In the early days of MMA and the UFC – before silly things like rules and weight classes – fighters like Royce Gracie proved that size doesn’t matter when the smaller combatant has superior technique. But as the sport has evolved over the years and the level of technique possessed by the fighters has grown exponentially, size has factored itself back into the equation.

When fighters of equal technical ability complete the fighter who is bigger, faster or stronger tends to come out on top. As such fighters today – who are constantly looking for that added edge – often look to compete in a lighter weight class.

The problem with that isn’t that fighters are looking to gain a physical advantage, it is that too many are pushing their bodies to dangerous limits to reap those rewards and that is what needs to change. When you have fighters like former champions Renan Barao and Johny Hendricks who have to be hospitalized because they are cutting dangerous amounts of weight in short periods of time, there’s a clear problem that needs to be addressed.

But how to address the problem is the real conundrum. As much as there is a science the weight cutting, it’s also an art form. On top of that, people’s bodies react to weight cutting differently so finding a one size fits all solution is part of the reason more hasn’t been done on the issue.

Many people believe that transitioning from prior day to same day weigh ins would curb the extreme cuts, but as a former wrestler, I can tell you first hand that simply is not true. Fighters are going to still make the same drastic cuts regardless of when the weigh in takes place. The only difference is if weigh ins are done on the same day more fighters are going to enter the cage dehydrated which increases their risk for brain injury.

The real solution is going to require firm guidelines and stringent oversight. Basically, to solve the problem the sport is facing today, I envision a two-prong approach. First, fighters should have to pre-qualify for the weight class they want to compete in. Second, the sanctioning body needs to monitor a fighter’s progress and health throughout the weight cutting process.

Pre-qualifying

At some point the sport – organizations and athletic commissions – need to step in and protect fighters from themselves. This is where prequalifying comes in. Based on a fighter’s height, natural out-of-competition weight and body fat percentage a formula could easily be created to determine how much weight that fighter could safely cut. That would determine the lowest weight class a fighter could complete at.

Because our bodies change over the years, this process would need to be done on a semi-regular basis say every two to three years. That would allow fighters who want to compete in a smaller weight class the time to properly prepare their body.

This step alone is a bit of a radical idea, but it is a necessary one to really address the issues of fighters
cutting dangerous amounts of weight. It would even improve the quality of the product in that cage as fighters would be stepping in physically healthy and ready to compete at their best.

Monitoring

Simply establishing how much weight a fighter can safely cut isn’t the end of the solution. You then have to monitor that the fighters are cutting that safe amount of weight in the proper manner. You want to make sure they are making a progressive cut rather than just waiting until fight week to make a massive – and unsafe – water weight cut days before the weigh in.

This is where organizations and athletic commissions would really have to prove their commitment to fighter safety. Two weeks ahead of the official weigh ins for a bout fighters should have to step on a scale to show that they are on track to making weight the right way. For simplicity sake, let’s just say fighters have to have at least 50 percent of their weight shed two weeks out.

Example in Practice

Let’s say our imaginary fighter ‘A’ is 6’1” and walks around at approximately 195 pounds when out of competition. Because of his height, weight and body fat percentage, has been pre-qualified to compete in the welterweight division (170 pound weight limit).

He then signs a contract to fight fighter ‘B’ at an upcoming event that is set to take place in six weeks. Fighter ‘A’ begins his training camp knowing that he has to cut 25 pounds by fight night, but he also knows he must be down 12.5 pounds within four weeks of his fight camp. Then in those final two weeks leading up to the fight Jimmy only has to cut his remaining 12.5 pounds.

This is all hypothetical; actual pre-qualification guidelines and monitoring checkpoints would need to be determined by team medical professionals. This is simply a rough outline of what a comprehensive weight cutting program in MMA should look like.

The fact of the matter is poor weight cutting technique and a lack of oversight on the weight cutting process is one of the major issues facing the sport today. As the sport continues to grow and the fighter purses become more lucrative, fighters are going to continue to push the envelope; looking for that edge. If this part of the sport doesn’t get the oversight it desperately needs, organizations won’t have to worry about fighters getting severely injured in the cage they will have to worry about them dying on the scale.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.