Documenting The Tolls of Rapid Extreme Weight Cuts in MMA

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 –

 

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.

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32 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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