In every sport where competitors are separated according to their size, weight-cutting is common.
Wrestling, submission grappling, and MMA all have weight classes to help keep fights competitive and ensure size advantages don’t give one competitor an unfair edge.
However, with any system, there are methods for gaming it. Even if those participating still play by the rules, their struggle to get the best result within the constraints of the framework they compete in can sometimes lead to unwanted results.
This has never been clearer than in today’s MMA landscape, as weight cuts are drawing more concern about how they can impact a fighter’s body and performance. Fighters who cut a lot of weight usually enjoy a height and reach advantage over most of their opponents, making it easy to see the incentive for large cuts.
But not all of these cuts are healthy. Some fighters push themselves too hard, dieting too much and spending too much time in the sauna. Recently at UFC 216, Kevin Lee missed weight by a pound during his initial weigh-in. He was allowed to reattempt the cut, and did so successfully, but only after doctors determined he was healthy enough for a second try.
Daniel Lima’s story wasn’t quite the same. After going through an especially tough cut for his bout at Pancrase 290, the fighter was helped to the scale. Barely able to stand on his own, Lima missed the strawweight limit for his bout with Daichi Kitakata by two pounds. Despite the concerning sight, the fighter was still allowed to compete. He lost via unanimous decision.
While the numbers show that the world’s premiere MMA organization has seen more extreme weight cuts and cases of fighters missing weight in recent years, UFC president Dana White is sticking to the same stance he’s long held concerning the controversial matter.
Though the most common suggestion for fixing the problem is the addition of more weight classes, White doesn’t believe this is the right solution. Even as 17 UFC fighters have missed weight so far in 2017, White says more weight classes won’t stop fighters from looking for an advantage.
“People are like, ‘Add weight classes, do this, do that. It’s never going to change. You’re still going to have people trying to – let’s say I add a 165-pound weight class. That will only mean bigger guys will try to make 165. Everybody’s always looking for an advantage.”
He also spoke highly of the UFC’s Performance Institute, a new organization that provides fighters with free access to weight-cutting experts. The promotion currently has a dozen weight classes, with eight for men and four for women.
The promotion found mainstream acceptance with only five weight classes, the lowest being lightweight. Following buyouts and mergers of other promotions, they gained three lighter weight classes and have been adding more classes for women steadily since the UFC moved to allow female fighting.
But with evidence that even minor weight cuts can impact performance and health, this topic will likely see more discussion in the future.