Weight Cutting – The most dangerous aspect of a dangerous sport?

‘Mr Sport’ client, the BAMMA bantamweight Alan Philpott. Clear evidence of weight cutting done right.

 Written by Yiannis Flemming – aka Mr Sport

With the recent focus on weight cutting, it’s become ever more apparent that alterations to the current system in mixed martial arts need to be made. If you’re a die-hard fight fan, then you’ve probably been affected in some way by the process of cutting weight. Whether your favourite fighter has put their health at risk, whether you’ve seen terrible performances due to poor refueling and rehydration, or whether you haven’t even got to see some of the fights you’ve been looking forward to most, it’s not been the most reliable process, right? It’s no joke, weight cutting in MMA needs to be regulated.

What baffles me most is that the sport has grown exponentially over the past decade, so much so, that pretty much every country on the planet has a gym full of fighters looking to break through onto the sport’s biggest promotion, the UFC. So why does it seem like the sport is still leagues behind the likes of football, basketball and tennis when it comes to nutrition and overall sport science. To be honest, there are a number of reasons, and I’m sure over the next few years, we’re going to see some necessary alterations made, but here’s one that resonates most with me at the moment.

It’s a business, not a sport.

In other sports, where government funding, sponsors and general participation is a lot higher, head coaches have built a network of specialised coaches to bring in and help their athletes’ progress. This often comes in the form of strength & conditioning coaches, physiotherapists, sport psychologists and yes, nutritionists. A team with this level of expertise can truly create an elite athlete in the healthiest and safest way. If you compare this with your generic MMA gym that in most cases may only possess technical coaches and the odd personal trainer, it’s no wonder there’s a lot of injuries, health issues, and general mistakes being made in the sport.

Now I’m not blaming the fighters or their coaches for this. They do the best they can to educate themselves on how to prepare and cut weight effectively. But the issue is, a lot of the knowledge they have acquired is outdated and inaccurate. With health and safety aside, you could argue that this knowledge is still sufficient enough for most amateur fighters coming through the ranks, and that high-level specialised coaches aren’t necessary. I would agree to a point. However, with the UFC being at the pinnacle of the sport, and often being compared among the NBA, NFL and Premier League, should there not be a more structured approach? How can you have a vast gap in training resources between fighters like George St. Pierre who works with one of the best nutritionists in the world, and your average top 10 fighter that only trains at the gym with a select number of coaches, and has no structured approach to their cut? Now I’m sure George paid for the nutritionist himself, and that’s great initiative! But unless you’re paying fighters the wage they deserve, it shouldn’t just be the fighter’s responsibility to make it to the scales on weight and in good health. How could they possibly have the resources to do so when they barely have enough money to feed their family? It just doesn’t seem appropriate that there’s a vast gap in resources.

Now I know it’s easier said than done, but here’s the approach I feel must be taken in the next couple of years:

With the top organisations in the sport making a killing from revenue, and paying their fighters arguably one of the lowest pays in professional sport (some UFC fighters earn a pittance per fight), it only seems right that they should cover the costs for their entire roster (yes, EVERY fighter) to have assistance from specialists qualified in nutrition. Seem a bit steep to you? Well how much do you think these promotions are losing in revenue and PPV buys when a fighter fails to make weight? A lot more! Let’s call it insurance.

Then, as a team (fighters, coaches & nutritionist), they should then decide which is the most appropriate weight class for a fighter based on a number of attributes & factors, and subsequently devise an action plan.

I know that theory and application often work very differently, but doesn’t this seem like a fair solution for all of us? Fighters will be less likely to ruin the card with failure to make weight, and in turn will lead to more income for the promotions, as well as providing a sense of trust and reliability. The fighters themselves will be safer due to the necessary support from the appropriate specialist, and us, the fans, get to see the fights we’ve been waiting months to see. Seems like a win, win.

Now I know this isn’t going to go down well with everyone, and I don’t claim to have the answers to this situation. But rather than just complaining, I think the time has come to start thinking about what’s next for our sport.

Times have changed. It’s no longer two guys fighting in a cage, but rather two elite athletes that need all the support they can get.

 

‘Mr Sport’ is fast developing a reputation as a go-to guy for human performance optimisation, particularly in mixed martial arts. His client base includes athletes at the top of the sport. Make sure you follow him across all of his social media platforms:

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