Weight cutting. No fighter likes it, but all fighters do it. It's pretty much standard operating procedure these days for fighters to cut over 20 pounds off their body weight the day before their bout, and the serious toll it puts on a fighter's health both short and long term makes you wonder why the hell it's still a thing.
The answer: because athletes are inherently competitive, and who wouldn't want to hold a big weight advantage over their opponent on fight night? But since both fighters are cutting weight, neither ends up with much of an edge. Instead, what we're seeing is fighters getting sick, fights getting cancelled, endocrine systems being ravaged, and let's not forget the potential for brain damage and death.
It's a bad scene all around and basically pointless at this stage in the sport, but we just can't seem to get rid of weight cutting. One person who's going to give it another shot is Andy Foster, head of the California State Athletic Commission. He's developed an extensive 10 point plan designed to curb excessive cuts.
"I actually think this is a clear and present danger to mixed martial arts, and I'm going to act," he told ESPN in a recent interview. "I don't care if I'm by myself and nobody else acts on this. I hope they do. People have already died, and more will die if we don't get a handle on this."
As the organization that regulates all MMA events in California (barring native reservations), the CSAC is uniquely positioned to try and force through a new way of doing things. But if other states don't follow California's lead or implement an incomplete version of Foster's system, the whole thing could fall apart or worse ... it could make weight cutting even more dangerous.
Here's what the CSAC is proposing: fighters will be assigned to an appropriate weight class by the physician performing their licensing physical in the months leading up to a fight. In addition to being weighed during the physical and at weigh-ins the day before a fight, fighters will be weighed again the day of the fight. Anyone weighing 10% over their weigh-in weight on fight day will no longer be licensed at that weight class for future bouts.
The concern is that this will lead to a situation where instead of cutting weight once, we'll start seeing fighters cutting weight three times to try and game the system. Weigh-ins on the day of a fight are also controversial for this reason because dehydration affects the amount of liquid in the brain and significantly increases the possibility of brain damage.
But Foster is convinced that his package of rules changes will catch people trying to get around the system and put an end to the era of ridiculous weight cuts in MMA. Now he just has to implement it in California in such a way that won't drive away major organizations like the UFC and Bellator. With everyone currently playing the weight cutting game, flipping the switch will result in a massive reshuffling of every weight division. Belts would have to be vacated or transfered. It would be a giant pain in the ass. And if other commissions don't come on board, California could be left with a better system that no one wants to use.
"If we lose some fights because we're trying to protect these guys from unsafe activities, I don't see how that is a negative," Foster told ESPN. "We want to be business friendly, but regulators need to regulate on this. And I really don't think large promoters like the UFC and Bellator are going to abandon the California market because we're trying to provide measure that protect athletes."
Let's hope it works out, because fighters are currently wrecking their bodies and risking their lives for no reason.