Another week of MMA means another set of weigh-ins, and we all know what to expect.
It’s always the same – the same haunting expression on these fighters’ faces. The same suffering. I always find myself wondering: When are we going to realize the ignorance of what we are doing?
We make these fighters go through extreme dehydration 24 hours before an incredibly tough sporting event – before a mixed martial arts match, where the opposing participant will do absolutely anything and everything in his or her ability to knock us out cold or apply some other technique that will render us unable to continue. And this will happen for 15 or even 25 minutes. It is a fight, you know! This has to qualify as Ignorance 2.0.
I think a parallel is when the tobacco industry marketed menthol cigarettes for asthma: “Just what the doctor ordered.”
We are simply stuck here, and there is not enough significant realization or discussion to try to change anything.
For example, in many places, we are using mechanical scales at official weigh-ins rather than precise digital ones. I have asked around for a reason for this, but no one seems able to give me one.
A few weeks ago in Houston at UFC 262, there was a difference between the precise digital scale backstage and the mechanical one out front. Several times, a fighter got up on the mechanical scale and showed a weight above what he had just weighed on the digital one backstage. These poor guys were already dehydrating and suffering. They had to take all their clothing off, or in some cases even go back and lose another two-tenths of a pound, which was the difference that was showing on the two scales. It might not seem like a big deal to you sitting there reading this, but it’s a really big deal when you have just spent the last few days dieting hard – and the last 24 hours dehydrating yourself.
The officials overseeing the weigh-ins sure did not seem to care. It’s a complete disconnect between the participants and the regulators. Of course, they are not the ones dehydrating. Mechanical scale? Come on. It’s 2021. We can do better.
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There is simply no logical reason for us to keep on measuring weight in this way. It’s detrimental to everyone involved. It’s bad for the athletes because they don’t only suffer on the day of weighing in – they suffer through the whole process, and that’s not even mentioning their overall health.
It’s bad for the promotions. How many fights get canceled due to missed weight?
It’s bad for the fans. A fight between two athletes who did not just go through dehydration to make weight will be a hell of a lot better than a matchup between two fighters who just went through this insane process 24 hours earlier, obviously.
Objectively speaking, there is a better system, and it is being used successfully in ONE Championship. It does not permit dehydration in order to reach a specific weight. Both weight and hydration (using a simple device called a refractometer, which measures density of a liquid) are measured twice in the two days prior to the fight. The weights are one division above what they would be here, for the simple reason that is about what fighters are dehydrating in order to reach the current weight divisions.
What athletes are doing, in reality, is dropping 10 or 15 pounds and then putting it back on in the next 24 hours. If you step back and think about it, you will realize that this makes absolutely no sense. After 24 hours, the weights between two fighters will be different, anyways. One person will tend to put more weight back on – in this case, liquid – than the other, so it completely defeats the entire purpose of limiting weight advantage between the fighters.
In the other system, this doesn’t happen as much because the two participants did not dehydrate to reach a certain weight threshold in the first place, which also means that they will not tend to add a lot of weight back on afterward, either. It would just make them slower and heavier than they need to be.
I do not pretend to own the truth here. All I can tell you about is what I have seen and experienced myself. But what I can attest to is that we are not discussing this topic frequently enough. We are not trying to evolve, to improve. We are just doing the same thing over and over and over again. Who cares, right? It’s not us who is doing the suffering.
We must do better.
Alex Davis is a lifelong practitioner of martial arts and a former Brazilian judo champion. A founding member of American Top Team, Davis currently oversees the careers of a number of prominent Brazilian fighters, including Edson Barboza, Antonio Carlos Junior, Rousimar Palhares, Thiago “Marreta” Santos, Antonio Silva and Thiago Tavares, among others. Davis is a regular contributor to MMAjunkie, sharing his current views on the sport built through his perspectives that date back to the Brazilian roots of modern MMA.