ONE Championship Outpacing UFC, Rest of MMA with Safer Weight-Cutting Policies

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMarch 22, 2019

FILE - In this April 21, 2017, file photo, Philippines' Eduard Folayang raises his championship belt during an award ceremony after beating Malaysian-born Ev Ting in the lightweight Mixed Martial Arts title fight dubbed One FC (Fighting Championship), in Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. One Championship, the MMA organization out of Asia, is going global in 2019 and it's making the kind of moves that shows it plans to become a player in combat sports. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)
Bullit Marquez/Associated Press

It's become a running source of sardonic humor for MMA fans: How many fights will weight-cutting affect this weekend?

Most people talk about it through the lens of inconvenience. When a fighter clocks in over the required weight—or fails to reach the scales—an anticipated bout can be altered or scuttled. Most react to it in that Twitter sort of way—all the while knowing full well that it's all just a coping tool for something scarier, and that, inconvenient though it may be, we should probably all count ourselves fortunate.

The eye-rolls and chuckles conceal a relatively widespread understanding of the danger weight-cutting poses. Large or mismanaged cuts heighten the danger inside the cage by increasing the risk of concussion. But fighters often characterize the cut as being a kind of fight before the fight—a perilous, draining challenge.

Eight events deep into UFC's 2019 slate as of March 22, no fewer than eight fighters have missed weight before their contests. Additionally, both Marlon Vera and Tom Breese withdrew from fights just a few days or hours, respectively, before they were set to make the walk, in each case citing an unspecified health concern—always a strong hint that weight-cutting may have played a role.

More dramatic examples exist in the recent past. In September, UFC women's flyweight champion Nicco Montano was hospitalized the day before her first title defense and the fight was canceled.

Featherweight champion Max Holloway has repeatedly struggled with his cut—not so long ago startling broadcasters and viewers alike when he appeared sluggish and slurred his speech during a televised interview. 

These are all examples from the UFC, but no one believes weight-cutting is well-controlled in any setting. In fact, the UFC—with an assist from the state athletic commissions and other entities that help regulate the process to varying degrees—has a relatively solid record in this area. There are many worse instances elsewhere in the world—some that ended in tragedy.

Recently, during his weight cut, Brazilian fighter Alexandre Pereira Silva suffered a heart attack and later slipped into a coma, where he stayed for two months before experiencing what doctors and family termed a miraculous recovery, per MMA Fighting's Guilherme Cruz.

Sadly, it would not have been the first fatality in MMA because of weight-cutting. Chinese flyweight Yang Jian Bing died in 2015 reportedly because of weight-cut complications.

Sherdog by Mandatory @sherdogdotcom

One Championship Flyweight Jianbing Yang Dies Following Weigh-ins https://t.co/phKoRty4mG https://t.co/XjUz5w3Uc9

Yang competed for ONE Championship, the Singapore-based promotion that recently made waves by acquiring UFC stars Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez. Shortly after Yang's death, the promotion announced in December 2015 it would overhaul its weigh-in procedures. Now, ONE has emerged as a leader in the sluggish move toward a safer MMA environment. 

The new program, billed as the first of its kind in combat sports, bans weight-cutting through dehydration—the part of the process that allows for rapid weight loss while adding the most danger—and increases monitoring. Officials use urine-specific gravity testing to check hydration levels, and fighters are required to stay at their normal or "walking-around" weight throughout fight week up through the contest.

ONE Championship officials declined a request to discuss their weight-monitoring procedures.

However, veteran MMA trainer Alex Davis, who works at the vaunted American Top Team camp, had some nice things to say about the process last July. After he accompanied fighter Adriano Moraes to Macau, China, Davis called the weigh-in program "innovative" and "smooth" while recalling the experience for a story in MMA Junkie:

"Not only does every fighter have to be at an appointed weight, but they also must do a urine test to make sure the fighters are properly hydrated, as well. At first, this may seem complicated, but in reality, ONE has streamlined the process, The fighters know and understand the process and why they are submitting to it – their safety is the primary focus. You might think it would take a lot of people in order to make a weigh-in system like this work, but ONE has also proven to the contrary. The staff is a very small but competent group."

So far, new programs like this one have not caught on more widely. The fact is, as long as Fighter B is doing it, Fighter A feels he or she will need to do it, too—lest a substantial size advantage be surrendered.

In no small part because of that dynamic, it might take a body such as the UFC to institute a full ban. However, that would require the shapeless mass that is the nation's patchwork of athletic commissions to somehow agree to and enforce something in some kind of roughly similar way. People don't hold their breath too often when waiting for that to happen.

It is difficult, but ONE has shown that solutions can be efficient as well as effective, as the promotion works to make something good out of Yang's tragic death. Fighters, fans and others must be hoping that the UFC doesn't need its own tragedy to reach the same epiphany.


Scott Harris covers MMA and other sports for Bleacher Report and CNN.