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Combat Sports Insider: Solving extreme weight cutting is easier said than done

Anthony Johnson’s failure to make weight at UFC 104 has renewed concerns about weight cutting in the sport and prompted pundits to make suggestions about how to rectify the situation.

One of the more respected and authoritative voices out there to tackle the weight cutting topic was special columnist Dr. Johnny Benjamin.

I respect Dr. Benjamin’s expertise and believe his recommendations come from a good place. And I am in no position to question the medical positions taken in the article. However, as someone who has worked behind the scenes in the industry in multiple roles, I do believe I can address some of the recommendations he has made from an MMA perspective.

As such, I wanted to address some of the recommendations made by Dr. Benjamin in his article that was published on Junkie this past Wednesday.

“All standard fight agreements must be signed at least 45 days prior to the scheduled event.”

This is a little idealistic. The fight game is an industry that is always in flux. The only thing that is consistent in MMA is inconsistency. Leading up to a fight, competitors are going to get cold feet and will incur injuries during training. The reality is that there will always be a need for last-minute replacements, which often creates less-than-ideal timelines for fighters to cut weight in a healthy fashion.

Major promotions like the UFC and Strikeforce could adopt such a policy and abide by it because their fight cards have depth. Losing a major fight hurts, but in most cases, both promotions have enough fights booked that the show could go on. However, smaller and mid-level promotions would have to cancel entire cards in certain situations if they were hit by a rash of injuries and could not seek out last-minute replacements.

Additionally, some smaller shows don’t even set their finalized card until three weeks out before an event.

“No fighter may enter into a fight agreement weighing greater than 10 percent over the agreed upon weight limit. For example, the agreed-upon weight is 171 pounds. Therefore, each fighter can weigh no more than 171 pounds + 10 percent (188 pounds total) to sign the fight agreement.”

In Dr. Benjamin’s defense, he clearly states that many of his recommendations are ones that can be implemented quickly or easily. However, I see some major flaws in this proposal and not sure this recommendation could ever feasibly be implemented.

First, it would cost a great deal to implement it. There is a cost to a promoter every time they work with a commission in promoting an event. Inspectors are part-time government workers that must be compensated for their services. There is a cost to hold a day-before or day-of weigh-in and by essentially creating another weigh-in procedure, you add to the costs of putting on an event. More costs in promoting event could cause a lot of smaller promotions to fold, greatly reducing the number of opportunities a fighter has to get exposure and experience.

I am making a leap in suggesting that commission officials be involved with enforcing that fighters cannot weight greater than 10 percent over the agreed upon weight limit, but who else can we trust to ensure a fighter’s weight is accurate? Sorry, but the honor system won’t cut it.

Additionally, I am not sure how this recommendation would help. If you tell a fighter he has to weigh 188 lbs. in order to sign to compete at a weight contested at 171 lbs., it creates a scenario if he is over 188 lbs., he will simply cut to 188 and balloon back to his normal weight once he re-hydrates. So now you’ve created two weigh-cutting days: the 30-day weight cut in addition to the day-before weight cut.

“On the official day of weigh-in, if a fighter is more than 1 percent overweight, the fight cannot take place. Since the promoter is the employer, the promoter will be fined by the sanctioning body.”

A promoter cannot be held accountable for a fighter not making weight. Perhaps you can hold a fighter accountable for promoting a fight in which a fighter is more than 1 percent overweight. However, how is that fair to the opponent who made weight? What if the fighter who made weight and trained for 10-12 weeks is still willing to take the fight if financial arrangements can be made?

I don’t know of many promoters that would compensate a fighter in full if their fight was canceled due to the fact that they weren’t in a position to allow a last-minute catchweight fight from occurring. Some promoters might be kind enough to give the fighter who made weight their guarantee, but no promoter is going to give a win bonus.

“On the official day of weigh-in, if a fighter is less than 1 percent overweight, he or she can be given additional time to make weight. If on the second weigh-in, the fighter remains overweight, a financial penalty can be levied and paid to the on-weight fighter, at his or her discretion.”

