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George Lockhart: MMA weight cutting practices are 'primitive'

Esther Lin, Invicta FC

George Lockhart has many titles: mixed martial arts fighter, nutrionist, trainer, gym owner, former Marine and father. But he's something else, too, namely, a guy who has seen how the intersection of poor nutrition, weight cutting and performance-enhancing drug (PED) use has affected fighters and the sport.

"I think it's huge," Lockhart said of the PED problem in MMA to Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding when it comes to PEDs. It's a tough sport. A lot of people think it's all about aesthetics. Some people are like, 'Wow, I can't believe that guy is on steroids. He doesn't look like he's on steroids.' Recovery is such a huge aspect of this sport. When you're doing two and three-a-days and getting punched, kicked and doing all these things, recovery is imperative. One of the reasons I got into this and one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about nutrition is because there was no way as a fighter I could possibly hang without proper nutrition, without that proper recovery."

Lockhart has worked with many top fighters. Names such as Jon Jones, Kenny Florian, Rory MacDonald, Dustin Poirier, and more recently Cris Cyborg fill his resume. What he sees, though, is no matter the name, there's a poor understanding from fighters on how to physically manage themselves.

"Me and Brian Stann, we go way back and that was one of the biggest things," he continued. "It's one thing I love about him, it's one thing we never had to worry about with him, is PEDs. He's like, 'George, what do I need to do for recovery?' I said, 'Your nutrition has got to be on point.' I think a lot of people just don't understand how to do it properly and how much it can affect their lives and their training."

There's no better example of this than Lockhart's current client, Cris 'Cyborg' Justino. The Brazilian fighter has flirted with the idea of getting down to bantamweight to face Ronda Rousey, but recently abandoned the effort. She also tested positive for PEDs during her Strikeforce tenure. It's not something Lockhart dismisses, but he doesn't necessarily hold her - or anyone's - past against them.

"It's one of things that, in the sport there's a dark side. I'm not judging anybody, but it's very clear it's not happening anymore. Anybody that I work with, it's something I'm very passionate about," he continued. "It's a big, big thing in the sport and a big reason [Stann] got out of the sport. It is an unfair advantage and people can get hurt because of the power and the things that can come about from the PEDs. So, anybody I work with, yes, it's very important that they don't do that. If that was the case, then I wouldn't be working with her.

"When working personally with a fighter, I need to know everything about it. It's gotta be a trust bond in there because there's so much psychology that goes along with it as well. 'Ok man, I'm going to do what you tell me to do and I'm going to have 100 percent faith.' On my side, if they are taking PEDs, the nutrition is like a shot in the dark. It really is," he said.

"You need more calories. It's funny, when you get down to the science, you can tell right away they're not getting the proper nutrients that they need."

And has this ever happened? Has he worked with a client who he discovered was using PEDs while in preparation for a fight? Yes, Lockhart confessed. It has.

"You tell them, 'I just need you to be completely honest with me.' Like I said, I don't judge," he explained. "I've been blessed being in the military, I've never had to provide for my family through fighting. With that being said, my reputation is on the line. Because of my family, I can't work with somebody that's doing that, but I'm not going to be like, 'So-and-so is doing X,Y, and Z.' But I can't do my job unless I know 100 percent of the facts."

Still, Lockhart sees PEDs as a problem, but not the problem in MMA. There's a lot more to worry about. As aforementioned, it's how weight cutting and nutrition also factor in. According to Lockhart, he found it "shocking" when he first saw how MMA fighters were trying to tackle these responsibilities.

"This sport has grown so much," he said. "The striking, the ground, everything has evolved so much, but the weight cut practices are still primitive. It's like that in most weight sports like wrestling. Still, I was shocked. I was like, 'Wow, I can't believe people still do this.' They put the sweats on, they run into the sauna or they just keep running until they hit weight or don't hit weight.

"I think people need to be educated on this," he argued. "A lot of people, they go back to nutritionists and dieticians, but there's no school for weight cutting. If you go to any nutritionists, it goes against just about everything that they're taught. It's a totally new science and I think we have to get it out there."

What worries Lockhart isn't just that fighters might miss weight and therefore lose out on career opportunities. It's what the weight cut can do to them long term. "Some of the things these guys are doing to cut weight, I have a feeling it's cutting years off of their careers, cutting years off of their life," he claimed.

Lockhart claimed the key is to make weight cutting affordable, even for amateurs. He said his practice enables this, only charging $350 for the task. It also has to be reproduced at scale, something he claimed his business can do as well.

As for now, though, he's working Cyborg ahead of her bout with Charmaine Tweet at Invicta 11. That bout is taking place at featherweight, but the prevailing question is whether she can make the drop down to Rousey's weight class.

Lockhart isn't saying she can't, but isn't saying she can either. He believes Cyborg is hovering in the 160s at the moment, which would make a drop to bantamweight a huge sacrifice. In addition, he would have to see how to keep her explosive movement without depleting her. Lockhart says reaching '135' on the scale isn't the issue; it's what 135 does to her that matters.

"I'm finding out how her body works, how it functions," he said. "I actually came out here and met her for the very first time, see her structure, how she's built, her training. When it comes down to it, the question is, 'Can she make 135?' I can make anybody hit any weight. The question isn't can they hit the weight. It's how they perform when they do. Right now that's not a big thought in my mind. Right now, the Tweet fight is the only thing I'm thinking about."

Still, though, he's not ruling it out. Once her camp gives him the green light, he's going to give it his best effort: PED-free with modern nutritional practices to make it all happen.

"If the camp ever came to me and said, 'Hey, we want to look at 135', it will be beneficial to me that I have worked with her before to do that."

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