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 quote “Everyone 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 –
- Canadian fighter Jer Kornelsen requiring CPR following losing consciousness during a cut
- fighter Jordan Murray requiring gallbladder surgery due to weight cutting
- Rodrigo Damm being forced out of UFC Fight Night 29 due to Kidney Issues caused by a drastic weight cut
- Nova Uniao flyweight fighter Leandro “Feijao” Souza passed away while cutting weight
- UFC Fighter Brian Melancon retired due to reduced kidney function attributed to the demands of REWL practices
- Daniel Cormier’s kidney failure, brought on by excessive weight cutting
- T.J. Cook suffered kidney failure in the ring
- Yoon Young Kim reportedly suffered a mild heart attack while cutting
- Ulysses Gomez was hospitalized after collapsing while attempting to make weight
- Marcus Davis revealed that a “tortured” weight cut nearly killed him.
- Three college wrestler deaths in a 6 week period due to weight cutting
- (update September 8, 2014) – Charles Oliveira reporting “high fever, headaches and vomiting” during failed cut
- (update October 5, 2014) In order to make weight for the Battlegrounds tournament, Cody McKenzie resorted to drawing blood in order to shed his final 1.4 pounds.
- (update November 15, 2014) Although not MMA, amateur Kickboxer Dennis Munson Jr. died after his first kickboxing bout which included a same day weigh in where the fighter reportedly had difficulties with the cut down to 135.
- (update January 30, 2015) Kevin Gastelum reportedly was hospitalized while cutting weight before UFC 183.
- (update February 9, 2015) That time when UFC asked Paul Redmond to cut 36 pounds in 13 days. While he was not reportedly injured this story takes away any shred of deniability that the UFC has knowledge of the dangerous cuts their fighters attempt to make.
- (update February 13, 2015) Nick Lentz was pulled from UFC Fight Night 60 after experiencing “flu like symptoms” on weigh in day
- (update February 21, 2015) T.J. Waldburger faints during weight cut for UFC Fight Night 61 and is forced to withdraw from the bout. While commenting on this development MMA official record keeper Kirik Jenness provided the following sobering story: “I have reffed, judged, cornered, and occasionally fought in hundreds of MMA contests; the worst injury I ever saw was not from a strike, slam, or submission. I was the ref.I taped his hands, because he was cornered by his brother, and neither knew how to wrap. I spoke with him some, to settle his nerves, and learned he was a first-time fighter, and a little older, with a background in traditional martial arts.In the second round something wasn’t right, so I stopped it. There wasn’t much protest. Then he passed out in the locker room. Then his heart stopped in the ambulance. He was airlifted to Boston, where he was diagnosed with renal failure.Day after day, I sought word on his condition; eventually his kidneys started on their own, so he didn’t need to be on dialysis for the rest of his life.The cause was a combination of the Atkins diet, then water weight cutting, and then heavy exertion under TV lights.“
- (update April 9, 2015) Ronny Markes is forced to withdraw from WSOF 20 due to ‘dehydration’
- (update April 27, 2015) MixedMartialArts.com reports that a fighter in Washington State collapsed post bout with kidney failure and died shortly after and question whether rapid weight cut practices may have played a role. From early media reports it is unclear whether weight cut practices played any role.
- (update May 5, 2015) Invicta’s Veronica Rothenhausler announcement retirement after prolonged post concussive issues which she in part relates to rapid extreme weight cut practices.
- (update May 13, 2015) Steve Montgomery is the latest addition to this list who suffered from a seizure requiring hospitalization while cutting weight for episode 4 of TUF 21.
- (update June 12, 2015) Andrew Todhunter was pulled from his UFC Debut after passing out while cutting weight. Reportedly boxing at 200 pounds one month prior to making a cut to 170 for UFC 188.
- (update September 18, 2015) it is reported that BC fighter Ash Mashreghi had his “body shut down” and leading to convulsions and needed hospitalization during a rapid extreme weight cut.
- (update September 29, 2015) Grant Dawson had to pull out from his RFA debut after suffering from “burns and an infection” while using a hot tub for prolonged periods to cut weight.
- (update October 2, 2015) Johny Hendricks had to cancel his bout with Tyron Woodly at UFC 192 after having “weight cut issues” according to Dana White. The “issues” required hospitalization.
- (Update October 14, 2015) Zoila Frausto required hospitalization after her title loss at RFA 31 due to fighting after a ‘botched weight cut‘
- (update November 19, 2015) Benny Madrid was withdrew from WSOF 25’s lightweight tournament after he “was transported to the hospital due to issues with his weight cut“.
- (update November 24, 2015) Nicaraguan boxer David “Terry” Acevedo died after suffering an eight round KO. Dehydration appears to possibly have played a role with his family noting that he”lost 10 pounds in less than 24 hours to make weight“
- (update December 11, 2015) ONE Championship fighter Yang Jian Bing died from complications secondary to a rapid extreme weight cut for a bout scheduled in the Phillipines.