Give a fighter a pound, and they will take a pound. If a fighter competing at 171 lbs. knows they can cut to 173 and change the day before, re-hydrate a bit, and then cut a little more the next day, they might be tempted to intentionally try and use it as a loophole.

Additionally, such a scenario could allow a fighter to also intentionally play psychological warfare on an opponent who made weight the day before. When a fighter shows up at the weigh-in and they see their opponent, they get “into the zone.”

Once both fighters make weight and the faceoff happens, they enter into what I call “the quiet before the storm” phase. The fighter re-hydrates and eats and begins to try and put as much weight back on as possible. They offer enter into a relaxed state. However, if their opponent fails to make weight and there is uncertainty whether they will be fighting the next day, this can cause a great deal of anxiety for a fighter. Usually, the uncertainty doesn’t last all that long and the fighter goes to bed the night before the fight knowing their fate. However, I couldn’t imagine trying to sleep the night before a scheduled fight not knowing whether I would be competing the next day.

“All weigh-in dates (bout agreement day and 30-day check) will be video monitored by live computer webcam and recorded. Each camp will watch the other camp calibrate the scale and weigh in over live video webcam stream (Skype). The sanctioning body will monitor the weigh-in in a similar fashion.”

With all due respect to Dr. Benjamin, the notion of a weigh-in taking place without a commission official in person is one that I find disturbing. I’ve worked shows and have been present at weigh-ins where fighters have tried to cheat the scales with a commission official standing right before them. Yes, there are little tricks that a fighter with the help of his cornerman can use to manipulate a scale while they are standing on it. I shudder to think what type of chicanery would take place with video weigh-ins.

The reality is that while the current system that exists for weight cutting is imperfect, it’s the most logistically feasible. MMA is a real sport and not some circus sideshow. And like with any other sport, every true competitor is going to explore every way possible to get an edge on the competition. Set a guideline, and someone will always invent a way to circumvent the system and exploit it.

Some State commissions have tried to cut down on extreme weight cutting in MMA by implementing same-day weigh-ins. Personally, I hate this concept because fighters are still going to cut weight. By making them weigh-in the same day as their fight, you’ve created more hurdles for them to cut a lot of weight, but you’ve also decreased the time they have to re-hydrate. Additionally, you give a fighter who decides to “punt” (i.e. deliberately not doing everything in their power to make weight) more leverage in trying to force their opponent to accept a catchweight (because a promoter has no time to find a replacement).

The only true way to cut down on extreme weight cutting is a solution the vast majority of MMA fans don’t want to hear about: more weight classes. Boxing is a sport with weight requirements in which extreme weight cutting is not as prevalent as it is in MMA. My theory is that this is because the disparity in weight between divisions in boxing is not as great as they are in MMA. Am I saying there should be as many weight classes in MMA as there are in boxing? Most certainly not. However, with more and more athletes taking up the sport of MMA, it might not be a bad idea to explore the addition of one or two new weight classes to help bridge the gap between the 185 lbs., 205 lbs. and heavyweight divisions.

The 20 lbs. gap between middleweight and light heavyweight is huge. I am not so sure the notion of adding a cruiserweight class with a minimum weight of 186 lbs. and 200 lbs. while making a new light heavyweight class between 201 lbs. and 220 lbs. is a bad one. By adding a cruiserweight division, you not only eliminate the 20 lbs. gap between middleweight and light heavyweight, but the 65 lbs. gap between light heavyweight and heavyweight.

The other avenue to explore is stricter discipline enforced by the commission in regards to a fighter who fails to make weight. In the eyes of many, a fighter is only as good as their last fight. A strong performance after failing to make weight can makes fans and promoters overlook that winning fighter had an unfair advantage. If a fighter fails to make weight, give his or her opponent an option to accept a catchweight. However, once the fight is over, why not suspend the fighter that failed to make weight for 4-6 months? Additionally, if a fighter is a repeat offender of failing to make a specific weight, why not ban them from being licensed to fight in that division?

