The sweat drips onto the floor much like it has for the past few minutes. A quick glance at the clock outside shows it’s been 20 minutes since you sat down in the sauna. Stepping out of the hellacious heat for a few moments to cool off, you weigh yourself. Still a half pound away. How hard can it be? It’s just a half pound, after all.

Such is the misery for many a MMA fighter in the waning moments of a weight cut. The last step, whether it be getting into a sauna or some other method of draining the body of water, puts a mental strain on virtually everyone that’s gone through it.

However, some, like Diego Brandao at UFC 168, didn’t have to experience the draining experience of making weight. Instead, the former Ultimate Fighter winner came in seven pounds overweight and failed to make weight after a second attempt. Brandao blamed a car accident he was involved in two weeks prior as the reason he was unable to train and cut weight properly. Not only did Brandao miss weight, he missed out on a chunk of change—25 percent of his total fight purse, to be exact—and he was knocked out in violent fashion inside the first round.

We’ve seen the UFC’s intolerance for missing weight before, whether it be with a TUF winner like Efrain Escudero or a rising star like Anthony Johnson. Yet, don’t think that Brandao will be handed a pink slip. No, it won’t go that far, but this does put him in the doghouse. He’s a fighter who’s already been shown to have cardio issues in his previous outings, and missing weight for a main-card fight at one of the biggest pay-per-views of the year isn’t a good sign.

Looking at it from a fan’s perspective, it’s difficult to understand how guys can come into fights either so badly conditioned for the bout or too heavy to hit the mark on the scales. After all, if you came to your boss with a two-page report that was initially supposed to be 10 pages, you’re not going to have a good day at the office, are you?

It’s unprofessional, and anyone need only to ask the aforementioned Anthony Johnson about how missing weight can affect your career and public image.

Usually when a fighter misses weight there are a slew of excuses ready to be fed to the media members and fans. Almost always, it’s the fighter coming out claiming that an injury or personal circumstance caused the issue. Rarely do we hear from the coach for an explanation of what happened.

To get the perspective of not only a fighter, but also that of a coach, The MMA Corner recently spoke with Ryan Jensen. Jensen is a UFC veteran with a 15-7 overall record, and he is in the midst of a weight cut of his own.

After competing at middleweight, Jensen is looking at a potential move to welterweight. Jensen approaches the process of cutting weight with a clearly defined set of goals.

“The key is you can’t start out 30 pounds heavy,” Jensen said. “You have to get the weight down close to 20 pounds when fully hydrated and 15 or 12 with two weeks to go.”

Of course, it takes more than an hour on the treadmill. It takes a group of guys working together as a team to ensure success.

“I’ve got so many guys fighting that everybody helps everybody,” Jensen said. “If they have questions on weight cutting, I’ll answer any questions.”

The guys who struggle with their weight cuts are easy to spot if you watch a practice. They’re usually a few steps slower and look a level below their much fresher training partner. It’s a byproduct of a reduction in diet and trying to shed pounds at every turn.

“We have some guys who cut five to 10 pounds of water weight per practice,” Jensen said. “I give different examples of diets I’ve used in the past and try to see what method works best. It’s all about getting the best advantages while being healthy and performing.”

Indeed, a tough weight cut can negatively affect a fighter’s performance, like we saw with Brandao. We also saw weight cutting become a key discussion point for MMA in 2013, especially after The Star Ledger’s editorial and Leandro “Feijao” Souza’s death due to complications from weight cutting.

Solutions have sprouted up across MMA forums calling for a change in the system of making weight. Ideas such as same-day weigh-ins (a terrible idea) and double weigh-ins (still terrible) are just a few of the suggestions.

However, perhaps it’s not the system that should change.

“It’s definitely on the fighter for sure,” Jensen attests. “It’s a professional sport, and it’s our job to make weight and be professionals who compete. Some guys cut too much weight or don’t have enough experience cutting weight. Fighters need to be smarter.”

It’s not solely the fighter, either. Fighters have coaches, and those coaches are just as vital in advising athletes on cutting weight as they are in advancing the fighter’s skill set.

“Bottom line as a coach, you’re looking out for the welfare of your fighter,” Jensen said. “You have to look out for your brothers because sometimes they get tunnel vision. Sometimes you have to pull them aside and let them know, ‘Hey, this isn’t working. You’re going to hurt yourself.’ If they’re cutting too much weight, they’re going to be affected after only five to 10 minutes of fighting.”

For Brandao and other fighters who compete at the highest level, the need for a paycheck often times outweighs the need to maintain a healthy body. It would’ve been easy for Brandao to pull out of the fight, but without knowledge of his financial situation, we can’t expect that from him. He probably needed the paycheck just as much as the average Joe needs theirs.

“Sometimes we will contact the promoter and ask about a catchweight if a guy’s struggling,” Jensen said. “For the amount of money some of these guys are fighting for, are you going to risk kidney failure and going to the hospital? It’s not worth it in the big scheme of things.”

Weight cutting will continue to be a trial-and-error system, since it varies by individual. It’s also doubtful that we will see any drastic changes to how weigh-ins are conducted. The vast majority of fighters make weight and perform without any issues. It’s going to take a widespread rise in education of how to cut weight and how to do it safely.

Jensen is still training and competing, something that should serve to continue to add to his knowledge. Hopefully, Jensen’s colleagues can recognize that their knowledge could potentially save someone’s career and will look to help younger fighters.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed most is this sport has a great community of people,” Jensen said.

Let’s hope that community can ensure fighters can cut weight and do it safely.

Ryan would like to thank the great training partners he’s around, along with his coaches and his family in Omaha. Follow Jensen on Twitter: @RyanJensenUFC

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.