of weight cutting altogether, but that’s simply not possibly. Combat sports stars are the most competitive there are and probably want to keep the advantages they have even if it means draining their bodies. But weight classes have to remain, to keep control and to have championship belts so these athletes have a reason to fight besides money.
Boxing doesn’t struggle with weight cutting issues as much as MMA as they have a lot more weight classes. In the UFC there are 20 lbs between some weight classes, fighters only options are to either cut a dangerous amount of weight or face fighters much bigger than them. They don’t have to have as many divisions as boxing with only 3 lbs between them, but adding a 165 lbs, 175 lbs and 195 lbs division could prevent more fighters dying due to weight cutting. The UFC must follow the regulations boxing uses and add a few more weight classes before they have a high profile weight cutting death within their ranks.
UFC Weight Classes (Strawweight is female only)
Boxing Weight Classes