- Update February 20, 2106 – Dhafi Harris (Dada5000) suffered severe dehydration and renal failure after his Bellator 149 loss to Kimbo Slice. Harris reportedly shed 40 pounds to make weight for the contest.
- Update July 8, 2016 – Ross Pearson admitted to kidney and digestive issues attributed to weight cutting
- Update July 28, 2016 – Michelle Waterson reported that after one of her weight cuts to 105 lbs it took Athletic Commission physicians an hour to find her pulse in her weakened state.
- Update November 4, 2016 – Paul Daley was pulled from Bellator 163 after “a difficult weight cut”.
- Update December 9, 2016 – Anthony Pettis had to abandon his weight cut for an interim title bout scheduled at UFC 206 reporting that his body “gave out”, felt light headed, began to gag, had difficulty controlling his breathing and developed acid reflux.
- Update January 24, 2017 – Rafael dos Anjos, in an interview to ESPN, has detailed a terrifying weight cut experience prior to his title loss to Eddie Alvarez noting as follows “Everything was on plan. We had three pounds to lose the morning of the weigh-in. The night before, we had lost eight or nine pounds during training. I jumped in the [Epsom salt] bath for 15 minutes and when I stood up I felt dizzy. I sat down again on the edge of the bath and felt OK, started to stand up again, and I just fell backwards. My head was two inches from the faucet. I could have died that day.My coaches took me out of the bath and placed me on the bed, I came back for a couple seconds and passed out again. I came back, and passed out a third time. I was almost out for three minutes, they said. At one point, they said, ‘Let’s call 911 and cancel the fight.’ I woke up and asked them what was going on. And after all that, I still didn’t know if I had made the weight. So, I had to check my weight but I couldn’t stand up. I lied down with a cold towel on my head. It took me about 40 minutes to get up. I checked my weight and it said 155. If I hadn’t been on weight, there’s no way I could do anymore. I couldn’t do it. On the walk to the weigh-ins, I was just feeling miserable.”
- Update February 16, 2017 – Johny Hendricks said that ““My kidneys shut down for five days after my fight (with Magny),”
- Update February 21, 2017 – Ian McCall’s body “failed” forcing him to be removed from UFC 208 following a rapid extreme weight cut
- Update – Bec Rawlings states she was diagnosed with secondary hypothyroidism due to the effects of “nasty weight cuts“.
- Update – Justin Willis was pulled from UFC 208 after his “body shut down” during a rapid extreme weight cut.
- Update March 3, 2017 – Today Khabib Nurmagomedov was pulled from UFC 209 after being hospitalized from a rapid extreme weight cut. In a subsequent interview Khabib went on to note that he “almost died” from the weight cut. Despite the severity the UFC criticized Khabib for going to hospital instead of calling their in house doctor.
- Update March 27, 2017 – Scotland’s Jordan Donald died of heat stroke while cutting weight in Thailand (not for an MMA bout but for a Muay Thai bout).
- Update May 5, 2017 – Tony Davis suffered kidney failure while cutting weight with the promoter of the WFC noting ” “During his weight cut Tony started having some issues and was admitted to the hospital and was diagnosed with kidney failure, please put him in your prayers, were all pulling for you Tony!”
- Update May 8, 2017 – Valerie Letourneau required hospitalization prior to her strawweight UFC title fight due to the effects of her weight cut. Despite this the fight proceeded. She noted “They had to take me to the hospital right after weigh-ins. I couldn’t even drink, eat, or speak. And I don’t know if you remember, but we did an interview as soon as we walked off the stage and I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t stop shaking, and I couldn’t even walk. I just made it to my chair and after that, I couldn’t move, I was so cold, so cold inside. I felt like all my bones were knocking on each other and they had to give me an I.V., I was going to die.“
- Update May 29, 2017 – Anthony Pettis revealed that he “couldn’t even walk downstairs to get on the scale.” during his weight cut for UFC 206 and that this occurred right in front of the UFC’s own doctor noting the “UFC doc was up there watching me“.
- Update July 7, 2017 – Craig Booth was hospitalized in critical condition from consequence of a rapid extreme weight cut
- Update September 6, 2017 – UFC Fighter Paige Van Zant admits “My last two or three fights I passed out in my bathroom. In my last fight, I passed out and I had the doctors almost not clear me for the fight“
- Update September 21, 2017 – Mizuto Hirota was pulled from UFC Fight Night Japan after showing profound signs of dehydration.
After sharing this list on mixedmartialarts.com Dr. Rahjai added the following helpful comments:
…weight cutting is very difficult on the body as you are messing around with electrolytes and fluid balances which are against the natural homeostasis of the body.
Low Calcium, magnesium, and especially potassium can result in cardiac conduction abnormalities which can potentially lead to cardiac arrest if severe enough. Also the strain it puts on the kidneys is tremendous. That’s just the more likely causes of death not listing the other potential causes! Dangerous comment to make suggesting it’s normal for people to lose 20+ lbs at a time
Despite Dana’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 a hydration requirement 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.