Making Weight, Fighter Safety and Avoiding Tragedy

Posted: May 7, 2013 in Safety Studies, Uncategorized
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In a competitive world it often pays to take initiative instead of simply being reactive.  The same holds true in the world of regulation.  It is important to introduce forward thinking legislation instead of waiting for a tragedy to occur before bringing legal change.  This leads to today’s topic, rapid weight loss in combat sports and foreseeable tragedy.

MMA, as with all weight-restricted sports, comes with a risk that athletes will subject themselves to rapid weight loss techniques in order to make their fighting weight.  These ‘brutal weight cuts’ are well documented at MMA’s highest level.  This in turn leads to many MMA athletes fighting in a dehydrated state.  This comes with increased risk of fighter injury including increased risk of traumatic brain injury.  With this in mind it is worth examining the justification for weight classes in the first place and discuss whether fights following rapid weight loss should be tolerated.

As MMA has grown in popularity so has legislative oversight of the sport.  These two developments go hand in hand with a proper legal framework helping legitimize the sport in turn creating a foundation on which the sport can grow.  One of the first regulatory developments which has helped legitimize MMA in the public’s eye was the introduction of weight classes.  At their core, weight classes exist for fighter safety.  The risk of injury grows with weight discrepancy among athletes.

Appreciating that fighter safety is the core reason behind weight classes, rapid weight loss is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed. Failing to address this issue undermines the entire foundation underlying weight classes.

Studies show that rapid weight cutting (ie- more than 5% of body weight) lead to increased participant injury risk in combat sports.  As noted by Dr. Benjamin, a simple solution to address this issue is to require certain weight metrics from 30 days out from a fight.  The MMA community should not wait for a tragedy to occur, as did in the 1990’s with NCAA wrestling, before addressing this issue.  Unless safeguards are built in some athletes will continue to undertake dangerous methods to make weight.  Stakeholders in the MMA community, be it event organizers or legislative bodies, should take proactive steps to address this reality.  Not only will this result in competition more reflective of an athlete’s ‘true’ weight, it will promote fighter safety.

Which jurisdiction or organization will have the foresight and initiative to address this issue first?

Dr Benjamin Tweet Re Making Weight

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Update May 8, 2013 – the above article was republished at MixedMartialArts.com  and also at BloodyElbow.com where the stories have developed a fairly lengthy comments thread.  Feel free to also visit there and join the discussion.

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Comments
  1. These are grown men and professional athletes that know the risks. I understand this is a canadian blog and I understand this is in your nature to want to legislate everyone right away

  2. EMagraken says:

    Thanks for your comment. I disagree that I want to ‘legislate everyone right away’. That said, legislative reform is one of the factors that helped MMA grow in popularity and mainstream acceptance over the past two decades. There is certainly a place for legislative overview in the sport and regulation is always a work in progress. I support regulation that enhances participant safety provided it does not impact the integrity of the sport. Weight cut reform can achieve this.

    There is no need to wait for a tragedy to occur before the issue of fighting following severe weight cutting comes up for scrutiny.

    I would suggest that many, but far from all, participants in MMA and other weight restricted sports know of the risks. Knowledge about the hazards of fighting while dehydrated continues to develop and as it does legislative reform should keep up with the times.

    Cheers.

  3. Ole Solvik says:

    Let them do the weigh in on fight day too.. that would make the fighters actually fight in their weight class. And it would be safer, I don’t think any fighter would do some crazy weight cut right before a fight. On some weigh ins it looks like fighters are about to pass out because of dehydration.

  4. [...] another health related front, attorney Erik Magraken in his CanadianMMALawBlog.com argues that if there isn’t some serious reform of current weight-cutting practices, MMA could [...]

  5. [...] another health related front, attorney Erik Magraken in his CanadianMMALawBlog.com argues that if there isn’t some serious reform of current weight-cutting practices, MMA could [...]

  6. [...] another health related front, attorney Erik Magraken in his CanadianMMALawBlog.com argues that if there isn’t some serious reform of current weight-cutting practices, MMA could [...]

  7. Mitch Clarke says:

    I understand that fighter safety is the number one concern but one thing that I know is not everyone can cut weight. You seem to give the impression that anyone , athlete or otherwise is just able to shed 20+ lbs in a matter of hours. This isn’t the case, some people don’t have the know how, the body type, the dedication etc to be able to cut weight, let alone rehydrate properly and then compete. This is one thing I dislike about people talking about weight cut reform. Most people who discuss it, have never done nor have they seen the process when it’s done properly. I’ve done in several sports; judo, wrestling , bjj and Mma. When I’ve done my process for Mma it’s the best I’ve felt. Just my two cents but my concern is a lot of people don’t understand what goes into proper weight cutting

  8. EMagraken says:

    Mitch, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your insight. I am certainly under no delusions that “anyone is able shed 20+ lbs in a matter of hours”. Quite the contrary. Given this, and given the safety concerns raised by Dr. Benjamin and other knowledgeable physicians the point I wish to raise is that a discussion focused on reform is worthwhile.

    If real medical risk comes with the process it is worth questioning whether reform is possible without undermining the integrity of the sport.

    Thanks for visiting and for your feedback.

    • Mitch Clarke says:

      I mean this as best I can, how much research … hard research has been done with athletes, primarily high level Mma fighters, to see the effects of cutting weight and proper rehydration?

  9. EMagraken says:

    Thanks for your further comment Mitch. One recent study dealing with this issue concludes that there is a statistically significant relationship between increased injury risk and rapid weight loss.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17501865

    The above study dealt with Judokas.

    Here is a more recent study specifically focused on MMA concluding that “a significant proportion
    (39%) of MMA fighters are not successfully rehydrating prior competition and
    subsequently are competing in a dehydrated state”

    http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/asu/f/Jetton,%20Adam_2012_Thesis.pdf

  10. […] previously highlighted this issue which led to a good discussion here, and further at Bloody Elbow and at the […]

  11. […] Earlier this year I discussed the dangers of drastic weight cuts in combat sports asking which jurisdiction or organization will have the foresight and initiative to address this issue first?   Unfortunately the answer was none and it appears now that the sport has a weight cut related fatality on its hands. […]

  12. […] what steps are stakeholders prepared to take to address the risks that come with this practice?   I have previously addressed this topic and while I don’t have all the answers I know that turning a blind eye is not one of them. […]

  13. […] As previously discussed, rapid extreme weight cut practices are a largely unregulated part of combat sports.  These practices come with inherent dangers.  To date, State and Provincial Athletic Commissions  have been largely content to turn a blind eye to this problem with few regulated thresholds addressing these practices. […]

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