Extreme Weight Cutting within the UFC

November 22, 2015

Doping, regulation

By Azadeh Taghizadeh – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

There has always been an issue within the sport of fighting that is so widespread that it is seen as part of the sport. It is the issue of weight cutting, and over the years athletes have gone to extreme and dangerous lengths to cut large amounts of weight in a short period of time. Many people have had serious complications from it, and some even have died. Given the seriousness of this issue, should there be any regulations against extreme weight cutting?

The World Anti-Doping Code offers some insight to an approach which may be analogous to the case at hand. WADA prohibits substances that fall within at least two of the three requirements: (1) Medical or other scientific evidence, pharmacological effect or experience that the substance or method alone or in combination with other substances or methods, has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance; (2)…represents an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete; (3) … violates the spirit of sport. Weight cutting could be classified under the first two requirements.

Firstly, extreme weight cutting can enhance sport performance since those who cut weight end up being in weight classes that are much lower than their actual weight, which inevitably gives them an unfair advantage on actual fight day when they have gained their weight back, while the other opponent may be much closer naturally to that weight class. For example, Chris Weidman, a UFC fighter who fights at 185 pounds (lbs) under the middleweight division, is naturally 205 lbs, which should classify him for the heavyweight division.

Heavyweight class has one of the largest weight differences. It runs from 205-265 lbs. Most fighters who are at 225 lbs cut weight to make the light heavyweight class. Unfortunately for those who are around 235 lbs, it may be harder to cut enough weight to be in the light heavyweight division and they may potentially end up fighting someone who weighs 265 lbs. Those who are at 265 lbs may actually be 285 lbs and cut enough weight to be eligible for the heavyweight division.

Not only can this large gap be an advantage for the heavier opponent, but can also be a violation of the second WADA Code requirement that the method not represent an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete. Cutting such as large amount of weight in a short period of time can have ill effects on the athletes body, both psychological such as mood swings, hormonal imbalances and eating disorders, as well as physical such as dehydration and in extreme cases, death, due to a heart attack, stroke or kidney failure.

In 2013, 26-year old Leandro “Feijao” Souza, a Brazilian MMA fighter, died due to a stroke right before his weigh-in for a scheduled fight in Rio de Janeiro. He was to lose 33 pounds in one week, and according to MMAFighting.com, Souza was taking Lasix, a diuretic pill, which is prohibited under the WADA Code.

Recently, Johny Hendrick was hospitalized due to his weight cutting issues. He had kidney stones and intestinal blockage. He weighs around 200-215 lbs and was to cut down to 170 lbs for his fight.

Given the commonality and dire effects of weight cutting, steps are now being taken to start to control weight cutting within the UCF and other amateur fighting sports. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has announced that fighters will no longer be able to rehydrate using intravenous (IV) methods. Also, within the amateur arena, Arkansas has been the first state or province within North America to enact weight-cutting rules. Arkansas State Athletics Commission has now stated in Chapter 1 of the Rules and Regulations of Extreme Rule to Reduce Weight Cutting in the Amateur Class of Combative Sports: “Any Amateur Combative Sports fighter shall not gain more than .075 (7.5%) of his advance weigh-in body weight, and in no case, shall any fighter be allowed to gain weight sufficient to move up more than ONE published weight class for his specific sport.”

Hopefully these regulations will be the start of controlling this transparent issue of weight cutting within the sport of fighting and the widespread habit will become controlled and less extreme.

 

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