I am 6′ 3″ and 205. The first time I met Anthony Johnson, he dwarfed me. He was fighting then at welterweight. I have seen a lot of crazy things, but AJ making 171 may be the craziest. Now of course his career is at an all-time high, and he has a title shot, at 205.
Weight cutting has killed a fighter. It has very nearly killed many more. It has led to the cancellation of countless fights. Due to the attendant lack of fluid cushioning around the brain, it has surely led to brain damage. While the use of performance enhancing drugs is finally being addressed with the utmost seriousness in the highest levels of mixed martial arts, weight cutting is not.
However, California State Athletic Commission executive director Andy Foster recently appeared on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, and identified weight cutting as the “most dangerous thing in combat sports right now.”
“Something that’s not talked about, that I think is done by a lot more people than performance enhancing drugs, is the drastic weight cutting that you see,” said Foster as transcribed by Shaun Al-Shatti for MMA Fighting. “That’s just on display at every weigh-in, where you see a fighter walk up, they barely can walk because they’ve cut so much weight, and the trainer will be there holding a bottle of Pedialyte or Gatorade. And that’s problematic.
“It’s dangerous and it’s not MMA specific. It happens in boxing, and it happens in kickboxing. It’s ingrained in our sport — everybody’s gotta make weight.”
“I think the first thing that we do is we have to educate the fighters and the camps. I know I didn’t know how dangerous this was until I attended an Association of Boxing Commissions seminar in New Orleans several years ago.
“Here in California I’ve sort of seen it more and more. It seems like it’s gotten worse. One of our commissioners, Dr. Lemons, a neurosurgeon, he’s very close to this topic and he said ‘this is the most dangerous thing in combat sports right now, this drastic dehydration then rapid rehydration.’ We did a study here at CSAC where we had one fighter, I believe he weighed 171 on Friday, he was 201 on the very next day. That’s too much. That’s too much. You see stats like that often from many of the shows that we regulate, and that’s too much.”
Foster is also considering solutions. One is limiting the amount of weight a fighter can put back on between weigh ins and the fight the next day.
“It’s something that we were looking at,” said Foster. “It’s one of the many ideas that we had. I think another one of the ideas [the commissioners] and I have talked about, the NCAA does that minimal fighting weight caliper test for their athletes, for the wrestlers. Basically, if you want to compete, you have your body fat and your height and weight, they analyze it and it does this kind of formula that’s been developed by people a lot smarter than me. It will take all these different considerations in and it will give you the lowest weight that you can safely compete at based on your body composition.
“So you might be 170 right now, you could probably get down to 153 without getting into dangerous territory for your body. So therefore in MMA, your weight class would be ’55. That’s the lowest you could go. But that’s something that we’ve thought about. We’re just talking at this point. The first step is educating, but that’s something that we’re certainly looking at because I think determining what everyone’s minimum fighting weight should be would prohibit fighters from going down into weight classes that they can’t safely maintain. They might make it once, but it’s dangerous, and to continue to try to do this is not healthy.”
“Education is powerful. Once people read this and understand just how dangerous this is — I had no idea until I did the ABC conference and learned about this. I mean, I thought it was certainly unhealthy, but I had no idea it was that dangerous. It’s not only dangerous, and certainly that’s the primary focus, but it’s bad for the public because you lose fights. You can potentially lose fights. It’s not good for everybody. I mean, we lost the (Gennady) Golovkin title fight. We still got the fight, but Marco Antonio Rubio was overweight for his title fight against Golovkin last year, so it’s not just in MMA that’s it’s a problem. It’s boxing also.
“We’re certainly talking about it, both as a commission in California, and I’m talking with other commissions about it — but it’s how do we properly address this? Because this is a problem. It’s not a talked-about problem. Everybody talks about performance enhancing drugs and that’s certainly a problem also, but this is also a problem.”
Foster recently issued a memo about the dangers of weight cutting, prepared by the Association of Ringside Physicians. Every fighter, trainer, and official in the sport should familiarize themselves with it.
THE DANGERS OF CUTTING WEIGHT AND DEHYDRATING
Unhealthy and dangerous weight loss practices continue to be a serious problem in combat sports. One recent study found that 39% of MMA fighters were entering competition in a dehydrated state. Heat illness and death in athletes have already happened in the sports of wrestling and MMA.
It’s been shown that excessive weight loss, rapid weight loss, and repeated cycling of weight gain/loss causes decreased performance, hormonal imbalance, decreased nutrition, and increased injury risk. Other life-threatening problems associated with improper weight loss and dehydration include:
•Decreased Muscle Strength and Endurance: Decreased blood flow to muscles makes them work less well.
•Decreased Heart and Cardiovascular Function: The heart works harder and less efficiently.
•Reduced Energy Utilization, Nutrient Exchange and Acidosis: With decreased blood flow to tissues nutrients don’t get delivered, and the body’s waste products do not get
removed as well. A buildup of acid occurs which ch anges cells’ functions in the body.
•Heat Illness: This takes on four forms: heat cramps, heat syncope (loss of consciousness), heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (which may be fatal). Dehydration results in decreased blood flow to skin and muscles. This is followed by decreased ability to regulate body temperature. The ability to sweat becomes impaired and core body temperature can rise. This increases the threat of all of these to poorly hydrated athletes doing strenuous workouts.
•Decreased Kidney Function: Dehydration leads to decreased kidney blood flow and decreased kidney function. This contributes to the problems listed in the points here, in addition to decreased urine output, concentrated urine, and leakage of protein into the urine. (It is not known if these changes can result in permanent kidney damage.)
•Electrolyte Problems: Decreased kidney function results in imbalances of electrolytes such as unhealthy increases in potassium and sodium.
•Mood Swings and Mental Changes: All of the above contribute to increased mood swings, poor concentration and focus, disorientation and other mental changes.
•Eye Trouble: Dehydration can cause blurred vision and dry eyes.
•Increased Risk of Brain Injury: There are likely increased risks of brain bleeding and concussion.
•Don’t use extreme methods for making weight such as excessive heat methods (rubberized suits, steam rooms, saunas), excessive intense bouts of exercise, vomiting, laxatives and diuretics.
•Don’t use dehydration as a mainstay of making weight. In addition to the above, it puts you at risk of improper rehydration techniques when, in reality, proper re-hydration takes several hours to days. (Many cases intravenous fluids being used for rehydration after weigh-ins have been reported – this is a doping violation with several organizations.)
•Commit to year-round proper diet and training for proper weight control and body composition.
•By maintaining your weight year round near an appropriate competition weight and not competing in a weight class outside your appropriate weight class you will help avoid large swings in weight.
•Maintain a good state of hydration by drinking fluid throughout the day and staying hydrated during workouts.
•Follow nutritional programs that meet your needs for adequate amounts of calories from a balanced diet high in healthy carbohydrates, the minimum requirement of fat, and appropriate amounts of protein.
•Be wary of nutritional supplements as they are not regulated by the FDA and some have been shown to be harmful.
For more information visit: associationofringsidephysicians.org