twitter google

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?