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Pettis: I couldn't walk during last weight cut

Anthony Pettis: “I couldn’t even walk down to the scale. I had to drink water and put some [liquid] into my body to walk down, weigh-in for the fight."
Anthony Pettis

Bob Arum knows the business of boxing as well as any man alive, or better. Last year he appeared on Lance Armstrong's The Forward Podcast and said boxing's popularity dropped from a single event, and never fully recovered. That was the death of Duk Koo Kim on November 18, 1982. Potential advertisers did not want to associate with an athlete dying in front of a live audience. Boxing never returned significantly to broadcast television.

The same thing could happen with mixed martial arts. While there have been three deaths during regulated fights, reports of being close to death at the highest levels of MMA are most commonly heard over extreme weight cutting.

During a recent appearance on Ariel Hewlani's The MMA Hour, former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis describes the choice he had to make for his last bout, an interim featherweight title fight vs. Max Holloway at UFC 206 on December 10, 2016. If he kept trying to make weight, he would be hospitalized, and the fight would be off, as happened to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 209. Or he could quit cutting, take a couple of sips of water so he could walk, but miss weight, leaving him ineligible for the title if he won.

'Showtime' chose the latter, and decided on the spot to return to lightweight.

“I couldn’t even walk down to the scale,” said Pettis, as transcribed by Marc Raimondi for MMA Fighting. “I had to drink water and put some [liquid] into my body to walk down, weigh-in for the fight. Most guys probably wouldn't have fought. I’m not making excuses, but most guys wouldn't have fought the way I was feeling. The UFC doc was up there watching me and I couldn’t even walk downstairs to get on the scale.”

“I just couldn’t get the weight off. It was just one of them things. My body shut down. I had never felt that way before. So I just knew that was it for me at ‘45.”

“That whole camp [for Holloway] was just me cutting weight. It wasn’t me getting better, it wasn’t me trying to get new game plans. It was really just me cutting weight. I had to run double the amount. I had to do less physical activity, because I was too weak. But it is what is. You live and you learn. I’ve made some good money in the 145-pound division, but now I’m going back to my home, my 155-pound division.”

“I put myself in a bad position at 155, because of the rush trying to get back to a title shot. This time I’m coming back and I’m just taking it one fight at a time. I’ve got a solid guy in front of me.”

Pettis fights Jim Miller at UFC 213 on July 8 in Las Vegas, at lightweight.

“I’ve been fighting a long time,” said Pettis. “It’s only a matter of time before I figure it all out again and get back to where I was at.”

Pettis should never have been allowed to cut.

California State Athletic Commission Executive Director Andy Foster has a 10-point plan to end the culture of extreme weight cutting in mixed martial arts. Some of the changes are major, like the addition of weight classes at 165, 175, 195 and 225 pounds. At the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) annual conference in July, it will be voted on by the membership, with approval from the medical committee.

The sport needs to embrace the plan, and amend over time as necessary to increase its effectiveness. Weight cutting is a pointless reason to die. And a death from it could damage the health of the entire sport across a generation, just as it did with boxing, and just as it does inside the bodies of fighters cutting hard.