Call for weight cutting to be regulated


Cutting weight hard had been a staple of collegiate and high school wrestling programs for generations. Then, late in 1997, three wrestlers died in a month. SI had the story:

He died crawling to the scale. Glassy-eyed and pale, his legs too weak to hold him after he had shed nearly 17 pounds in three days, Jeff Reese collapsed and expired on the cold floor of a locker room in Crisler Arena on Dec. 9 in Ann Arbor.

Reese, a junior at Michigan trying to make weight in the 150-pound class for a wrestling meet against Michigan State, spent the last two hours of his life in a plastic suit, riding a stationary bike in a room in which the heat was cranked up to 92. He was the third college wrestler to die in 33 days. Billy Jack Saylor, a freshman at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., and Joseph LaRosa, a senior at Wisconsin-La Crosse, died in November while cutting weight. Though the official causes of their deaths varied, Reese, Saylor and LaRosa died of the same thing: the self-inflicted torture of drastic weight loss, college wrestling's ugly secret.

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In response to the three deaths, the NCAA took a number of steps to make wrestling safer, including:
•Banning training in a room hotter than 80 degrees:
•Banning self-induced vomiting;
•Banning extensive food or fluid restrictions;
•Requiring hydration tests:
•Requiring body fat checks; and,
•Restricting the amount of weight that can be lost.

Following the NCAA's lead, high schools too instituted a variety of precautions.

Now, attorney Erik Magraken in his argues that Mixed Martial Arts should not wait for three deaths in 33 days, or any deaths due to weight cutting. Instead, MMA should be proactive, rather than reactive.

It is important to introduce forward thinking legislation instead of waiting for a tragedy to occur before bringing legal change.  This leads to today’s topic, rapid weight loss in combat sports and foreseeable tragedy.

MMA, as with all weight-restricted sports, comes with a risk that athletes will subject themselves to rapid weight loss techniques in order to make their fighting weight.  These ‘brutal weight cuts’ are well documented at MMA’s highest level.  This in turn leads to many MMA athletes fighting in a dehydrated state.  This comes with increased risk of fighter injury including increased risk of traumatic brain injury.  With this in mind it is worth examining the justification for weight classes in the first place and discuss whether fights following rapid weight loss should be tolerated.

As MMA has grown in popularity so has legislative oversight of the sport.  These two developments go hand in hand with a proper legal framework helping legitimize the sport in turn creating a foundation on which the sport can grow.  One of the first regulatory developments which has helped legitimize MMA in the public’s eye was the introduction of weight classes.  At their core, weight classes exist for fighter safety.  The risk of injury grows with weight discrepancy among athletes.

Appreciating that fighter safety is the core reason behind weight classes, rapid weight loss is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed. Failing to address this issue undermines the entire foundation underlying weight classes.

Studies show that rapid weight cutting (ie- more than 5% of body weight) lead to increased participant injury risk in combat sports. As noted by Dr. Benjamin, a simple solution to address this issue is to require certain weight metrics from 30 days out from a fight. 

The MMA community should not wait for a tragedy to occur, as did in the 1990′s with NCAA wrestling, before addressing this issue.  Unless safeguards are built in some athletes will continue to undertake dangerous methods to make weight.  Stakeholders in the MMA community, be it event organizers or legislative bodies, should take proactive steps to address this reality.  Not only will this result in competition more reflective of an athlete’s ‘true’ weight, it will promote fighter safety.

Which jurisdiction or organization will have the foresight and initiative to address this issue first?

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tags: regulation   legislation   

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Recent Comments »

HULC site profile image  

11/23/13 11:31 AM by HULC

What deaths?

JOESONDO site profile image  

11/23/13 11:27 AM by JOESONDO

Day before hydration tests are the way to go.

Pitbull3744 site profile image  

11/23/13 11:24 AM by Pitbull3744

The fact of the matter is no one should be cutting an insane amount of weight at all. You should either be disciplined and stay within 15 lbs of your cut weight or stay in the weight class closer to your natural weight and that's pretty much it.

Tiresias site profile image  

11/23/13 11:20 AM by Tiresias

In business terms, weight-cutting adds zero value to the mma product. The sport can only benefit from finding a way to eliminate it.

TwentyNineTwentyEight site profile image  

11/23/13 10:52 AM by TwentyNineTwentyEight

I think there should be more weight classes.

YHTOMIT2001 site profile image  

11/23/13 10:41 AM by YHTOMIT2001

The only realistic way is to keep weigh ins the day before, but do a hydration test. Same day weigh-ins, cageside weigh ins, and all that other stuff is thought up by people who don't know shit.   A hydration test that's properly administered ensures that fighters are dieting down and not dehydrating. It could be done the day before the fight so the fighter can fully focus on their fight the day of.   Or they could leave it how it is now. I actually fight, and I'm fine with it. I cut a decent amount to make weight, but I'm sure there's  guys that cut more. If someone can cut a few more pounds and rehydrate back up a afew pounds heavier than me, then more power to them. Most fighters probably don't step in the cage with too much of a weight difference from their opponents anyway, unless someone is fighting a weight above where they should be.

SinCityHustler site profile image  

11/23/13 8:48 AM by SinCityHustler

Double edge knife. Cut as much as you want and suffer the consequences of stress mental and physical. Make I. Recover well and enjoy the advantages of being the bigger fighter.

TheBulgarianAssassin site profile image  

5/12/13 3:07 PM by TheBulgarianAssassin

^^^ How bout keeping it the way it is? If a fighter is a dumbass and wants to cut a lot of weight then let him be. He chose that weight class himself when he could have competed in the weight class above.Also how bout not promoting weight cutting? You hear Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg advocating weight cutting saying so and so "looks big" for a certain weight class. Also people brag about how much weight they cut and such. The perception of weight cutting needs to change.For example, I fight at 135lbs and cut down from 143-145. I don't give 2 shits that some idiots that fight in my weight class who cut down from 155-160 lbs. How about focusing on fight skills instead of dieting and being "bigger" for a certain weight?

aritwo site profile image  

5/12/13 2:50 AM by aritwo

ya, i'm sure that is one thing they don't want to be worrying aboutany other ideas?

TheBulgarianAssassin site profile image  

5/12/13 2:43 AM by TheBulgarianAssassin

Yeah because a fighter should worry about their weight minutes before they are going to fight. Not a good idea imo.