Deaths, Dangers and Weight Cutting in MMA

Weight Cutting in MMA and other Combat sports has been becoming more more  a very serious matter, that could be life threatening for fighters.

Just a couple of days back we had another tragedy.  Scottish Muay Thai fighter Jordan Coe, 20 years old,  died while training in Thailand. He was summposed to fight last Sunday and he went out of his house, wearing a heavy tracksuit most likely trying to cut some of the weight in order to get to his weight class limit for the fight.

He never returned and was later found dead probably from heatstroke. Our condolances to his family and friends.

First, for those who dont know what weight cutting is, let me explain.

A lof of fighters, mainly in MMA and Wrestling, try to gain as much  advantage  as they can in their fight and one way is to be heavier than their opponent.

So they try to drop a lof of weight in the final days before the fight, sometimes even in the 24 hours before. There is a great new documentary on the subject from BBC that is following a British MMA fighter that tries to cut 7 kilos or 15 pounds in one day! Thats 10 % of his total bodyweight.

The most common way to do that is to extremely dehydrate themselves before the weigh in and then in the next 24 hours untill the fight they try to hydrate back to their original weight. They way they do that is usually prettey horrible. We ‘ve seen fighters wearing tracksuits, in saunas while trying to workout.

This is really dangerous on its own but a lot of them are not even hydrated fully when they step into the ring or cage. There is research coming from the athletic commisions that states that aproximately 39% of fighters start the fight dehydrated and that takes to danger to a whole new level.

To day, there have been at least 2 different cases of fighters who are believed to have lost their lives due to a bad weight cut and complications.

MMA fighter Leandro Souza passed out and died before his weigh in for a Shooto Brazil event back in 2013.  He got the fight on short notice and had to lose 33 pounds in one week.

it was reported later from family and that he had taken 3 diouretic pills in order to drop the extra weight and when he passed out he was 2 pounds over the limit. He died from a stroke.

2 years later, 21 year old ONE FC fighter  Yang Jian Bing was supposed to fight on ONE Championship 35 but it was announced the the bout was cancelled  “due to Yang’s severe dehydration from attempting to make weight. Yang Jian Bing has suffered from dehydration and suspected heat stroke. He has been transported to the hospital where he is undergoing intensive rehydration treatment.”

In a tragic turn, one day later the promotion announced that the Chinese fighter died from the complications of his weight cut due to due to cardiopulmonary failure.

While death is the most tragic end for bad weight cutting complications, there is a score of other issues that plagues almost every fighters who cuts extreme weight.

According to former fighter and nutrition guru George Lockhart “Some guys are really damaging their metabolic systems. Later on down the road, their metabolic systems are going to shut down.”

“You’ll see guys who walk with pain. Their joints hurt. Everything hurts,” says Lockhart to men’s fitness magazine. “As little as 3% dehydration equates to a 30% decrease in performance. You’re starting to pull things from your major organs.” 

And we have so many terrifying examples of possible complications.

Back in 2008, todays UFC lightheavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, was the USA wrestling team captain for the 2008 Olympics. He made weight for his division matches the next day but suddenly his body shut down  from the trauma endured to cut the extra pounds.

He has rushed to the hospital where they tried to hydrate him back but it wasnt working. His kidneys had failed. Fortunately for him, he regained his health and he didnt suffer any permanent kidney damage but only after a big scare and having been withdrawn from the Olympics when he was a favourite for the medal.

“”For 10 years I’ve been taking my body where it didn’t want to go, going up and down. I guess my body had enough,” Cormier told his hometown newspaper, The Advertiser after the whole thing.

And there are many more scary cases like that one. Christane Syborg Santos, released footage from her weight cut for the UFC which was very brutal and punishing for her. I have this link bellow too, you should check it out.

To make matter worse, an athlete who goes into the fight dehydrated has elevated danger of brain injury.

The brain needs its fluids to be protected, especially in combat sports where there are strikes on the head. When the fighter is not 100% hydrated the brain absorves much bigger punishment and damager from the strikes it gets hit with.

But the Brain also needs water to work properly, so the dehydrated fighter, has trouble focusing on the fight, hasd trouble hearing and following orders from his corner and above all is much easier to be  knocked down and knocked out.

Have you ever heard fighters saying after a loss that they couldnt hear their corner, or that “for some reason” their body didnt follow what they wanted to do? Chances are, their brain hadn’t fully recovered yet.

So, with the current situation of weight cutting in Combat sports, fighters risk their lives, they risk their long term health, they risk a bad performance that could ruin their carreer and the promotions also risk their own events.

We had a lot of big fights that got cancelled a few hours before they happened because one of the fighters had weight cutting complications. A big and very recent example is what happened at UFC 209 a couple of weeks back.

On the main card, Khabib Nurmagomedov was supposed to fight Tony Ferguson for the nr 1 contender spot and a chance to fight champion Conor McGregor. This was the biggest fight of their carreers for the opportunity to face the promotions biggest star and make a lot of money.

Hours before the weight in, Khabib was rushed to the hospital due to weight cutting complications. He regained his health but he was not cleared to fight. The UFC has to scrapp the bout, the event lost a tone of appeal for the buyers and they both lost a lot of money, after spending a lot of money to prepare.

Of course this was not the first time something like that had happened.

After all that, finally now, everyone involved seems to understand that extreme weight cutting might actually be the biggest problem the sport of MMA has today.

It took 3 college wrestlers dying for weight cutting complications in one months time back in 1997 for the sport to start setting some guidelines, it took Yang Jian Bings death for ONE FC to start a whole new program to make its fighters fight at a more healthy weight and now the UFC with the athletic commisions seems to be running towards a better and healthier system.

There have already been changes. Weight ins happen in the morning of the day before their fight, instead of the evening or noon like before, so fighters can hydrate better. Also, they have banned any IV use so fighters arent tempted to cut more weight thinking that the IV is gonna fully hydrate them. (It doesnt anyway).

Now,  the Executive Director of the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) Andy Foster has a 10 point plan to adress the situation.

The main thing in his plan is the need for a weight class licence. The fighter would state the lowest weight class he wants to fight in, the commission and a specialist Physician will then keep track of all his health data and critical weight information, in the camp and the week leading up to the fight, he will be get regular check ups and after all that happens the commision will decide if the fighter can fight in that weight class healthy. If he is approved he will get the specific weight class licence. Without one he cant fight.

Other points, are bigger fines and restrictions for those who miss weight, additional weight classes, a second weight check on the day of the fight to make sure the fighter hasnt gained more than 8% of the bodyweight back and isnt dehydrated before entering the ring.

It is all discussed in a Luke Thomas podcast, i have the link bellow as always.

Is this a step in the right direction? Yes and the need to take more measures to fight extreme weight cutting is dire. Its more than neccesary. I like the points that Andy Foster made. A constant check on a fighters weight, from outside of competition, to the day they enter the training camp, up to the weight ins, is the only solution that seems to make the more sense now.

I understand that the logistics of these might be enormous but, as i said before, we dont have to mourn more deaths before our hand is forced to act. As UFC Fighter Gunnar nelson told me last year, since every fighter is cutting weight, the advantage one expects is gone, since his opponent did the same thing and its stupid to risk your health and life, for a miniscule or even non existant advantage.

Aldo, healthier fighters will give us better fights, fuller events and less things to worry about. But they have to run with this thing. The sport of MMA is so massive but fragmented that even if the UFC enforces that tomorrow, its gonna take too long for it to trickle down to the smaller, regional promotions where the dangers sometimes are even greater cause of lower health standards.

It needs to happen now and it needs to be a big change, a step on a healthier sport.







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