I have reffed, judged, cornered, and occasionally fought in hundreds of MMA contests; the worst injury I ever saw was not from a strike, slam, or submission. I was the ref.
I taped his hands, because he was cornered by his brother, and neither knew how to wrap. I spoke with him some, to settle his nerves, and learned he was a first-time fighter, and a little older, with a background in traditional martial arts.
In the second round something wasn't right, so I stopped it. There wasn't much protest. Then he passed out in the locker room. Then his heart stopped in the ambulance. He was airlifted to Boston, where he was diagnosed with renal failure.
Day after day, I sought word on his condition; eventually his kidneys started on their own, so he didn't need to be on dialysis for the rest of his life.
The cause was a combination of the Atkins diet, then water weight cutting, and then heavy exertion under TV lights.
Weight cutting in high school and college had similar incidents for generations, until late in 1997, when three wrestlers died in a space of 33 days:
•On Dec 9 Jeff Reese died crawling to the scale in Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, MI. He was glassy-eyed and pale, his legs too weak to hold him after he had shed nearly 17 pounds in three days.
•Billy Jack Saylor, a freshman at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC, and Joseph LaRosa, a senior at Wisconsin-La Crosse, died in November under similar circumstances.
I thought it would take a death in MMA before people took the dangers of cutting seriously. Then Nova Uniao flyweight fighter Leandro “Feijao” Souza passed away from a stroke while cutting weight at Shooto Brazil 43 card in Rio de Janeiro in September of 2013. He was 26 years old.
Death wasn't enough.
There have been a large number of weight cutting incidents in MMA, including:
•In July of 2014 TopMMANews reported that Jer Kornelsen's heart stopped. “I passed out and stopped breathing in the sauna trying to make weight,” said Kornelsen. “I guess they did CPR on me for a while and I came to in the hospital. Seriously pissed off and feel horrible. Sorry to my team, Battlefield and mostly my opponent!”
•On June 16 of 2014 it was reported that Jordan Murray had to have emergency surgery on his gallbladder. “All my weight cutting has finally caught up to me I guess,” he said. “Looks like I have to remove my gallbladder after spending all day in emergency and losing alot of blood the Doctor says its 100% from cutting weight, crazy!”
•In December of 2013, the the UG's own Useless, Ulysses Gomez, was hospitalized while cutting weight and was out the Cage Warriors 62 headliner in Newcastle, England.
•UFC welterweight Brian Melanson revealed he suffered kidney failure from cutting, and nearly died.
•Light heavyweight T.J. Cook suffered kidney failure in the ring.
•Korean Sengoku vet “Shin Ramen” Yoon Young Kim suffered a mild heart attack while cutting.
•Veteran Marcus Davis revealed that a second cut to 155 in the MFC nearly killed him.
•UFC heavyweight Daniel Cormier had to miss his shot at Olympic gold in 2008 when his kidneys failed in Beijing. It nearly killed him. Cormier was cutting weight to compete at 211 lbs, and now competes at 205.
In the latest incident, UFC welterweight T.J. Waldburger fainted and could not make it to the scale for Saturday's UFN 61 weigh ins. His fight with Wendell Oliveira was canceled.
Andy Foster, executive director of the California State Athletic Commission has issued a memo about the dangers of weight cutting, prepared by the Association of Ringside Physicians.
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
In response to the three deaths in 1997, 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.
The methods for preventing unsafe weight cutting are now 18 years old; it is time for mixed martial arts to begin to adopt them. And once again, Foster is leading the way.