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Click Debate: Why have more fighters missed weight since the advent of the early weigh-ins?

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The sample size is small, but the numbers are staggering.

Between January and May, before the UFC began holding early weigh-ins the day before an event, just one fighter missed weight over 14 cards. Since the implementation of earlier weigh-ins at UFC 199 on June 4, 15 fighters have missed weight or not made it to weigh-ins due to bad weight cuts over the course of 22 shows.

The installation of early weigh-ins was pioneered by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), as well as the commissions at Mohegan Sun and in Kansas, and done for health reasons. The idea is to give fighters more time to rehydrate before a fight and have them spend less time dehydrated. The early weigh-ins are done in a ballroom of the fighter hotel, rather than a bus ride away at a separate venue.

Since UFC 199, the UFC has done early weigh-ins for every event except for UFC Fight Night 101 this weekend in Australia, due to timing reasons. Bellator, Invicta and other promotions have adopted it as well. The new format has been viewed across the board as a huge success.

No one, though, could have imagined that earlier weigh-ins would mean a rash of fighters missing weight. And maybe there isn't any real correlation. But it's hard to imagine it's just a coincidence given the statistics.

MMA Fighting reached out to multiple UFC fighters who have missed weight since June or their managers or coaches. None blamed the earlier weigh-ins outright, though some said it played at least some role.

Diego Lima, the coach of Charles Oliveira and Felipe Arantes (both of whom missed weight at UFC Fight Night 98 earlier this month), said early weigh-ins are preferable overall, but fighters are not used to the new system quite yet.

"It might have affected some fighters, but I think it's a matter of adapting," Lima told MMA Fighting's Guilherme Cruz. "This new system is better because the athlete has more time to rehydrate and rest, maybe even train a bit after. The early weigh-in is way better, but the problem is that the fighter has to sleep on weight. He has two options: he can cut weight overnight, or be on weight and sleep early, which is bad for the athlete. I think it will be better when fighters adapt to it."

Taking a deeper look into the numbers, there is evidence that earlier weigh-ins might not be the direct culprit causing the disturbing trend. Of the 15 fighters who have either missed weight or not made it to weigh-ins due to a bad cut, four have a history of weight issues (Johny Hendricks, Kelvin Gastelum, John Lineker and Oliveira), two were moving down in weight for the first time in the UFC (Thiago Alves and Alex Cowboy), and one was filling in on short notice (Michael McBride). Another two said afterward they were cutting too much weight and would be moving up (Chad Laprise and Justin Scoggins).

Another stat also jumps out. Six of the 15 fighters were international, flying in from a fairly long distance away (Zak Cummings, Hacran Dias, Lineker, Cowboy, Oliveira and Arantes). The UFC has made weigh-ins earlier, but for the most part international fighters are not flown in any earlier than they were before. So, there's less time at the host city to diet and cut weight. Long plane rides can take a toll on the weight-cutting process and the overall health of athletes.

"This is the first time I had any problem with ‘Cowboy', but it wasn't related to the early weigh-ins. It was because of the long flight," Alex Cowboy's coach Otavio Duarte said.

Cummings said it was hard to make his weight cut as precise as he usually does before UFC Fight Night 99 in Belfast, because the gym he went to (there was none in the hotel) closed at 10:30 p.m. and didn't open again until 6:30 a.m., not long before he had to be on a scale.

"I ran out of time, but it was my fault," he said. ... "I'm just trying to get the routine down for the new style."

Alves said food poisoning was the reason why he missed weight prior to UFC 205.

None of these are meant to be excuses. Making weight is a vital part of a fighter's job. But circumstances are real, weight-cutting isn't healthy, and doing it in a reckless way is very dangerous.

Dr. Edmund Ayoub, vice president of the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP) and one of the first major proponents of an early weigh-in, believes leniency is affecting fighters making weight since June. In most cases, when fighters miss weight, they forfeit a percentage of their purse, but the commission still lets the fight go on. Charles Oliveira missed weight by nine pounds and was still allowed to face Ricardo Lamas in Mexico City. The UFC regulates itself in Mexico and many other foreign countries.

Ayoub's theory is that because the weigh-in rules are more to their benefit, fighters might mistake that for the penalties being looser, too, which is not the case.

"I think the fighters maybe misjudged what we were doing here," Ayoub said. "They misjudged it and they thought they could get away with something and it turns out they can't. Eventually, these leniencies that some of the commissions are doing will go away, too."

Like Lima said, it's a matter of fighters getting used to the changes. The weigh-ins had mostly been at the same hour — around 4 p.m. local time the day before an event — for more than a decade. It has only been five months since the weigh-ins have become earlier, usually from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. the day before the event with fighters able to weigh-in at any time in between those hours.

"I think this will work itself out over time," Ayoub said.

Fighters missing weight does not indicate there is a problem in the sport with weight-cutting. Even if every fighter hit the weight on the nose every single time, it doesn't mean they aren't dehydrating themselves in an unhealthy way to do it. The early weigh-ins were created to give fighters more time to rehydrate before competing.

The primary goal is to make sure no fighter goes into competition dehydrated. Though more steps are needed (like additional weight classes), so far that seems to be working.

Missing weight gets demonized in MMA and further punishment is probably necessary. But if early weigh-ins are actually causing that more often, it's still preferable to something very bad happening to a dehydrated fighter inside the cage.

Early weigh-ins should not go anywhere.