How the UFC and NSAC failed Sijara Eubanks and endangered her life
Sijara Eubanks went a perfect 3-0 on The Ultimate Fighter 26: A New World Champion. However, ‘Sarge’ was felled by the culture of extreme weight cutting in MMA before she could realize the greatest opportunity of her career – a fight for the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight belt, with a guaranteed 100k purse.
Eubanks missed weight for her first two fights on TUF 26 but eventually enlisted the help of Clint Wattenberg, Director of Sports Nutrition at the UFC Performance Institute. She then made 125 the first try vs. Modafferi in the semi-finals, but did not continue to make use of the PI resources once the season ended, something she now regrets.
During a recent appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, Eubanks detailed the beginning of the end.
“It was the pain in my back and I know from cutting weight after all these years that once your back starts to hurt, you’re in that dehydration phase,” said Eubanks, as transcribed by Alexander K. Lee for MMA Fighting. “And I’ve never had that kind of pain that I was in. And then my ribs and my legs started cramping and I couldn’t really walk without my legs wobbling and feeling weak, and then I started getting delirious. It was tough, because I had to decide if it was truly mental or if my body was really telling me something’s wrong.
“Because it’s one thing to be tough because it’s hot and the sauna’s hot and the sauna’s miserable and the tub is hot, you can tough that out. But I was not sure if I had reached that point where something might actually be wrong. And apparently I had.”
“I had collapsed a little bit there. And I came to and my coaches were with me, Jamal Patterson, and Clint from the UFC PI, and I was like, ‘Just drag me into the sauna,’ because I couldn’t make my way there and they were like, ‘No. If you’re to the point where we have to physically drag you to the sauna, there’s probably something wrong.’ So Clint decided to call ‘Dr. D’ [Jeffrey Davidson] from the UFC and once he got on the phone I kind of knew he wasn’t going to be too happy with the symptoms. And I was like, ‘Naw, just drag me in there. We’ve got five more, don’t tell nobody, just drag me in.’ Dr. D was like, ‘I think she needs her vitals checked.’
“So they called the paramedics and they checked my vitals and my heart rate was just super high and it would plummet when I sat down. When I stood up, my heart rate would shoot back up again. If I was laying down, my blood pressure was good, but as soon as I sat up or stood up, my blood pressure would drop. Then they were like, ‘We’ve got to take you into the hospital and have you tested.’ That’s when I had my little breakdown because I figured once I got brought into the ER, my night was over.”
“What I was trying to ask was, could I just stay where I was and see what we can do at 9 AM at weigh-ins? Give up a percentage of my purse or whatever, but I got to the ER, they drew some blood and was like, ‘No, you’ve got acute kidney failure and we have to get a bag in you.’”
“I got a little spoiled in the house, I was cutting from 150 in the house every 10 days, so when I hit about ‘45, ‘42, in training, I was like, ‘Okay we’re good to go, we’re six pounds ahead of schedule.’ And I honestly didn’t think it was going wrong until about Wednesday night. I got to 133 and was like, ‘Okay, this is getting tough. Tougher than it normally has been.’ But I was like, weight cutting is about being tough and being mental and getting through it, I know my body can do it, I’ve done it before. So I just reframed and got to about ‘30, ‘30-and-a-half, and I knew something was different.”
This entire episode is irrational, in the extreme. It’s crazy.
Eubanks was required to stay within a certain weight range during the filming of the season, so she could compete several times during shooting. She said she was at 150 in the house, cutting 25 pounds to make the flyweight limit. That’s dropping over 16% of her body weight.
Dehydration is classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the percentage of body weight lost. Mild dehydration is 5-6%, while moderate is 7-10%. Severe dehydration is over 10%, requiring immediate medical care. Death occurs at a loss of between 15% and 25% of the body water. Eubanks said cutting on the show was easier as she had to be around 150, so the cut that hospitalized her was presumably worse, although she stalled around 131. Eubanks cut more than 15% of her body weight, which is life-threatening, and then her life was threatened, with kidney failure.
This was foreseeable.
The UFC knew day by day what was happening, and egregiously failed in its responsibility. Too the Nevada State Athletic Commission has not taken advantage of the opportunity to adopt the 10 Point Plan developed by Andy Foster, executive director of the California State Athletic Commission. It works. The NSAC has failed in their most central responsibility – to protect the health and safety of fighters. The UFC knowingly orchestrated a situation where Eubanks was repeatedly cutting over 16% of her body weight; that’s unfathomably irresponsible.
Sijara Eubanks is the very definition of the most prized quality on combat sports – gameness, a will to win greater than the will to live. Eubanks is heroically tough. It is the UFC and the NSAC that are failures here, not the fighter, who was only doing her job to the very, very, very best of her ability.
“My goal is to be the champion,” said Eubanks. “My goal is to fight in the UFC for the rest of my career. My goal is to be the best woman to ever step foot in the cage and I felt like part of my process of moving forward and getting back to where I was is to sit down at the fights and hold my head up and move forward.”
Eubanks is going to continue being so heroically tough she risks her life to make weight. The UFC and the NSAC cannot allow her, or any of the other great fighters in the league to do so, or people will die, not by accident, but by gross negligence.
Image courtesy of Invicta FC.