MMA: A Weigh-in

default article imageTwenty-six-year-old MMA fighter, Leandro Souza, passed out in a sauna and died the day before his weigh-in for his fight in Rio de Janeiro.  Souza had been asked to fight on short notice and needed to drop 33 pounds in just one week. The young fighter almost accomplished this and he did so by taking extreme diuretics and dehydrating himself to the max. Souza was in the sauna trying to shed his final two pounds before being found dead.

This isn’t atypical for fighters, both men and women. The world of fighting is so competitive that the athletes will do anything within the rule set to gain even the slightest advantage. But, why? What drives these humans to go to such extreme measures all for one fight? The answer to that question is simple: money. According to MMA Fighting’s website, each fighter is threatened with giving up twenty percent of their winnings to their competitor if they do not make weight. Fighters will attempt to drop extreme amounts of weight in order to avoid this, as seen in Souza’s cause of death.

This issue is rising to the surface and a lot of people involved in the MMA are calling for the addition of more weight classes. By adding more weight classes, it gives fighters more opportunity to fight at their optimal weight and eliminate weight cutting altogether.

The process of weight cutting exposes these athletes to many health risks, as you can imagine. Some of the main concerns are kidney failure, heat stroke, and seizures due to extreme dehydration. Even if the fighter makes weight and is able to enter the cage, the fight may not be what puts them in danger, it may be their own health. 

Nicholas Rizzo, a past president and board member of the Association of Ringside physician states, “Long-term kidney impairment eventually leads to damage, and that damage can kill you—if the heat doesn’t get you first.” The repetitive cycle of dehydrating and rehydrating really messes with the fighter’s internal organs. Making it to the fight is extremely dangerous in and of itself but throw a dehydrated and extremely fatigued fighter into the cage, and that may be even more of the problem.

I recently watched a fight between Sijara Eubanks and Roxanne Modaferi. Modaferi missed weight by two pounds. In the cage she was fatigued, being beaten into a panic, and unlikely to win due the lack of strength from dehydration. It was, honestly, painful to watch and it did not feel like a fair fight. How is it right to put financial threats on these fighters? These threats are driving athletes to take extreme measures regarding weight cutting and are causing their bodies to deteriorate.

Souza was only one of many who passed away due to the lifestyle that comes with weight-cutting. Rondel Clark, 26-years-old, died three days following one of his fights in Massachusetts. His kidneys gave out on him and his body was unable to recover and ultimately this situation led to his death.

What can we do as fans to ensure safety for the fighters we are routing for? Well, ONE Fighting Championship is the first successful company in the fight business to abolish weight cutting. They require the fighters to fight at their “walk around weight,” which means they have to fight at their natural weight. The promotion uses hydration testing to make sure the fighters are not dehydrated at the time of the fight. Fighters are required to be tested when they are not in fight camp and see what their levels are and these are used to test the fighter periodically throughout their camp to make sure they are not dehydrated.

If there are ways out there that are proven to work, why don’t we adopt them in other fights? The UFC is the largest and most competitive promotion and it has yet to ban weight-cutting, which is killing their fighters. There is a solution and we must pursue it in order to protect competitors, rather than encouraging them to engage in these extreme lifestyles.

The negative health risks and continuing occurrences of death and serious injury are clear evidence that weight cutting should be eliminated in mixed martial arts. One of the premiere promotions in the sport, ONE Fighting Championship, has already evaluated this evidence and made the decision to do so. The fighters are seeing the benefits and it is only a matter of time until the bigger promotions are also forced to do so.