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?
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.