  • fanoftna33 says:

    This is a great look at Dr Bens story from practicle side of things. Although the Drs. changes look good on paper they will never be implimented in MMA.

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  • moosebaby02 says:

    “The 20 lbs. gap between middleweight and light heavyweight is huge. I am not so sure the notion of adding a cruiserweight class with a minimum weight of 186 lbs. and 200 lbs. while making a new light heavyweight class between 201 lbs. and 220 lbs. is a bad one. By adding a cruiserweight division, you not only eliminate the 20 lbs. gap between middleweight and light heavyweight, but the 65 lbs. gap between light heavyweight and heavyweight.”

    I love this idea Sam. I can see it now a year long elimanation tourney to see will be crowned the next Cruiserweight Champ. Plus it gives more room for the middle weight HW to fight for something other that getting pounded by guys like Brock, Carwin like monsters

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  • Pajamashark says:

    I totally agree with fighter suspensions for not making weight. It’s part of their job, and figuring out ways to cheat the system should not be rewarded.

    Inserting cruiserweight class is a great idea and should be done immediately. There is NO reason that one weight class like the heavy weight devision, should span almost 60lbs.

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  • Vogairian says:

    I still think the best way to stop extreme cutting is to have same day weigh-ins and if a fighter comes in over you cut 75% of his overall purse.

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  • beef says:

    “On the official day of weigh-in, if a fighter is less than 1 percent overweight, he or she can be given additional time to make weight. If on the second weigh-in, the fighter remains overweight, a financial penalty can be levied and paid to the on-weight fighter, at his or her discretion.”

    “…loophole…. psychological warfare…”

    I don’t exactly see where you see these things coming into play. The way I read this recommendation, things would essentially be the same as they currently are when a fighter is over the weight limit: They are given extra time (a couple of hours) to cut and try again. Are there currently instances where they are given overnight to do so? Can they currently play psych games or work a loophole?

    Your other points are valid as far as the potentially prohibitive difficulty and cost associated with increasing the number of weigh-ins.

    What I don’t understand is why the organizations simply don’t have a calibrated scale outside of the ring and have the fighters weigh in just before they enter the ring/cage (as a part of the usual pre-fight check). If they are above 10% (for instance) of the the contracted weight then they are fined and/or they surrender a _significant_ portion of their purse. I can’t offer up an exact number but the current 20% standard doesn’t seem prohibitive enough. It could even be made into a sliding scale (for instance, 30-100% financial penalty depending on how much overweight)

    Yes, fighters may still try to cut weight and maybe try to fight in inappropriate weight classes but they would surrender to pretty serious disadvantages to do so. I feel that these disadvantages and the increased likelihood of losing would be very strong deterrents to attempting to cut too much weight.

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  • kenonbass says:

    We don’t need more weight classes. Look what happened to boxing.

    The current way they do it, although it doesn’t seem like it, is for the fighters safety. That’s why we don’t see same day weigh ins. This way a fighter can rehydrate before a fight. If they go into a grueling fight w/out being rehydrated it poses the highest risk for serious injury.

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  • Angry Mike says:

    Imo, a fighter’s failure to make weight is as bad as using perfomance enhancing substances, especially if the fighter makes huge cuts to fight in a lighter weight class. It puts the opponent in a no-win situation because he either has to back out of the fight and anger the fans and the org. or fight against an over-size opponent. That happened to Hughes when he fought Alves, and it also happened to Neer when he fought Tibau last weekend. The size of Tibau and Alves was a major advantage in their fights, and definitely affected the outcomes. I understand the advantage of cutting down to fight smaller opponents, but if you don’t pull it off–and ATT fighters fail to make weight on a consistent basis–it’s cheating. Either the org. or the sanctioning body should take the pressure off the fighters. If a fighter doesn’t make weight, he either doesn’t fight or pays a substantial penalty to his opponent. And a loss to an overweight opponent shouldn’t affect a fighter’s record or standing.

