The Dangers of Weight Cutting

The weight cutting process that has tormented fighters for years is something we regularly overlook and take for granted. We have witnessed many a fighter who have put their bodies through torture to make weight for fight night. First of, let me explain what weight cutting entails: It is the process of losing weight days/weeks before a sporting competition. There are two types of weight cuts: one includes losing fat and muscle in the weeks prior to the event and the other is losing water. Dehydrating and hydrating the body when it comes to fight week is a core part of the method. This approach has seen many a fighter tax their bodies to make weight, leaving them mentally and physically drained by the time they step into the octagon. Fighters go 19-20 hours prior to a fight without any food or water and constant trips to ice baths and saunas to flush themselves of water.

Conor McGregor at 145 lbs and 168lbs – Bloody Elbow

Extreme weight cutting through dehydration and immediate rehydration can cause kidney, brain and heart problems but despite knowing these risks MMA fighters including Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey are just two stand out names that have openly admitted to using this system. The process of dehydration and starvation has become a training camp ritual for all fighters. We’ve seen so many examples where these athletes have compromised their own long-term health to make fights. One of the biggest contributing factors to this non-sensical behavior is the continuously reinforced success this method has had over the years. Two striking examples of athletes that have put their health on the line to either successfully or unsuccessfully make weight for a bout in recent times are: Cris “Cyborg” Justino and Leandro Souza.

The Impossible Drop

The biggest story to come out of the countless weight cut stories must be Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino. Her scheduled fight on UFC Fight Pass against Lina Lansberg was highly anticipated by many UFC fans but her journey to the fight was less than smooth. With four days to go, Cyborg needed to lose another 24-pounds which by anyone’s standard is close to impossible to do in a safe manner.

“I am heavy – I am a heavy girl. Usually, I weigh about 170 [pounds]. The UFC doesn’t have my division. I’ve been fighting for 11 years, and I’ve had to drop a lot of weight to be able to fight in the UFC.” – Cris Cyborg, Excelle Sports

Cris Cyborg at three different weight divisions – MMA Mania

The 31-year old’s former nutritionist put her on birth control to aid in her weight cut and admitted that she found the cut very challenging and taxing for her. Dr Edmund Ayoub, vice president of the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP) has spoken about the dangers of weight cutting and has condemned Cris Justino’s unsafe weight cut:

“She’s cutting nearly 20 percent of her body weight – that’s an unprecedented amount of weight. She’s not gonna be able to even partially recover, even with the longer time. In theory, is an earlier weigh-in better? Absolutely, because she’ll have an extra eight hours to recover. But she’d need weeks to recover from that, in order to rehydrate from that type of weight cut. Not hours – weeks. So it’s very dangerous.”

– MMA Fighting

Cris Cyborg has considered her future at the UFC because they are unlikely to introduce a higher weight class for their women fighters. The UFC only recently introduced the women’s featherweight division (145lbs weight division) for Cris Cyborg but reportedly turned down two title fights against Holly Holm and Germain De Randamie. She admitted her refusal was down to the fact that she needed more time to recover and that her last weight cut almost killed her. The video below shows a glimpse of the process that Cyborg went through.

Major Cause For Concern

In 2013, Leandro “Feijao” Souza passed out and died before appearing for the Shooto weighins in Brazil. He had taken up a fight on short notice and had to lose 33 pounds in a week to make weight. It was reported that he had taken Lasix, a dietary pill that aids weight loss just 2 days before the weigh ins. His aunt, Elma Caetano reveled he was using the drug just days before, after she spoke to his training partners. Souza was two pounds over weight and took the pills in order to make the limit. Shooto president Andre Pederneiras claims that Souza’s death had nothing to do with his drastic weight cut.

That could have happened to anyone,” Pederneiras said. “It unfortunately happened on a day that all the fighters were losing weight.  But that has nothing to do with (him cutting weight). We will wait for more exams, but (the doctors) already said that he suffered a stroke.

– MMA Fighting

It sounds quite ridiculous that one of the main causes of his death were not due to the 33 pound weight cut in just 7 days. With the regular sauna trips, a stroke does seem plausible but ultimately it was the high amount of weight cutting that required an obscene amount of sauna trips.

Rumble Trouble

Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson failed to make weight for his fight at UFC 104 as a welterweight and subsequently failed to make his debut at middleweight against Vitor Belfort where he missed weight by 12lbs. His doctor advised him to not cut any more weight and he was dropped by the  UFC. He eventually debuted at light-heavyweight in the UFC after struggling to make middleweight at the Titan championship.

Is There A Way Out?

After looking at these three examples of fighters either fighting for their lives or passing away, it shows how dangerous these weight cuts can be. Not only does it cause long and short terms health issues but ruins fight promotions with last minute cancellations and disappointed fans. If more time was given to fighters to make weight or create more weight divisions that allowed these athletes to fight at a natural weight class, more time could be spent studying fights, analyzing performances and being mentally prepared. More stamina and strength would give us fans, a lot more competitive fights. We might lose out on seeing Cyborg who is such a gifted and tremendous athlete. The difficulty in which her last weight cut went could cause her to retire if her next weight cut goes awry. Till then, all we can do is hope that these promotions realize how dangerous these weight cuts are and come up with an amicable solution.

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