There have been multiple deaths and countless injuries from the culture of extreme weight cutting in mixed martial arts. When a prominent fighter dies, the sport will fully address the problem. However, California State Athletic Commission executive director Andy Foster has gone ahead and done it first.
He created a 10-point plan to combat the problem, which can be read at bottom. UFC 214 is the first UFC event to be run under the process. Fighters were required to have their doctor approve their weight class. Title fighters were checked 30 days out, and 10 days out, via Skype. Renan Barao, who once passed out while cutting and caused an event to lose a title fight, was licensed at a catchweight of 140. And all fighters will be weighed in on fight day; if they are more than 10% over their weigh-in weight, it will be strongly recommended they move up.
Marc Raimondi for MMA Fighting sought fighter feedback, and, particularly given how miserable cutting is, the response was positive. While UFC welterweight Tyron Woodley noted he had never missed weight, and never suffered problems from a cut so didn't think he needed to be subject to further scrutiny, Cris Cyborg was injured by it, and was etirely appreciative.
“It went smoothly,” said Foster. “When I knew it was gonna go smooth was when I started getting the physicals back. And the physicals were looking better than I had ever saw them. Not saying it’s fantastic, not saying it’s great. There’s certainly room for improvement. But they were better than I had seen them at a high-level MMA show before.”
Foster also said the UFC was supportive, naming UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky and UFC doctor Jeff Davidson, but noted that his primary contact is with the fighters, each of whom he has to license to fight.
“I didn’t deal with [the UFC] that much,” said Foster. “They’re a licensee just like the fighters are. Some people think, ‘Oh, they’re a big behemoth of a company or whatever.’ They’re a licensee. So when I need to deal with the fighters, I call the fighters directly. They’re licensees of the commission and I deal with the fighters. Remember, the fighters are independent contractors and I think that’s an important thing to remember. I’m dealing directly with them. Certainly, the promoter, whether it be boxing or MMA, should be aware of certain aspects of their promotion and what we’re looking to do or not do. But beyond that, they’ve been incredibly supportive and I can’t say enough about the reception from both sides. But again, this is a fighter-commission issue and I’m dealing with individual fighters and not so much a middle-man type issue.”
Although Foster's 10 point plan was unanimously recommended by the Association of Boxing Commissions Medical Committee, it will not go to a vote before the membership until next year.
“I want to come back next year after we have a little over a year of data worth from this thing, show it to people and say, ‘Look, this works,’” said Foster. “That’s only for the skeptics. I want people to adopt it right away, because it’s gonna save lives. But if they’re skeptical, I’ll come back with hard data, not just want I think and what I believe. Thoughts and beliefs don’t do a lot. Hard data shows. I’m pleased with how today went.”
The ABC did pass four new weight divisions, 165, 175, 195 and 225. While the UFC does not use every one of the old weight divisions (there is for example no men's super heavyweight division), the hope is that they become the norm over time. While California alone addressing weight cutting is a huge step forward, to save lives and prevent the ongoing damage, the plan has to be adopted by all the major commissions, sooner, rather than waiting for a prominent fighter to die.
Foster's 10-Point Plan
1. Licensing by Weight Class – Requesting the athlete select the lowest weight class they intend to compete at. Following up with a series of questions related to dehydration and weight cutting will allow the Commission to better approve matches and track critical weight information. The Physical Examination associated with the Commission’s licensing application requires that the licensing physician certify that the requested weight class is safe for the athlete.
2. Changes to the bout agreement to obtain parity with boxing – Draft and approve a contract that fines the contestant that fails to make the contract weight 20% of his compensation equally distributed to the Commission and the opponent, as well as 20% of all bonuses (including win bonuses) to the opponent. This will force fighters to compete at weights closer to their natural walking weight. It will also reward fighters who take a fight against a larger opponent and lose.
3. Additional weight classes. 165, 175, 195, 225 with the removal of 170. This places each weight class below 205 at 10 pound increments. Along with licensing by weight class and ringside physician certification, the new weight classes· are essential so that each individual athlete has more options to choose a class that is suitable for them.
4. Implement policy changes to the way matches are approved with an emphasis on appropriate weight class. A formal request has been made to the Official Database of the ABC to add a weight class category as a required field and also a listing by the matchmaker of the weight the fighter was when the bout was offered.
5. Weight Class restrictions for fighters who miss weight more than once. A fighter who misses weight more than once will be required to compete in a higher weight class until a physician certifies the weight is appropriate and is approved by the Commission for competition in the weight class.
6. Continue early weigh-ins to allow maximum time for rehydration and mental preparation for
the combat sports competition.
7. A second weight check the day of the event to ensure fighters have not gained more than 8% of their body weight back in the 30 hours between the official weigh in and the event. Fighters who gain so much weight between weigh in and the fight may still be allowed to compete but may be required to move to the next weight class for future bouts.
8. Checks for Dehydration by specific gravity and/or physical by Ringside Physicians at both the official weigh in and the second day weight check.
9. Implement a 30-day and 10-day weight check for advertised high level title fights. The WBC has success with this approach in boxing, and it provides for safe benchmarks. While this “weight check” could be manipulated because a Commission inspector is not always available to supervise this, we can do it by Skype or other electronic means. While not perfect, this is simply a way for the Commission physicians to keep track of the fighter’s progress to the intended weight class.
10. Matchmaker and Promoter Examination and Education regarding weight cutting and dehydration as it relates to offering and contracting of bouts.