Crunch Time: Morning weigh-ins will benefit UFC fighters

This was my Crunch Time column for this week’s issue of the Cheney Free Press. 

Mixed martial arts fans who have been watching the sport for many years may have noticed new methods some state athletic commissions have adopted for the weigh-in procedures at UFC events.

At the promotion’s last two events, UFC 199 (June 5) and UFC Fight Night Ottawa (June 18), fighters weighed in the morning before their bouts, between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., at their hotel. The UFC still had its weigh-ins show, but the weights announced for each fighter were from the morning.

This is different from previous weigh-ins where fighters would hit the scales at 4 p.m. the day before their fights.

The morning weigh-ins process is something new the UFC and state athletic commissions are trying, and personally, I hope it becomes a procedure for MMA events across the nation.

The morning weigh-in was started by the California State Athletic Commission as a way to combat severe dehydration in mixed martial arts and boxing. The commission first implemented the weigh-ins for the middleweight boxing title fight between Gennady Golovkin vs. Dominic Wade in April.

The commission also had doctors use a hydration scale and gravity tests to examine fighters for severe dehydration before UFC 199.

These procedures and regulations are the latest efforts on the commission’s part to lessen the dangers and health risks that come from fighters cutting weight. It’s also a way to make sure fighters who do make weight are not dehydrated and fatigued when they step into the cage.

The weight cut is one of the most difficult aspects of combat sports. Anyone who wrestled in high school knows how difficult it can be to shed those pounds at the last minute to make weight for your match.

In professional sports, it’s not uncommon to hear some fighters attempting to drop 15-20 pounds in 2-3 days to make their required weight. The problem is fat tends to burn slower, so when you’re trying to cut weight quickly, you’re actually losing water and you could become severely dehydrated.

According to a report from the New York State Athletic Commission’s website, excessive and/or rapid weight loss can also cause decreased performance, hormonal imbalance, decreased nutrition and an increased injury risk.

It also decreases muscle strength, endurance, heart and cardiovascular function, as well as energy utilization and nutrient exchange. Dehydration can increase the risk of brain injury as well.

Many fighters used IVs to rehydrate after their weigh-ins. However, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which handles UFC drug testing, banned the use of IVs in October 2015, citing that it could be used to hide performance-enhancing drug use.

Some fighters have been hospitalized because of severe weight loss, one being former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks, who suffered intestinal blockage and a kidney stone attack due to his weight cut. In December, Chinese fighter Yang Jian Bing passed away from cardiopulmonary failure following his weight cut.

Bing’s death opened the eyes of some officials and fighters about the dangers of weight cutting and dehydration, but there wasn’t much progress combating these issues until now.

Having the fighters weigh in the morning has made a difference. When fighters show up for the afternoon weigh-ins, they’ve already had several hours to rehydrate. They look healthy and coherent when they’re talking to reporters – or talking trash to their opponents. Some even have a spring in their step.

The morning weigh-ins is a good first step in addressing weight cutting issues. The UFC is talking about adopting these regulations as a permanent practice for future events, though they still need to work with athletic commissions.

Even if athletic commissions don’t have the earlier weigh-ins, the UFC is taking measures to make sure their fighters cut weight in a healthy manner.

Starting in July, the UFC will also be implementing a new weight management system that monitors a fighter’s weight during the weeks leading up to their fight.

Under the new guidelines, fighters must be within 8 percent of their target weight during fight week. Fighters who check in above the 8 percent threshold will be subject to daily monitoring of their weight, and vitals and will be required to attend weight management counseling before their next bout.

The UFC’s new headquarters in Las Vegas will feature an athlete health and performance center with staff on hand to provide weight management and nutrition plans for athletes.

Some fans may think the UFC is micromanaging their fighters with these new procedures, but it’s about their safety and health.

In a sport where an athlete’s main objective is to incapacitate their opponent with strikes or submissions, any measures to increase their safety and preserve their health — especially before the fight — is a plus.

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