The death of Brazilian fighter Leandro Souza continues to reverberate around the sport.
A final medical determination has not yet been rendered on Souza, who died during his weight cut leading up to Friday's scheduled Shooto 43 event in Rio de Janeiro, which was subsequently canceled. But it is believed to be the first weight-cut related death in modern MMA history.
That's the sort of news that one of the sport's most respected nutritionists, Mike Dolce, has long feared he'd hear. Dolce, who's Dolce Diet adherents have included fighters ranging from Chael Sonnen to Vitor Belfort to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson over the years, appeared on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour to discuss the tragedy.
"I was heartbroken for the young man, for his family and for the sport," said Dolce. "What we do, it's a brotherhood and a sisterhood and a bond. And anytime one of us goes down or gets hurt I think we all feel it globally. I felt it just as much, if not more, I've been in those intimate situations with athletes cutting weight."
A preliminary doctor's report stated Souza died of a stroke.
"It's hard to speak definitively on what happened because we don't have the toxicology reports," Dolce said. "We haven't had a true medical update on what happened other than a possible stroke. It's one of those things, its one in a million, one in millions if you look at how many times athletes have been cutting weight. It's tough to really offer judgement on the process just yet other than say it sounds unhealthy reading the tidbits I've read about what happened."
MMAFighting.com reported on Friday that Souza, who was a member of the Nova Uniao camp along with Jose Aldo and Renan Barao, took several diuretic pills in the hours leading up to his tragedy, a practice Dolce doesn't recommend.
"Diuretics are terrible, they're the bane of weight cutting," Dolce said. "All drugs. That's why I say no pills, no powders, no potions, get that pollutant out of your body. You don't need that. A fully healthy body can do anything. I've proven that, my athletes have proven that. My athletes are the healthiest on the planet, they look amazing on the scale. ... When you're taking those pills, when you're taking those drugs, diuretics are absolutely the worst thing to do, it corrupts the health of the athlete on a biological level."
Indeed, you'd be hard pressed to name many fighters who have missed weight when they've worked with Dolce. Dolce says his game plan is based on changing fighters' dietary approach throughout the year, rather than simply crash dieting as their fight approaches.
"Weight cutting is not healthy, I'm the first to say that," Dolce said. "If it was up to me athletes would compete at their wake-up weight. That's when you open your eyes, the first thing in the morning, they put their feet on the ground, they use the restroom, and then they step on a scale afterwards. That's the wake-up weight. That's what you should weight."
"My athletes are typically at seven percent body fat three weeks before competition," Dolce continued. "That's what we aim for three weeks before competition. Now we can begin increasing calories as we get closer to the fight so we can eat more. Nobody does that. Everyone goes they opposite way, they pull calories closer to the fight."
Santos had taken a flyweight bout on short notice and reportedly had to drop 33 pounds in a week to make the fight. Santos was reportedly looking to cut the final two pounds in the sauna when he had his stroke.
"Mixed martial artists as a whole are a much healthier group [than the general population], although prone to extremes," said Dolce. Extremes like Mr. Santos, possibly taking diuretics, we don't know that for sure yet, you have to stay healthy, If you can't stay healthy, you're not competing at your best."
Dolce, of course, works mostly with high-level fighters and is paid accordingly by his clients. But he says that a young, up-and-coming fighter doesn't necessarily need his services if they're smart about how they handle their diet and nutrition.
"It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle," Dolce said. "If you're cutting weight the week of competition or three weeks or six week, you already messed up. It's a 52 weeks a year, these athletes, if they're amateurs or professionals, they should think like professionals 365 days a year. Everything they eat, everything they drink, everything they see, every situation they're in. It's either going to make them better or it's going to make them worse. ...
"The young guys out there, you don't have to pay a guy like me," Dolce continued. "I was doing this free for a decade when there was no money back in the NHB days. I was still doing this in 2000, 2001, 2002. I was this guy making no money but I did it the exact same way. Of course the science and the experience has evolved, but the commitment has never changed."