UFC: Is Switching Weight Classes Really the Answer for Struggling Fighters?

Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IIAugust 14, 2012

Aug. 7, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; UFC fighter Tim Boetsch (right) punches Todd Brown during the light heavyweight bout in UFC 117 at the Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Tim Boetsch made his UFC debut in early 2008 as a member of the light-heavyweight roster. After an unimpressive 2-2 run, The Barbarian was released from his contract and sent back to the independent leagues.

In the summer of 2010, Boetsch received an invitation to rejoin the company. Not faring much better the second time around, the NCAA wrestler won his return contest, but was shut down by Phil Davis in his sophomore effort.

In six UFC contests, he was unable to put together a pair of consecutive wins and prove that his contract was deserved. Where could Boetsch go from here? 

After consulting with his coaches, Boetsch decided that a run at middleweight could be in his best interests, and boy, was he right.

Compiling a flawless 4-0 record since making the move, Boetsch has bested Ultimate Fighter winner Kendall Grove, previously undefeated Nick Ring and world-ranked competitors Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard. These days, the Barbarian is the No. 6 ranked middleweight in the world.

Likewise, Brian Stann is another fighter who had a less-than-stellar run in the UFC light-heavyweight division, but has breathed new life into his career by cutting weight. Other fighters who have dropped in weight in hopes of getting a fresh start include Urijah Faber, Martin Kampmann, Mike Swick and Demian Maia.

The wrestling mentality is that a fighter should be competing at the lowest weight that his body will allow him to compete. With incredible advances in the science of weight cutting, fighters are able to compete in divisions as much as 50 pounds lower than their walking weight.

However, just because you can get yourself to a particular weight does not mean that it's the best place for you to compete. Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian and James Irvin have all worked their way down to a division in which their bodies were drained.

Were they competing against smaller competitors? Absolutely. But were they doing their best? Not a chance.

Irvin came into his middleweight debut badly dehydrated and resembled Skellator. Clearly, the former light-heavyweight did not have the energy to compete and he was quickly stopped in the first round by gatekeeper Alessio Sakara.

Sapping your body of fluids is riskier than simply coming in at less than 100 percent. Dr. Johnny "The Fight Doc" Benjamin has talked about the long term dangers of weight cutting.

“Weight cutting has been harshly regulated in wrestling, but it hasn’t been in the UFC. There are some very serious health concerns with weight cutting. The one everyone thinks about is kidney damage or kidney failure. Some people think it’s not a big deal, but go to a dialysis centre and spend an hour there and watch people get every drop of blood taken out of their bodies and ask them how it is to do that three times a week just to live. The other thing people don’t think about is your brain is at risk because water makes up 97 percent of the cerebral spinal fluid, the fluid around the brain that cushions it from blows. So anytime you lose mass amounts of water, you lose cushioning around the brain, and now you ask Vitor Belfort to punch you in the face—it’s a bad combination. “

Conversely, fighters like Rich Franklin, Jake Shields and Randy Couture have packed on additional pounds in hopes of improving their roster spot after failed attempts to capture (or recapture) a championship in their natural weight class. 

Chael Sonnen is considering a move to light-heavyweight after a pair of failed bids to capture the middleweight championship from Anderson Silva. Former champion Rich Franklin made the same move nearly four years ago.

Randy Couture jumped up to heavyweight in 2007 when he recognized that the division was weak enough for a smaller-statured athlete like himself to utilize superior technique in order to negate a size disadvantage. That being said, each division has a collection of legitimate contenders, and a move of this magnitude is unlikely in the competitive climate of today's MMA.

In terms of packing on weight, sometimes it is necessary. As his body continues to grow, Jon Jones will be unable to make the 205 pound limit. The same story goes with champions Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz and their respective divisions.

What does all of this weight switching mean? Is a different division the way to go for someone who is struggling to make a name for themselves? Or is this simply the MMA version of "the grass is always greener?"

As fighters look for a competitive advantage inside the Octagon, you can expect fighters to continue changing divisions. Is it the best solution for a struggling fighter? There is no cut and dry answer. However, so long as fighters like Tim Boetsch and Martin Kampmann continue to find success in lighter divisions, you had better believe that others are going to follow suit.