Once again a big fight fell through due to weight cutting issues. This time it was Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson, a fight that everybody have been looking forward to for a long time.
And once again the issue of weight-cutting comes up. There is enough criticism as it is against weight-cutting being very unhealthy for fighters, diminishing their fighting abilities come fight night and pitting different sized opponents against one another depending on how willing different fighters are to submit themselves to this dangerous process. On top of that, from time to time there is the even worse outcome of fighters going to hospitals because of bad weight-cuts and big fights getting canceled at the last moment (not to mention a few deaths that resulted from weight-cutting related complications).
Clearly the method of making sure fighters fight at the same weight these days is not ideal, and there have been a lot of clamoring for its revision. To try and decide how to change it, two important things need to be considered: why are fighters cutting weight, and what is the theoretically ideal solution.
The main reason that fighters cut weight is to be as big as they can on fight night. Meaning, of course, that they want to fight at a weight that is as close as possible to the weight they usually walk around at, but they want to weigh-in at the lowest weight possible – much lower than the weight they walk around at – planning to gain all that weight back after the weight-in so that there would be the biggest margin possible between their fight weight and official weight. This is of course the source of the danger – this discrepancy between the two weights.
Our aim, in order to protect the health of the fighters and improve the likeliness that weight-cutting issues wouldn’t result in fight cancellations, is to diminish this discrepancy as much as possible, ideally making fighters never cut weight for their fights and eliminating this danger completely.
How can we make fighters not cut weight for their fights? The simple answer is just to have them weigh-in right before the fight. Since they wouldn’t have the time to gain weight back before the fight they wouldn’t be fighting at a heavier weight than their official weigh-in weight and they would not have any reason to cut weight before the fight.
But it’s not that simple. First of all, there is a procedural issue. The promotion wants to know if the fighters are on weight quite some time before the fight and not at the last minute. Another issue is that fighters might still want to fight at a weight division lighter than their walk-around weight, even if they would weight lighter on fight night, because their usual bigger size would translate to being stronger even though slimmer. Meaning they would plan to keep the muscles and lose the fat right before the fight. This would again result with the same problem of extreme weight-cutting right before the fight.
So we can see that a one-time weight-in is always a problem. Whether it’s right before a fight or it’s 24 hours prior to the fight, fighters would always want to weigh in at the lowest weight possible for their body. In order to eliminate this weight-cutting practice fighters have to be made to fight at their real weight.
What is the ideal solution, then? The ideal solution would be knowing what is the “real” weight of a fighter and making him fight in that weight division. The practical meaning of “real” would be his walk-around weight. And the ideal method of knowing what this weight is, is by having him weigh every day year-round.
Of course, this solution is impractical. No one would agree to be subjected to constant weight supervision even when they are not fighting, and it would take a too big and expensive logistical effort to pull it off. But we do need to keep this in mind as the ideal solution as we are looking for the real practical solution.
Another solution would be checking a fighter’s weight throughout their training camp, which usually lasts about 8 weeks or so. I don’t think this solution is a total impossibility. During training camp fighters know they have a fight coming up and they are getting into shape. It’s not like coming to fighters who don’t even know if and when they will fight next. The logistics of the weight checking is less complicated since many fighters train in a few famous gyms together, so they can all be weighed-in together. And the weigh-in could be performed randomly and without notice, same as drug testing. This way, fighters should know that when they are in training camp they should always weigh on or less than their fight weigh-in weight.
I think this is a very reasonable solution. The main problem with it is that not all fights are announced two months in advance. This would make the weigh-in time frames different for different fighters depending no when their fights were announced.
The best solution in my opinion is having fighters weigh-in two times a day since the day they come to the city of the fight, which is usually about 3 or 4 days before the fight, including one time right before the fight.
Obviously, fighters wouldn’t be able to stay dehydrated for 3 days straight and fight at this dehydrated state. They would have to choose a weigh division that is consistent with their walk-around weight. They wouldn’t cut weight right before a fight; in fact they would probably not cut weight at all. There is just no way of it helping them on the time of the fight, it would only weaken them.
Fighters already come to the fight location for promotional purposes (like open work-outs and press conferences) anyway, so they would not be required to something extra. The logistics of it would be simple enough since most fighters already stay at the same hotels, so these weigh-ins can be performed there, once in the morning and once in the evening so fighters don’t even have to alter their plans all that much.
I really don’t see any downside to it.
By the way, it should be noted that after such a change most fighters would probably change their weight divisions. Fighters who are fighting now at lightweight would be fighting at welterweight or maybe even middleweight, but since all fighters would make this change it would probably mean that most fighters would still be fighting at the same weight class as their current opponents – just in a division with a different name.
But let’s assume that there is some problem with this solution, which I can’t think of right now. What is the minimum amount of times you would have to weigh-in a fighter in order to solve the current weight-cutting issues?
In my opinion the answer is two. The problem with one weigh-in is that either fighters plan on gaining that weight back after the weigh-in which makes for the most severe weight-cutting issues or they don’t (if the weigh-in is right before the fight) but they still do it to gain some strength advantage and then they can walk into the fight dehydrated.
Two weigh-ins at a sufficient interval from one another forces the fighter to stay at this weigh-in weight for a few hours at least which means the dehydration can’t be that extreme. The other qualification is that one of the weigh-ins must be right before the fight so the fighter wouldn’t be able to regain that weight, again making losing the weight useless to begin with.
So while I want to stress that I am definitely in favor of multiple weigh-ins for a few days leading up to the fight (and even more if possible), I do think that even just two weigh-ins can go a long way in solving the problem of weight-cutting. These weigh-ins should be done right before the fight and on the morning of the day of the fight. Fighters who would know that not only do they have to fight at a certain weight (since one weigh-in is right before the fight) but be at that weight for about 12 hours before the fight, would probably not choose to fight at a weight division in which they have to cut weight at all. Not only would it not give them any advantage, but it would weaken them and diminish their abilities.