Some thoughts about medical issues and weight cutting

This post was originally published in 2012. Sadly, weight cutting has been back in the MMA news lately for all the wrong reasons. While fighters would undoubtedly be better off if nobody cut weight, there are no easy solutions to stop it from happening. Unless and until things change, education and understanding the risks is crucial. 

Weight cutting is a frequent topic of obsession for fighters and debate amongst fans. Some have argued that it amounts to cheating. Others point out that when done badly, it can be one of the most dangerous aspects of MMA. Dehydration can result in heat stroke, kidney failure or heart arrhythmias. Although there’s very little research on this subject, it’s possible that fighters quite commonly dehydrate themselves to a level that affects kidney function. And when it goes badly wrong, it can kill you.

I’ve noticed a trend amongst fighters. Those who seem least concerned about their health when planning a weight cut are often the quickest to plead “medical reasons”  when it goes wrong. I don’t want to pick on anyone in particular, so let’s think about a fictional fighter. We’ll call him John Anthonyson.

We can imagine a conversation between John and his coach.

A few weeks out from his fight, John is looking a bit on the chunky side. His coach sits him down. “Look John, we’re a bit worried about your weight. You know you’ve had problems making weight in the past. We really think you should think about your diet, you know, so you don’t have so much to cut in the last week.”

John: “Get off my back, will ya? It’ll be fine. I know what I’m doing. Next you’ll be telling me that ‘weight cutting is dangerous’ or some nonsense like that. Real fighters can cut 30 lbs, no problem. Those doctors haven’t a clue. Besides, I’ve got some, ah, ‘supplements’ that are gonna help me out this time.”

Several weeks later, after failing to make weight:

“Look, I tried, honestly I did. It wasn’t my fault. I don’t know what happened. Everything was going fine, and then I just started feeling really dizzy and light headed, I couldn’t stand up… my kidneys were hurting, everything started going black. The doctors told me I needed fluids, so I just did what they said. I’m sorry and all, but shit happens. It’s just unfortunate. I did the right thing though. My health has to come first.”

Don’t want to end up in this situation? Avoiding it is pretty straightforward.

  • Make sure you understand the process of weight cutting, and what can go wrong. Do your own research and take responsibility for your own weight cut. Having someone experienced who can advise you is great, but at the end of the day it’s your body and your health on the line.
  • Never sign a contract unless you know you can make the weight, and have a clear plan to do so.
  • Make sure you’ve practised your weight cut. Yes, doing a cut when you haven’t got a fight sucks. But it also allows you to experiment, and to find out how your body works and which methods are best for you without the pressure of knowing that you have to make the weight. That way, you’ll also know how much you can cut, rather than relying on the method of wishful thinking.
  • Leave a margin for error. Once you know the maximum you can safely cut, make sure that you have at least a few pounds in the bank. Just in case your flights are delayed, the sauna isn’t working, you’re on your period or the dog ate your sweat suit.
  • Don’t use dehydration as a substitute for a proper diet and conditioning program.
  • Don’t assume that just because your favourite fighter can cut 30 lbs in two hours in the sauna (apparently) that you can too. Everyone’s body reacts differently.
  • Speak to your doctor first if you have any underlying health issues, and especially any history of heart or kidney problems.


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