While it’s mostly blown over now after he gassed out and got choked senseless for his troubles in Brazil a few weeks back, Anthony Johnson shone a light on a notable issue in MMA these days: cutting weight.
Johnson has since been released, and with complete justification, as his loss at UFC 142 to Vitor Belfort marked the third time he’s been unable to make a contracted tipping of the scales. It even took place after he moved up a weight class to avoid such a folly.
However the issue at play here goes beyond Johnson, despite the fact that he’s the man most point to as an example of how extreme cuts can effect one’s well-being in and out of the cage. As the UFC grows and becomes more attention-worthy in mainstream sports, the promotion has to continue to develop wellness policies and support programs for its fighters.
They currently do a phenomenal job of caring for fighters, offering full-time health insurance, substance abuse support, countless performance bonuses and even some off-the-books bonuses.
One thing they don’t do, however, is monitor where an athlete is in terms of his weight between fights, during camp and leading into the weigh-in, and it may be something they want to look into going forward. This may seem like overkill to many, but there are a host of reasons the promotion should consider such an idea.
The first that comes to mind is the most obvious, that being health of the fighters.
No matter what anyone says, dropping 50 or 60 pounds over an eight week training camp is lunacy when you do it three times a year. The body isn’t designed to sustain that sort of punishment, and while it may be nice to have a size advantage over your opponent, it’s probably nicer to have functioning kidneys past your 30th birthday.
The second is the impact on matchmaking and the shuffling of cards. In the case of Johnson, he was fighting in the co-main event against one of Brazil’s greatest legends. He missed weight so badly that their “middleweight” fight ended up taking place at 205 instead. The thing is, fighters who have been contracted to make weight need to make weight.
Could you imagine the backlash if Johnson-Belfort was cancelled? Or if Belfort had been given some bum just going in there to be knocked out and grab a quick paycheck? Fans in the arena and around the world would have been furious that they paid for one fight and got another, or outright didn’t get one at all.
The third thing that comes to mind is the potential PR nightmare when something goes wrong with a drastic weight cut. And make no mistake, something will go wrong with one sooner or later. Johnson himself lost feeling in his legs and was forced to rehydrate in Brazil, and there are cases of collegiate wrestlers dying from cutting weight in the past. As mentioned, the body isn’t meant to go through drastic weight fluctuations and certainly isn’t designed to drain itself of all fluid for a period of time after rapidly shedding pounds daily for two months or more.
How would Dana White and his front office handle a fighter dying on his way to the scale? How would the mainstream media portray it? What would fans think? Many people already think that MMA is basically legalized homicide, what would they say if they knew fighters were literally killing themselves just to make it into the cage at a certain weight?
Make no mistake, I’m no bleeding heart hippie in sports or anything else. I understand that cutting weight is part of the game, as is living life between fights like a normal human being – which often means pizza, beer and a bit of a spare tire for some guys.
But there also needs to be some room to keep fighters in check in terms of weight, because if no one does there are serious risks to health and business that the UFC simply can’t afford.