In 2016 the California State Athletic Commission spearheaded reforms to the culture of rapid extreme weight cuts in combat sports. One of the reforms created was an earlier weigh-in to “ensure healthy rehydration and penalize athletes who engage in extreme weight cutting” which was widely adopted by other regulators. Recently a study was published examining whether these goals are being met.
In the recent study, titled “Evaluation of the early weigh-in policy for mixed martial arts events utilized by athletic commissions” the authors reviewed weigh-in data for Bellator and UFC events for two years prior to the introduction of early weigh ins and two years following this reform. The study found that the percentage of fighters missing weight increased from 5.7% to 8.4% following this reform and further that the average amount fighters missed weight by increased from 2.9 pounds to 3.9 pounds.
Interestingly the study also found that following the reform “the number of females over the weight limit increased, while the number of males decreased“.
The authors concluded that “these results indicate that the (early weigh ins) has not curbed the rapid weight-cycling culture in MMA but instead exacerbated its effects. This study casts doubt on the benefits of an (early weigh in procedure) and raised the possibility of utilizing longitudinal weight monitoring approach to mitigate rapid weight-cycling behaviour“
Two key things to consider, however, is whether more fighters are competing while dehydrated and whether more fighters are being harmed from weight cuts themselves. While having more athletes miss weight and having the misses be by a greater margin is not ideal important measures of success are whether there is harm reduction and whether athletes are stepping into the cage with more adequate levels of hydration than prior to these reforms. A driving force behind the early weigh in reform was addressing the harms from severe dehydration. The study does not shed light on whether these goals are being met.
The full abstract reads as follows:
Objective: To characterize the epidemiology of athletes who were over the weight limit before and after the introduction of the Early Weigh-In Policy (EWIP) and identify any observable trends.
Design: A retrospective cohort study examined the weigh-in results for professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) events over a two-year period around the introduction of the new EWIP.
Setting: Publicly available weigh-in results for predominantly North American athletic commissions between 2014 and 2018 were used.
Participants: The two-year period before and after the institution of the EWIP saw 120 and 127 MMA events, respectively. There were 160 (5.7%) and 255 (8.4%) athletes who were defined as overweight in the period before and after the new EWIP, respectively.
Interventions: The introduction of the EWIP.
Main Outcome Measure: Number of athletes over the weight limit, athletes given additional tome to make weight, athletes who competed after missing weight, bouts cancelled due to overweight athlete, winning overweight athletes, and athletes who were repeat offenders. The average overweight mass.
Results: After the introduction of the EWIP the number of fighters over the weight limit increased from 5.7% to 8.4% and the average overweight mass increased from 1.3 kilograms (2.9 pounds) to 1.8 kilograms (3.9 pounds). Of the fighters who were overweight before the regulation change 28.7% were over the weight limit by greater than 1.8 kilograms (four pounds), compared to 39.5% after the new EWIP introduction. There was a 3.4-fold increase in the number of athletes overweight by greater than 3.6 kilograms (eight pounds) after the introduction of the EWIP.
Conclusion: These results indicate that the EWIP has not curbed the rapid weight-cycling culture in MMA but instead exacerbated its effects. This study casts doubt on the benefits of an EWIP and raised the possibly of utilizing the longitudinal weight monitoring approach to mitigate rapid weight-cycling behaviour. However, before additional changes are made by any athletic commission, further research is needed to examine the efficacy of the above-mentioned longitudinal weight monitoring approach or any other strategy.