The dangers of weight cutting in combat sports

The UFC often gets a bad press for the practice, with many of its top fighters undergoing rapid weight loss ahead of fights

The Tipster
By The Tipster

Weight-cutting in combat sports remains a hugely controversial issue, particularly in the world of mixed martial arts.

The UFC often gets a bad press for the practice, with many of its top fighters undergoing rapid weight loss ahead of fights.

Extreme weight-cutting through dehydration followed by rapid rehydration can cause brain, heart and kidney problems, but despite the risks the likes of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey have both previously admitted to dropping lots of weight before major bouts.

The practice has even caused fatalities, with Chinese flyweight Yang Jian dying in 2015 due to heart failure following his weight cut for a fight, while Scottish Muay Thai boxer Jordan Coe died of suspected heatstroke while trying to make the weight for a bout in Thailand during 2017.

One of the most extreme examples of weight-cutting in the UFC came earlier this year, when Max Holloway attempted a massive cut for a fight he agreed at short notice against Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Holloway was possibly over 180 pounds when fight week arrived, but managed to get within four pounds of the 155lbs limit by the time of the weigh-in. He was pulled from the contest after failing to make the weight.

Nurmagomedov also engaged in weight-cutting prior to a scheduled bout against Tony Ferguson for the UFC interim lightweight title in 2017.

The Russian star was hospitalised and treated for dehydration while trying to make the 155lb limit and the fight was subsequently cancelled on the doctor’s recommendation.

With the popularity of betting on combat sports rising rapidly over the past few years, the practice of weight-cutting can have wider implications.

Knowing whether a fighter has reached the weight limit in a safe manner is a critical piece of information, and many punters would adjust their wagers if they knew that fighters had put their health at risk in the run-up to the contest.

UFC boss Dana White recently suggested that his organisation may revert back to evening weigh-ins rather than mornings, but critics have said that this doesn’t go far enough.

Former two-division world champion Georges St-Pierre has backed a proposal by veteran MMA star Chael Sonnen to schedule the weigh-in on the day of the fight.

He believes the system would prevent fighters from dehydrating themselves in order to get under a limit and help to combat the problem of weight-cutting.

While a recent study by Oliver Barley et al confirmed that athletes in MMA cut more weight than other combat sports athletes, the sport isn’t alone in having problems with the practice.

Many boxers and wrestlers have also used weight-cutting to try and gain an advantage over their opponents, with the deaths of three college wrestlers in North America back in 1997 highlighting the dangers.

However, with the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reporting that the advantage of competing in a lower weight class may balance out any decrease in strength and explosiveness caused by dehydration, it appears that weight-cutting could remain part of some combat sports if changes to the weigh-in system are not implemented.


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