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Weight cutting wackiness

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There have been reported deaths of athletes dying from extreme weight cutting in MMA recently. Not just deaths, but also athletes in dire condition at the weight-ins.

This has happened in other combat sports, even at the amateur level. Wrestling(real wrestling folks), has been a major victim of this, with even reported deaths of young athletes that died from weight cutting regimes.

What  is weight cutting? It is using different methods for a competitor to drop to a lower weight class. The athlete would go down to a lower weight class, then hopefully gaining the weight back  in hours before their match to gain a size advantage. The theory is that the more weight a fighter dropped dehydration , the more they could regain after weighing in and hold a size advantage over his opponent. An athlete that has more muscle has an advantage over those that are not willing to cut the extra water weight. But, athletes and coaches never considered the process a health risk.

Sometimes the effort to qualify for the weight class could be often be more challenging than the actual competition itself! I’ve seen myself fighters spend more time worrying about their weight rather than the technical training.

The methods of weight cutting include hours of spent on exercise bikes, in saunas and plastic suits; taking laxatives, diuretic, even induced vomiting and repeated spitting to force any trace liquids from the body. Some weird techniques include that an athlete would stand on his head to redistribute the weight in his body and shave a few ounces/grams at the scale(!).

This cutting phase would cause muscle cramps, insomnia, irritability and feelings of illness.

These weight-ins are done the day before, so athletes tried to drop as much weight as possible to make weight. Athletes have been too exhausted or cramped to move on their own, they had to be carried or helped to the scales. Recent videos of this on some pro-MMA events have surfaced. But this has been going on, even at the amateur level for years.

One of my former Muay Thai teammates(in the early 90s) cut  too much weight to put himself into a lower weigh class. The weigh-in was the same day as the event, so he had little time to recover his strength. When he entered into the ring, he looked feeble.  I told the other teammates watching :”Man, he’s gonna lose.”  They all looked at me in disbelief on why I would say such a thing. I replied:”Geez, he barely made it thru the ropes!!”

The most extreme result of this weight cutting has been death. Recently there has been a pro MMA fighter that died from his weight cut. Myself, I knew that this was not the first time this has happened in a combat sport weight cutting. In 1997, there were 3 NCAA wrestlers that died within a 5 week period. These deaths caused a major wake up for the NCAA.

How did these deaths happen? The extreme loss of fluid from the bloodstream weakens the cardiovascular functions and reduces endurance. If the water is not restored, blood flow to the skin and muscles will start to shut down to preserve the remaining fluid. Without he ability to sweat, the body begins to overheat. With no oxygen , the muscle start to perish. This can trigger a potential life-threatening condition called Rhabdomyolysis, in which the staved muscle fibers break down and flood the bloodstream with proteins, clogging up the kidneys, causing kidney failure and stressing the electrical processes that support the heart , resulting in cardiorespiratory failure.

Weight cutting seems to be part of the sport, a kind of rite of passage for its participants. I myself have gone thru these weight cutting cycles, but never to the extremes that some others put themselves thru. I was fortunate to have had excellent and compassionate coaches(apart from the Muay Thai trainer) who never pushed or forced us to cut weight so drastically. Cutting some weight is fine, but where it puts one’s life in danger, I don’t think so.

Having had such terrible travesties that happened in the NCAA, they cleaned up their act by banning plastic sauna suits and saunas themselves in training areas. Increasing the amount of weight classes, and weigh-ins are made the day of the competitions rather than the day before. This eliminates the time necessary to recover from excessive weight cutting.

Criticizing the practice of weight cutting, something so intertwined with combat sports’ “proud” tradition, is like criticizing the sport itself.

Majority of amateur MMA or grappling competitions have the weigh-ins the day of. I think it is the smart way to go. Doing it the day before, tempt athletes to cut more weight. I believe a big key player responsible to over see the athletes weight cutting are  the coaches. A competent coach should track their fighters’ weight and body fat percentage (if possible) throughout the year, to make sure the athlete does not drop weight to quickly and stays closer to their fighting weight yearly.

By a fighter being close to their fighting weight, it will be an easier, and less grueling task to make the fight weight. The fighter can concentrate on technical and strategical training, rather than being possessed on how much they weight. Furthermore, one would be able to keep more muscle mass and stay stronger with this method. Doing drastic weight cutting, one starts to lose muscle too.

Extreme weight cutting makes it less attractive for young athletes to join those combat sports that still practice it. After the NCAA introduced the new rules on weight cutting, there was an increase of participants in wrestling. One has to remember that even if an athlete survives there are potential long-term effects on the body. These effects can range from damages to the metabolic system, brain, kidney and vision problems. Is it worth it to go to those extremes?

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