MMA: The Dangers of Cutting Weight in Mixed Martial Arts

James MacDonald@@JimMacDonaldMMAFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2013

Courtesy of MMA Junkie
Courtesy of MMA Junkie

The process of cutting weight to maximise one’s physical advantages on fight night is something that we have come to take for granted. We have become so used to this pre-fight routine of starvation and dehydration that many of us no longer recognise its inherent dangers.

Fighters cut weight. That’s just how it is, and likely how it always will be.

I don’t mean to generalise, of course. There is a safe way to do it. People like Mike Dolce have demonstrated that there are ways to shed pounds without compromising one’s health or performance.

Unfortunately, too many fighters are willing to risk their long-term health for short-term convenience, by engaging in a process of rapid weight loss that is potentially ruinous.

There are countless past examples in both MMA and boxing of fighters who were either oblivious or indifferent to the hazards of taking an unscientific approach to cutting weight.

One major contributing factor to the propagation of this culture of haphazard weight-cutting is that it is continually reinforced by virtue of its relative ease and its superficial utility.

Fasting and dehydrating one’s body to the point of desiccation does allow fighters to get down to their contracted weight. What’s more, fighters often get away with it for years, which only serves to reinforce the behaviour.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

But when a fighter’s body is no longer willing to consent to the abuse, its protests are rarely peaceful.

Daniel Cormier’s well-documented plight prior to the 2008 Olympics has alerted people to the fact that Acute Renal Failure (ARF) and Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) are two potentially life-threatening and/or life-altering consequences that can result from rapidly divesting one’s body of fluids.

However, extreme dehydration also has potentially lethal neurological consequences. Depletion of the fluid that surrounds the brain not only renders fighters more susceptible to being knocked out, but it also carries with it the risk of more permanent consequences.

Indeed, the death of Korean boxer Duk Koo Kim in 1982, after his bout with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, has in part been attributed to his notoriously taxing weight cut prior to the fight.

The culture of weight-cutting is made all the more vexing by the fact that its advantages are mitigated by its sheer ubiquity.

While the aim of cutting weight may be to gain a physical edge over one’s opponent, the practice is now so commonplace that it is has become necessary just to compete on even terms.

The only way to truly gain an advantage in modern MMA is to cut even greater quantities of weight, which has the effect of exacerbating an already-virulent issue.

Some fighters have been known to cut as much as 50-60 pounds before fights. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson’s attempts to make 170 pounds were so extreme that one could have been forgiven for thinking that he was going for The Biggest Loser’s at-home prize.

Is there a sensible solution to a problem that has become so pervasive? The most common solution offered is that of same-day weigh-ins, but this would almost certainly compound the problem.

Fighters will always look to gain an edge on the competition. Introducing same-day weigh-ins won’t address the issue.

Rather, it will only make the process of weight-cutting even more unhealthy, as fighters will continue to dehydrate and starve themselves, yet they won’t have the benefit of a 24-hour recovery period.

The truth is that we are forced to view the issue from a libertarian perspective. We must respect the athletes’ right to do as they please with their own body so long as they are not harming anyone else.

For our part, we can seek to raise consciousness and make more people aware of the risks, in the hope that more athletes will be as rigorous in their approach to cutting weight as they are for all other aspects of their fight preparation.