Documenting The Tolls of Rapid Extreme Weight Cuts in MMA

This Post was originally published in 2014 but is frequently updated.  Scroll down to read through a lengthy list of documented injuries and deaths from rapid extreme weight cuts.  If you are aware of other incidents that should be added to this list feel free to contact me with details.

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Following UFC 177, an event which had headliner Renan Barao yanked from his title bout following a difficult weight cut, UFC President Dana White was asked whether this is a sign that the UFC can or should do anything to get involved in this process” referring to rapid extreme weight loss (“REWL”) practices which are the norm in MMA, to which White responded “Nobody’s ever been hurt from it, I mean, there’s only so much we can do“.

This reminds me of Senator Moynihan’s famous quoteEveryone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

The truth is athletes have been hurt as a result of rapid extreme weight cutting practices.  A few examples include –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update March 3, 2019After losing to Diego Sanchez at UFC 235 Mickey Gall admitted “I passed out during the weight cut and my body shut down in the first round.

In a subsequent interview Gall admitted to suffering kidney failure and at hospital he was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis

Update August 10, 2019Aspen Ladd, after looking ill at weigh ins and then regaining 17% of her body mass on fight day, was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission from competing at bantamweight pending documentation from physicians.

Update August 28, 20196 fighters who competed at UFC 241 were told  by the California State Athletic Commission that they need to move up in weight class after gaining more than 15% of their body weight back from the time of weigh ins to competition.

Update September 6, 2019The UFC’s Zak Cummings admitted that he feared for his life during his weight cuts to welterweight before choosing to move up a weight class.

Update September 10, 2019 – In a study recently published in the Journal of Hypertension titled “Acute Effects of Weight Loss by Dehydration on Renal Function in Mixed Martial Arts“, the authors followed an MMA athlete who underwent rapid extreme weight cut practices in MMA.  The authors noted the following potential kidney issues “it was observed that the athlete presented some abnormalities during the body weight loss / gain cycle as glycosuria, non-reversible positive leukocyturia and proteinuria within 24 hours, elevated serum creatinine (1.3 mg / dL) and urea (42 mg / dL) during the peak of dehydration (day of weighing and fighting). Blood ureic nitrogen / creatinine ratio (15.8) and creatinine clearance (126.1 mL / min) were elevated during the three moments of observation, namely 30 days pre-fight, day of weighing and fighting. Elevated creatinine clearance suggests renal damage with increased filtration rate with possible renal damage from dehydration.

Update September 10, 2019 – In a study recently published in the Journal of Sports Sciences for Health titled Weight Loss Behaviours in Brazilian Mixed Martial Arts Athletes the authors interviewed 179 pro MMA fighters and the data revealed that “Brazilian professional MMA athletes commonly undergo weight loss procedures through harmful and illegal methods regardless of sex, weight class, although international level athletes demonstrated weight management behavior that was found to be even more aggressive.

Update October 17, 2019this week Sean Woodson noted that he underwent a 24-pound weight cut that he had to complete in just 4 days in order to take a short notice fight on Dana White’s Contender Series.  The weight cut left him compromised with Woodson noting ““It was the hardest thing that I’d ever done in my life. I don’t ever want to do that again…Making that drastic of a cut on such short notice, I knew that my cardio took a big hit from that.”

Update November 7, 2019Today ESPN reports that Rudson Caliocane suffered a brain stem ischemia last month following a fight in Brazil and as a result has left sided paralysis.  According to the article “Caliocane’s neurologist informed him that the ischemia was a result of an extreme weight cut, not the actual fight, which Caliocane lost to Matheus Mendonca by unanimous decision. Davis said Caliocane cut more than 15 pounds in a single day to make weight for the bout, likely via severe dehydration.

Update November 14, 2019Hailey Cowan had to withdraw from her co-main event for LFA 78 after being hospitalized during her weight cut.  In an instragram post Cowan noted she will move up in weight class as a result of this.

Despite White’s quote, in reality the UFC is well aware that harm does come from REWL practices.   For proof you simply need to fast forward a mere twenty minutes in time from the post event press conference to the subsequent media scrum.  Here White acknowledges the harm suffered by Barao noting as follows “When they come in we weigh all of them so we have a good idea where everybody is and know where they are.  What happened this time, and don’t quote me on this…is he got to (138 pounds) and that was it, his body shut down and wasn’t cutting any more weight…He was 138 when he feinted and it wasn’t even a feint, what happened is once you deplete all the electrolytes in your body you basically become paralyzed.  That’s what happens.  You become paralyzed and you can’t move any of your limbs.  They had to come and call 911.

White goes on to suggest that athletes alone have the responsibility to make weight.  While it is true that professional athletes do bear responsibility for their actions promoters cannot turn a blind eye to dangerous practices that take place under their nose.  The UFC knows exactly how much their fighters weigh when they arrive at their fight location the week prior to a bout.  In turn this means the UFC knows exactly how much weight their athletes are going to attempt to lose and as illustrated by the above examples these cuts are not always made safely.

Just as the NCAA fashioned safety measures following deaths from REWL practices in the 1990’s, promotions such as the UFC along with State and Provincial Athletic Commissions can fashion minimum safety measures to prevent further tragedies from occurring in MMA.  At a minimum, adding hydration metrics when athletes make weight can go a long way in addressing dangerous cuts.  Whatever the solution, ignoring the problem and saying “nobody’s ever been hurt from it” is not the answer.


39 thoughts on “Documenting The Tolls of Rapid Extreme Weight Cuts in MMA

  1. Good points. You can now add Charles Oliveira to your list.

    Implementation of NCAA type regulation regarding weight cutting would of course require rigorous monitoring and enforcement. Who is going to do that?

    I can see why the UFC is not interested. They are a business, and whatever they might say about how much they care about their fighters, at the end of the day they care about their bottom line more than they do about anything else. They are now spending lots of money on enhanced drug testing, and weight cutting is probably the last thing on their mind.

    The fact that the UFC knows how much their fighters weigh the week before a fight is not very helpful. After all, every fighter is different. There are those Gleison Tibau types who can cut around 30 lbs the week of the fight and feel (relatively) fine doing that.

    I think State and Provincial Athletic Commissions should lead the way. The big question is: Do they have the resources to monitor and enforce new weight cutting requirments?

  2. Thanks for your comment. I agree Athletic Commissions should be on the front lines addressing this issue.

    I don’t profess to have all the answers but it seems that NCAA type regulation with all of its expenses may not be the only possible solution. I would think adding a hydration requirement during weigh ins can go a long way to address the ills associated with REWL.

    If a device such as a refractometer was used during weigh ins and athletes were required to not only make weight but to do so while meeting an agreed upon level of hydration the landscape can be overhauled for the better.

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