Cutting weight can kill you

I have reffed, judged, cornered and occasionally fought in hundreds of MMA bouts. I am often asked what was the worst injury I ever saw from within the cage.

He was a first time fighter, a little older, and a little big. I taped his handsbefore the rules meeting,  as his corner didn’t know how to. He did okay the first round, could hit pretty hard. Towards the end of the first, things did not appear to be going his way, but I didn’t end it.

Very early in the second, he didn’t not want to be there, and something felt wrong, so I stopped it, although he was not in imminent danger. There was little protest,. and then he went back to the locker room with his brother.

He passed out in the locker room. Then in the ambulance, his heart stopped. They airlifted him to Boston, and diagnosed renal failure.

Then there was a wait, day after day, to see if he kidneys started again. If they did not, he would be on dialysis, for ever. The good news was that he had lived.

He had never cut before. After a little research, he went on the Atkins Diet. Protein is tough on the kidneys. Then he cut water weight, which placed further demands on the renal system. Then, under the heat of TV lights, his kidneys stopped, right in the middle of a fight.

Eventually his kidneys started, but the potential dangers of cutting weight are impossible to escape.

It is not only first time fighters that face danger from cutting. At the last Strikeforce Challengers event, profiles T.J. Cook’s struggle.

For a brief moment, T.J. Cook felt a wave of euphoria.

And then, seconds later, he knew something was very wrong.

Competing on the July 22 Challenger Series 17 in Las Vegas, Cook made his Strikeforce debut and defeated previously unbeaten Lional Lanham by technical knockout with just 1 second remaining in the first round. However, soon after referee Kim Winslow pulled the 205-pound Team Trauma product off of his defenseless opponent, Cook staggered to his corner and spoke uneasily to his boxing coach, Tito Ocasio.

“I told him my body felt like it was shutting down,” Cook said. “Then, I blacked out. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see.”

After Cook essentially was carried to mid-cage to have his hand raised, he was hurried to the back of the Pearl at The Palms where medics deemed he needed to be rushed to the nearest hospital. Upon arrival, the doctor did a full examination and notified Cook that he had kidney failure.

“They told me if I hadn’t been brought in, I probably would have died,” Cook said.

Instead, he spent the night awaiting blood tests that the next morning revealed his body had recovered. Cook was released and traveled back to Ocala.

Called in as a replacement for the injured Carlos Augusto “Guto” Inocente Filho less than a week before the fight, Cook said the scare was the result of having to cut around 11 pounds of body weight in a matter of days. As a result of his brief crisis, he is under a medical suspension handed down by the state of Nevada until mid-August.

When the suspension is completed and he is cleared to train again, Cook, who made $2,500 to appear and earned a $2,500 win bonus against Lanham, said he expects to hear from Strikeforce about his next bout.

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The dangers of weight cutting can extend to the most experienced and carefully monitored athletes on Earth.

Strikeforce heavyweight Daniel Cormier, who just snuck into the SF Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament as an alternate replacing Alistair Overeem, had to miss his shot at Olympic gold in 2010 when his kidneys failed in Beijing. Cormier was cutting weight to compete at 211lbs.

Now he’s a permanently undersized heavyweight who doesn’t dare try to make 205lbs because he doesn’t dare push his kidneys again.

Cormier is no doubt familiar with the symptoms of Acute Renal Failure (ARF) like dry mouth, lack of urine, headache, lower back pain, nausea, and drowsiness.  ARF can be treated with fluids and a quick rehydration, but it can also become Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) if the fighter’s kidneys give out from the strain.

It’s not just the kidneys that don’t do well when the body is drained of fluids. Dehydrated brains are an even bigger threat to fighter health. Boxing fans old enough to remember Duk Koo Kim know why same day weigh ins are a thing of the past. Kim took a 14 round beating from Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini the same day he made a brutal cut down to 135lbs.

Without sufficient time to rehydrate before the fight, Kim’s dried up brain slammed against his skull every time Mancini’s gloves made contact and after 14 rounds it was too much. Kim died 4 days after the bout.

MMA fighters need to be aware of the dangers of weight cutting when they sign those contracts and hit those scales.

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