The Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP) issued a statement recently that called for state athletic commissions to adopt new guidelines to monitor weight cutting in professional combat sports, including mixed martial arts (MMA).
According to the statement, weight cutting is a potentially hazardous process that should be closely regulated to ensure fighter safety.
Per ARP's statement:
There is a growing body of information in the medical literature that presents unequivocal evidence of the danger of excessive weight loss, rapid weight loss and repeated cycling of weight gain and loss. Rapid weight loss and dehydration have been proven to negatively affect a number of health-related parameters including: physical performance, cardiovascular function, temperature regulation, hormonal balance, nutritional status, neurologic function, mental performance, and energy utilization. These may cause life-threatening muscle breakdown, shock, heat illness, kidney failure, and electrolyte imbalances, in addition to placing the athlete at increased injury risk. Additionally, the possible relationship between dehydration and predisposition to concussion requires more investigation. Significant dehydration also puts the athlete at risk of improper rehydration techniques -- when, in reality, proper re-hydration requires hours to days.
This warning comes after the MMA world has already seen weight cuts that have resulted in death. Last September, before a scheduled fight in the Brazilian Shooto organization, Leandro "Feijao" Souza passed away because of a stroke brought on by a harsh weight cut.
While a fighter has never passed away while under contract to a major North American promotion such as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), there have been several incidents at UFC weigh ins that have raised cause for concern.
In fact, earlier this month at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "China" Finale, Zak Cummings was pulled from a scheduled welterweight bout when he failed to make the 170-pound limit. Cummins later revealed he feared for his life during the final hours of the cut, explaining that he was "cringing with pain and losing vision ... on the verge of passing out with every movement."
Cummins' weight cut may be an extreme case, but according to ARP's statement, fighters suffering adverse effects because of dehydration is far from a rarity in MMA.
The prevalence of these problems is significant. One recent study found that 39 percent of MMA fighters were entering competition in a dehydrated state. Many cases of dehydrated athletes using intravenous fluids to re-hydrate after weigh-ins have been reported – considered a doping violation with several international organizations. Heat illness and death in athletes have been previously documented in the sports of wrestling and MMA. Weight management regulations for boxing/MMA competitors are warranted to mitigate improper weight loss techniques contributing to severe dehydration and starvation and their complications.
To curtail problems associated with weight cutting, ARP recommends instituting same-day weigh ins such as those adopted by the NCAA in response to three collegiate wrestlers dying during weight cutting attempts over a span of just 33 days back in 1997.
A number of organizations including the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have adopted rules to minimize unhealthy weight loss in weight-classified sports. The rules emphasize hydration and body composition assessment to identify an individual's proper weight class, and provide a safe, gradual, weekly weight control plan (gain or loss) to achieve same if desired. The new regulations were subsequently investigated for their effectiveness and were reported to be successful by minimizing unhealthy weight loss, excessive weight fluctuations and competition at weight classes inappropriate for a given athlete. It is noted that the effectiveness and success of protocols such as same day weigh-ins are directly tied to proper weight management programs.
In the past critics of same-day weigh ins have brought up the likelihood of fighters still cutting weight to some degree and then entering the cage dehydrated, which could be even more dangerous than current practices.
However, same-day weigh ins have proven to be a successful way of managing weight cutting in both college wrestling and in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) tournaments. That's because competitors are less likely to embark on drastic weight cuts if they know they don't have more than 24 hours to rehydrate and recover.
It's worth keeping an eye on how state athletic commissions and UFC react to ARP's denunciation of current weight cutting practices. Back in January, ARP issued a similar statement regarding testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Just a few days later, Nevada State Athletic Commission voted to cease allowing fighters therapeutic use exemptions to receive medically-prescribed testosterone.
Could a similar response be in the works regarding ARP's recommendations to overhaul current weight cutting practices?
Stay tuned for further developments.