(Dave Mandel/Sherdog)Bellator 137 and Independent Contractors Face Weight Cutting Issues Aidan O'Connor May 20, 2015 Bellator, Previews, Spotlight In recent times a number of breaking stories have fueled the debate surrounding the merits of MMA organizations hiring their fighters as independent contractors. The sport’s continued growth in both stature and event numbers has brought on teething problems ranging from the number of training injuries fighters suffer, to pay scale and sponsorship rights disputes. These issues have prompted some parties to call for full-fledged employee status for professional MMA fighters – and even a fighters’ union – as talent looks to claim a greater piece of the growing pie, instead of starving for income streams. The unfortunate news that transpired last weekend when Bellator middleweight champion Brandon Halsey and co-main eventer Mike Richmond both missed weight ahead of their respective bouts adds another layer to the topic of employer-contractor relations. This layer concerns weight-cutting. Halsey’s punishment was steep, a 20 percent purse cut combined with being stripped of his championship despite finishing Kendall Grove in their main event bout will leave a lasting impression that Bellator officials will hope reaches the rest of the talent roster, spreading the message that no fighter – regardless of their name value or achievements – is exempt to company policy. The severe nature of Halsey’s punishment stems from the idea that as a fighter and a champion, Halsey is an ambassador for the Bellator brand. By failing to meet his obligation to make weight, one might argue that the news reflects poorly on the organization as a whole at a crucial time when Bellator is looking to provide legitimate competition for the UFC. But will this sentence really change a culture that carries through all of combat sports, or simply affirm the promotion’s relative powerlessness to regulate fighter weight under the current model of independently contracting talent? Many fighters have missed weight over their careers, some even several times. A few, like Bellator’s newest acquisition Melvin Guillard are even indirectly rewarded for their transgressions by leaving one company after missing weight and signing with another. While there are several parties that could work either individually or collectively to address the unsavory dilemma of weight cutting, including state athletic commissions; MMA promotions; the individual fighter and their supporting throughout training camps, it is not unreasonable to think that promotions like Bellator could save themselves from the drama surrounding last minute event changes and negative media coverage if they embraced the more influential, albeit expensive, process of contracting their fighters as employees and embracing the close monitoring of athletes that can come with it. The likes of Andy Foster, Executive Officer of the California State Athletic commission, have alluded to the limited financial resources that state athletic commissions have available to monitor athletes in and out of competition. Would a more reasonable alternative be to have fighters consistently report their weight to their contracted promoter along with credible visual evidence? Would an outfit such as Bellator, which is alleged to have the full backing of Viacom, benefit from hiring an on-staff nutritionist to answer the queries of certain fighters by phone or Skype as they explore different ways to reach their target weight more easily? From a psychological perspective that values the ‘carrot’ treatment over ‘the stick’, would an MMA promotion benefit from financially rewarding their fighters to comfortably make weight a couple of days before official weigh-ins; adding a small reward on top of a fighter’s show and win money purses? These are just a few suggestions to address one of the more problematic elements of MMA as it attempts to engage the largest audience possible and ultimately grow the profile of the entire sport. Some measures may be more expensive than others – employee status might even require a monthly salary – but no business grows without reinvesting in itself. As for now, the show will go on. But until steps are taken to address the risks associated with weight cutting for fights and title bouts alike, the show’s quality and its ability to draw viewers with scheduled fights will remain in question.