On the sideline: Weighing the dangers of fighting routines


Photo courtesy of HARD KNOCKS FIGHTING

McGregor at his weigh-in at UFC 194 (left) vs. McGregor three months after at UFC 196.

Most people looking to lose weight  typically aim to lose around 10 to 20 pounds in a month. Competitors in combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts lose the same amount in about a week.

This method of weight cutting is known as weight manipulation, where fighters lose unhealthy amounts of weight before the official weigh-in to compete in a lower weight class against smaller and weaker opponents.

After the weigh-in, which is conducted a day before the match, the competitors will then rehydrate as much as they can to gain back the lost weight and strength associated with it—in most cases gaining back almost all of the lost weight.

An example of this is former light and feather weight champion Connor McGregor, who is currently listed at 154 pounds. At the offical weigh-in, a day before UFC 194, he weighed in at 145 pounds against Jose Aldo. Three months later, McGregor participated at UFC 196, two weight classes above his last. For the fight, McGregor officially weighed in at 170 pounds against Nick Diaz.

Fighters who routinely do this cut their careers short because of the detrimental side effects of constantly being lower than their natural weight. When fighters are extremely dehydrated, the body stops producing cerebrospinal fluid, which protects the brain from damage. In a sport where the most vital area to strike is the head, this dehydration doesn’t bode well for the fighters.

Khabib Nurmagomedov was hospitalized the night before his prize fight against Tony Ferguson in March 2017. As a result, the match was canceled, leaving fans in despair and promoters losing millions of dollars. Although weight manipulation is dangerous, the economic benefits are significant enough to convince many fighters to participate. A 10-pound advantage over the opponent can mean stronger hits and take-downs. And in a sport where one match has millions of dollars on the line, athletes and trainers will do anything they can to win. As a result, almost every fighter is forced to play the weight game, because not doing so will result in a fight against an opponent one or two weight classes above themself.

For the sake of fighters’ safety, organizations such as the UFC and WBA must  change their current policy of weigh-ins so that they are  conducted on the same day as the fight. Doing so will prevent fatalities for many fighters and help maintain a longer career.

Though this change may result in a few fights being canceled because of a competitor ruled ineligible to fight, in the long run, fighters will ultimately be able to display their true strength and skill at a much safer level.