With Tragedy At Hand, Weight Cut Reform Takes the Spotlight in MMA

Update October 7, 2013MMAJunkie just published an article with Dr Benjamin calling for specific weight cut reforms as follows:

  • Multiple, official, random year-round weigh-ins to establish every fighter’s “normal” weight
  • Fighters barred from competing in a weight class that’s lighter than 90 percent of their established normal weight
  • Short-notice (less than 30 days) fights cannot be offered to fighters greater than 5 percent of their weight limit
  • Fighter can be no more than 10 percent over the weight limit 30 days prior to date of fight
  • Fighter can be no more than 5 percent over the weight limit 10 days prior to date of fight
  • Utilize urine specific gravity via refractometer to assess hydration

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Update October 5, 2013 – Bloody Elbow results another MMA Weight Cut related health issue with Rodrigo Damm being forced out of UFC Fight Night 29 due to Kidney Issues caused by a drastic weight cut.

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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.

MixedMartialArts.com reports thatNova Uniao flyweight fighter Leandro “Feijao” Souza passed away while cutting weight Thursday for Friday’s ShootoBrazil 43 card in Rio de Janeiro. He was 26 years old.  Souza reportedly passed out in the sauna, and was transported to the hospital, where he was declared dead. He had two pounds to go to make weight.

An extreme weight cut related tragedy is a foreseeable risk given some of the current practices in the sport.  Leading MMA nutritionist and weight cutting expert Mike Dolce confirms that unhealthy practices are a reality in the sport providing the following comments on September 30, 2013’s edition of the MMA Hour “I always felt bad for the athletes that were cutting weight improperly, that were resorting to these dehydration techniques in order to make weight days before competition,  living on virtually zero calories days before weigh ins and competition.  A big part of it unfortunately is a misinformed coaching staff and team around them.” Dolce went on to comment on the unhealthy reality of the current system’s practice of weigh in’s and competition weight with the following comments “Weight cutting is not healthy and I’m the first to say that.  If it were up me to athletes would compete at their wake up weight, that’s when they open their eyes first thing in the morning, they put their feet on the ground, they use the restroom and then they step on the scale afterwards.  That’s the wake up weight.  That’s the ideal weight, that’s what you should weigh.

Combat Sports promotions and regulators need to acknowledge that dangerous practices exist and address the issue to avoid further tragedy.  The NCAA has managed to incorporate regulations which create safeguards against dangerous weight cut practices.  There is no reason why the professional combat sports community cannot adopt some of these or similar standards to allow weight classes to fulfill their intended purposes, namely enhancing participant safety.  Here are the NCAA standards:

1. PROHIBITED PRACTICES.

The use of the following practices is prohibited for any purpose:

vapor impermeable suits (e.g., rubber suits or rubberized nylon);

similar devices used soley for dehydration;

saunas (even off campus);

steam rooms (even off campus);

wrestling room over 75 degrees at start of practice;

hot boxes;

Laxatives (non-prescribed);

emetics;

excessive food and fluid restriction;

self-induced vomiting;

diruetics;

artificial means of rehydration (i.e., intravenous hydration).

Violators of these rules will be suspended for the competition(s) for which the weigh-in is intended. A second violation would result in suspension for the remainder of the season. Coaches aware of vioations are also held to these same penalties.

2. Establish a permanent healthy weight class early in the season.

An initial weight assessment must be completed for each wrestler no earlier than the first day of classes in the fall semester, trimester or quarter and no later than the start of the first official practice (144-day calendar). An exception is permissible for student-athletes participating in a fall sport. In this case, the assessment can be performed during their preseason physical examination. During the initial assessment, a wrestler’s minimum wrestling weight (MWW) will be determined. The MWW is the lowest allowable weight a wrestler can attempt to achieve.

3. Controlled Weight Loss until the first match at the certified weight no later than Dec. 15.

Once a MWW has been established, each wrestler has the option of modifying his weight until the permanent weight class is established prior to the first match at the certified weight (no later than December 15).

Numbers to know:

 

5% Lowest body fat for the MWW.

1.5% Percentage of weight you can lose per week over weight-loss time period.

1.020 Highest urine specific gravity measurement to assess or certify.

24 hours Time between specific gravity tests.

75 (F) Maximum workout room temperature.

4. Certify your weight.

Before you wrestle at your certified weight, you must complete Section II by passing specific gravity and weighing-in at scratch weight for the weight class at which you would like to compete for the rest of the year.

5. Stay at that weight for the entire season.

If you are on the roster at an NCAA institution, you must follow the rules for all collegiate competitions. This means even if you are red-shirting or wrestling in an open tournament when you aren’t with your team or coaches, you have to wrestle at your certified weight and follow NCAA rules. Once you certify, you have to weigh-in at that weight class for the remainder of the season, unless you decide to break your certification at the lower weight and weigh-in at the next higher weight class.

Moving up to wrestle at a higher weight class.

To keep your certification at the lower weight, a wrestler may weigh-in at his certified weight and compete at a higher weight class (no allowance permitted). By weighing in at your certified weight, you are still certified at the lower weight and can return. Should a wrestler weigh-in and compete at a weight class higher than his certified weight, the higher weight class will become the certified weight and the wrestler won’t be able to return to the lower weight, unless an appeal is granted under very strict circumstances.

Appeal to move down to a lower weight class.

Upon granting of an appeal, a wrestler could be permitted to re-certify to a lower weight (no lower than his MWW) only if a vacancy exists in the lower weight class caused by season-ending injury, academic ineligibility, or the certified wrestler at the lower weight class is no longer enrolled at the institution. A vacancy means there are no other wrestlers on the roster certified to compete at the weight class.

6. Weigh-ins.

Location: A private, secure area at the site of the meet or in an adjacent building limited to contestants, coaches and required personnel.

Time:

Dual Meets: One hour prior to first match.

Tournaments: Two hours prior to the first matches on the first day and one hour or less before the first matches begin on subsequent days.

Weight Allowance: Granting weight allowances for a dual meet or tournament is prohibited, nor can a weight allowance be mutually agreed upon.

SUMMARY

The past three years have been a time of change for all those involved in the sport of wrestling. The committees believe these rules changes were necessary to allow skill and technique rather than rapid weight loss to become the tools for success. The changes were also consistent with the committees’ three guiding principles and existing statements of major medical and wrestling groups.

It is difficult to legislate safety. The wrestling community must consider and embrace the spirit as well as the letter of these changes, especially in light of the three fatalities experienced in 1997. These changes are not only in the best interest of the sport, they are also in the best interest and safety of the student-athletes.

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