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  • edub says:

    Angry Mike: it also happened to Neer when he fought Tibau last weekend

    Neer was overweight too Mike. Thats why he wasn’t asked to cut that extra pound. I actually think Tibau wouldve been able to cut that last pound easier than Neer that extra half pound. Neer looked near death at the weight in.

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  • Screenplaya says:

    Two changes are in order: Day of fight weigh-ins, and changing the weight classes.

    1) If fighters have to make weight as they enter the cage, they will not be cutting. No one will want to fight while severely dehyrdrated. Or they will cut, and enough big but exhausted and dehydrated fighters will lose, that they will learn that cutting doesnt work anymore. Make fighters not want to cut. That is surely the most effective means of stopping cutting.

    2) I definitely do not want the see MMA follow the boxing plan of adding a zillion weight classes, but I am in favor of adding a pair of them.
    Welter – 155
    Light – 170
    Middle – 185
    Light Heavy – 200
    Heavy – 225
    Super Heavy – 250
    Over – 280 (I love the idea of having an “Over Weight” world champion. ;-)


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  • HonorableAggression says:

    Personally, I think the issue is mostly about fighters making incredible and dangerous cuts to be a giant at the lowest possible weight class (aka Anthony Johnson and his 215 lb. self), and not facing stiff enough penalties. Six pounds overweight 24 hours before the fight is *insane*, no matter what the reasoning. I do think taking away the ability for the fighters who don’t make weight to earn “of the night” bonuses is a step in the right direction. I also like the sliding scale idea, as someone else already mentioned, that the percentage over you are is directly related to the percentage of your salary you give to the other fighter. Same day weigh-ins are interesting I’ll admit but I think that’s a rocky road.
    I tend to disagree with adding a weight class, but I will admit, Brock and company are making a strong case for it!

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  • Angry Mike says:


    I don’t know about that. Neer has substantially less muscle mass than Tibau, so I’m not sure that Tibau could’ve cut easier. It’s beside the point for me, anyway. I haven’t made a scientific study of it, but it seems to me that ATT fighters have more problems making weight than any other gym. Huge cuts to fight at lower weights are a big part of their game plans, and if they don’t make weight it’s an unfair advantage, especially after re-hydrating with iv’s and pedialite. So far they haven’t really paid a price for missing weight, so they don’t have a big downside for coming in heavy. And it puts the other guy in a bad spot, which is punishing the victim. At the risk of sounding like a six year old, it’s not fair.

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  • Scott H. says:

    Great Article Sam!

    I think it’s interesting to reduce some of the Gap’s in weight, and higlighted some specific way’s to do so. With respect to the standard 15 lbs. between weight classes, would you be in favour of lowering it (say to 10 lbs.). While I don’t think anyone want’s to create a boxing type scenario of weight classes, and champions you can’t keep track of, is there a better way to do things?

    My quick thought, 2 new classes, narrowing all gaps between the weight classes
    265 Super HW
    225 HW
    205 LHW
    190 Cruiser Weight
    180 MW
    170 WW

    If you wanted, this could also extend to the lighter weights, sya 150, 142.5, and 135. Would 7 UFC classes, and three lighter weight classes be to much to follow? Are there engough good fighters to fill these’s classes? I think could be done.

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  • Madmax says:

    To Angry Mike:

    Watch what you say bout johnson and fighters who dont make weight not being allowed to fight. I said the same thing in another thread, and got worn out by Big Bad Bull. He’s a fighter, dontcha know, and is an authority on these matters. So, be careful, or I’m sure the Big Bull( and others) will be flaming you too.

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  • Madmax says:

    BIG BAD BULL####, where are you, we need you to enlighten these guys about 6 lbs not being an unfair advantage, from a FIGHTERS perspective

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