UFC fighter Anthony Johnson is set to fight at UFC 142 tomorrow in Brazil. However, the beleaguered pugilist is already being pummeled into a cowering pulp by the MMA pundit/fan axis for apparently 'missing weight'. By 'ballooning' in weight and weighing in at 197 pounds- 12 pounds above the category threshold- he has been lambasted by the UFC President as 'unprofessional', and subject to the kind of mass mockery normally reserved for priests with a penchant for plump choir boys. Some have called for him to be cut from the UFC. Others have recommended even more serious punishment, like killing his dog.
But let us pause and reflect before we rush to the castle brandishing our pitchforks. If we do, we will realize that this bandwagon of group-think around Johnson's weight is a massive farce for the simple reason that the process of making weight itself, is a massive farce.
Look at the man in the picture above. Look at that eight-pack. Does he look overweight to you? Despite the withering glare of Mr Fetitta, this is not a bloated, chubby couch potato. This is a lean, ripped professional athlete in prime fighting condition. So why the avalanche of scorn? The only reason is that the whole ceremony around 'making weight' at weigh-in ceremonies has become an institutionalized farce, and this time, perhaps due to illness, Johnson did not play along with the whole charade.
The central idea behind weight categories is fairness. Fighters should be pitted against other fighters of roughly equal strength (with weight being a 'good-enough' proxy for strength). This means that what matters is the fighters' weight the moment they step into the Octagon. But does most fighters' weight at the weigh-in ceremony have any relationship to the one they actually fight at? Of course not. Everybody knows this, yet we still pretend as if the weigh-in number is a sacrosanct measure of the athlete's fighting weight.
The human body is composed of about 60% water. This means that by starving the body of fluids for a period, a person can dramatically and temporarily reduce their body weight. Of course, every fighter does this, and does this openly. In the days and hours before the weigh-in ceremony, they stop drinking, take diuretics, sweat in saunas and jog in sweatsuits, all to lose a few pounds of water weight before they step on the scale.
And after the weigh-in? The first thing some fighters do- right after stepping off the scale, and in full sight of Dana White- is take a thirsty swig from a water bottle. This means that they immediately increase in weight, bloating like a government bureaucracy. And because no smart fighter will step into the Octagon dehydrated and weakened, they inevitably fight between 5-20 pounds heavier than they did at weigh-in. So for all we know, Vitor Belfort might actually be heavier than Johnson when the bell rings.
In a different world therefore, with a different (and logical) frame of reference, 'making weight' by deliberately losing body fluids could actually be considered cheating (to fit into a lower weight category). By this logic, we should actually be commending Anthony Johnson for weighing in at his honest, natural weight. He is being judged (harshly) by the standard of what has become normal. But the 'normal' process of cutting weight and weighing-in has become a charade, because nobody fights at their weigh-in weight.
In an ideal world, the weigh-in would happen right before a fighter steps into the Octagon. THAT would tell us what his real fighting weight is. Of course, we know that this would cause an administrative nightmare (many fights would be cancelled at the last minute), and so it won't happen. But before we condemn athletes like Johnson, let us remember that we are comparing him to other athletes who are themselves under-reporting their fighting weight. Ironically, when everybody cheats a little by purging water, then it's not cheating anymore, and the honest man who weighs in at his 'real' weight becomes the cheat. Food for thought, no?