Weight cutting: No fight is worth dying over

 

Nova Uniao flyweight fighter Leandro "Feijao" Souza passed away from a stroke while cutting weight Thursday for Friday's Shooto Brazil 43 card in Rio de Janeiro. He was 26 years old.

Souza reportedly passed out in the sauna, and was transported to the hospital, where he was declared dead. A report has come out over the weekend that Souza used the diuretic Lasix to help him cut weight. He had two pounds to go to make weight.

At a UFC World Tour stop in Rio de Janeiro on Monday former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and UFC president Dana White discussed the issue of dangerous weight cutting.

“I have proper nutrition. I have a lot of time to make weight,” said Silva. “When I get to the fight, I always get there four or five kilos above (nine to 11 pounds), at the most, and I can lose that weight very easily. I don’t wait to lose weight on the last minute.”

“I think the biggest problem is for athletes to accept fights at the last minute and wait to cut weight in the last minute. No one can do that. There is no way you can recover your weight from one day to the next.”

White reiterated the particular danger of cutting quickly.

“Where you see the dangerous situations are the guys that take last-minute fights and have to lose a ton of weight. It’s never good,” said White. “In the UFC, these guys have plenty of time. They know when they have to fight. They know the time they have. They diet and do the proper nutrition to get down the right way. When they get closer,  they cut a few pounds. That’s the healthy, normal way to do it.

“I don’t think that the cutting weight process is ever going to be perfect, but I said it today in an interview I did with a gentleman earlier, I don’t care what level you fight on, no fight is worth dying over.

“If you can’t make the weight, don’t take the fight.”

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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.

Earlier this year, attorney Erik Magraken in his CanadianMMALawBlog.com argued that Mixed Martial Arts should not wait for three deaths in 33 days due to weight cutting.

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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The long-feared death has now come. It is incumbent on Brazil's regulatory body, the Comissão Atlética Brasileira de MMA (CABMMA), to step in and make appropriate changes, so that another death from cutting is not inevitable.

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tags: UFC   Anderson Silva (detail)  Dana White   Leandro Souza   Feijao   



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