Friday, May 10, 2013

Regulation of weight cutting in MMA

There was an article, recently, in MMA Underground,”>that calls on MMA to regulate weight cutting. I very much agree.

Unlike the dudes at MMA Underground, for me, it isn't even that weight cutting is dangerous. Mind you, it is dangerous, but people do all kinds of dangerous things. They jump out of airplanes and get into bobsleds. Sometimes, they even get into cage fights. That's the upshot of the MMA Underground article, though, that we have to wring our hands over the safety of grown adults who choose to cut weight. To me, that regulating weight cutting would save lives is merely a bonus.

What bothers me, as a fight fan, is three-fold.

First, it makes the idea of a fighter's weight to be notional. Before every fight, they tell us what the fighter weighed at weigh-in. It is generally a bad approximation, containing no more information that the fighter could cut down to that weight. What their actual weight is at the time of the fight is a mystery and often vastly different. And since different fighters cut different amounts of weight, the information provided by a weigh-in is merely tangential to the actual weights of the fighters.

Second, and more importantly, part of the appeal of MMA – and I daresay any combat sport – is to figure out who really is the toughest sonofabitch out there. On the street, you don't cut weight. You can't massage the rules to fight a smaller guy. I think it's contrary to the ideals of combat sports that the fighters should attempt to manipulate themselves to fight smaller people. It's playing the system, it's making a non-combat relevant skill (weight cutting) to be at least as important as the combat relevant training we expect fighters to excel at.

Thirdly, because weight-cutting is debilitating, we're not seeing the best physical performance we can get from the fighters. We see them slower and weaker than they would normally be because they're engaging in the taxing enterprise of cutting weight.

To give you an idea of how bad this is . . .

Jose Aldo fights at 145 pounds but he weighs around 175 pounds. He cuts THIRTY pounds of weight, right through the top of welterweight, through lightweight, down to featherweight. Gray Maynard, when he fought Frankie Edgar, weighed somewhere between 185 and 200 pounds – he had a thirty to fifty pound advantage against Edgar! Ben Henderson weights around 185 and fights at 155 – he is the size of many welterweights, including the welterweight champion, Georges St-Pierre. Anderson Silva weighs around 220 and fights at 185 – he weighs as much as many light heavyweights, including the champ, Jon Jones. At almost every weight class, the champion is there, in part, because they are simply bigger. Guys like Aldo, Henderson and Anderson are almost always substantially bigger than their opponents – the weigh more than the average fighter of a weight class (or more) above them. To me, that just seems a kind of, well, cheating. It's presenting yourself as smaller than you are in order to gain an advantage over your opponents.

Not only is this weight cutting tolerated, it is encouraged. As the MMA Underground said, the UFC doesn't regulate it at all. Granted, you can mess yourself up with weight cuts, but to me that's also the problem. So you have bizarre situations like Anthony Johnson cutting down from 220 pounds to fight, weakened and slow, at 170 pounds. Not to mention that weight cutting on that scale is very dangerous. (Current UFC heavyweight Daniel Cormier, a small heavyweight at 230 pounds, doesn't fight at light-heavyweight – where he would be even more devastating – due to kidney damage he received cutting weight for wrestling while in college.)

It also presents great advantages to sports that teach weight cutting. European fighters, for instance, generally don't cut weight because wrestling isn't very popular in Western Europe. They, more or less, come into the cage at their normal weight – and time and again you can see them get manhandled not because of their inferior talent but simply because they are outweighed by thirty pounds. So it damages the entrance of international talent into MMA as well as magnifies the significance of wrestling – not only is it the premier defensive martial art of MMA, it teaches the skills of weight cutting in a way that even other grappling arts, like judo, do not.

I just don't like it that a non-combat skill set is so dominant and important in what is supposed to be a combat sport.

The crazy thing, it's a real easy problem to fix. Just set weigh-ins for three hours before the start of the card. Instead of giving the fighters somewhere between thirty-four and forty hours to rehydrate, give them between three and nine. You'd still see a little weight cutting in fighters just beyond the threshold of a given weight class, but it would entirely dispense with guys losing thirty pounds in the two days before a fight. It would give us far more realistic assessment of their physical size, no one would game the system to fight smaller opponents and the fighters would come in with more energy than they would, otherwise. Additionally, it would open the doors of talent to more international fighters who do not have a history of weight cutting. The only down side is it would play havoc with the current rankings, but a few fights would sort that right out.

Alternately, you could do what the guys at MMA Underground suggest and make a bunch of rules that would be difficult to enforce . . . and at which they would likely be as successful as combating steroid use. The best way to fix the problem is to make it physically impossible for them to engage in it, not excessive, difficult to enforce regulation.

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