clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Click Debate: What should be done when a fighter misses weight by a wide margin?

New, comments
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The weight-cutting problem in mixed martial arts isn't going away.

This year has been ground-breaking for the issue with the adoption of earlier weigh-ins almost across the board. The fact that fighters are getting more time to rehydrate and are spending less time dehydrated is a huge win for the sport.

It's not enough, though. Issues with weight cutting still persist and the culture of trying to cut as much weight as possible to compete as the bigger fighter remains, despite medical experts deeming it poor for performance and health.

Another problem has cropped up recently: fighters missing weight by an ungodly amount and the fight still going on. On Friday, Charles Oliveira missed weight by nine pounds. Nine! He came in at 155 pounds for a featherweight fight, meaning he was literally in a completely different weight class than his UFC Fight Night 98 opponent, Ricardo Lamas.

Oliveira was fined 30 percent of his purse and the UFC, which regulates itself in Mexico City, capped Oliveira's rehydration weight at 165 pounds, meaning he had to weigh-in again Saturday and be 165 or less. Oliveira ended up having to cut weight again for a second straight day, just hours before a fight.

The UFC and the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission (CABMMA) imposed similar rules on Alex Oliveira when he missed weight for a bout with Will Brooks last month by 5 1/2 pounds. "Cowboy," who was supposed to fight at 155, was not allowed to be more than 175 at a same-day weigh-in.

I understand what the UFC is trying to do: punish the fighter who is not even coming close to making weight. And they should. Nine pounds is especially absurd. But imposing a second, same-day weigh-in is not best practice and it's actually very dangerous.

The whole point of an earlier weigh-in, which the UFC has been incredible about pushing for with different commissions, is to give fighters more time to rehydrate. The primary goal of weight-cutting reform is to make sure athletes do not go into fights dehydrated. Forcing a same-day weigh-in is completely undermining that achievement.

From a medical standpoint, there is no doubt that Charles Oliveira went into the fight with Lamas dehydrated. And that is risky business. If you want to discipline a fighter, you don't do it by endangering their health and safety. It's wrong. There has to be a better way.

Of course something must be done about it. Missing weight by that much essentially means both Oliveiras (no relation) quit and decided to take the fine while their opponents were still busting their butts to trying to make weight. Charles Oliveira, for one, should not fight at 145 pounds again. He has missed weight five times. Two fights ago, he missed by 4 1/2 pounds. This is a recurring issue and it cannot go unpunished.

The first thing the UFC can do when a fighter misses by that much is making sure he or she has to move up a weight class for the next fight. The second thing is, if the fight is going to go on, the opponent has to be taken care of more than just the standard 20 percent of the punished fighter's purse. Maybe there should be a scale — the fine will go up based on the amount in which a fighter misses weight. If you miss weight by nine pounds, you're gonna have to pay up.

Lamas accepted the fight with Charles Oliveira despite the Brazilian's ridiculous weigh-in and ended up winning by second-round submission. Brooks was not as fortunate, falling to Alex "Cowboy," a significantly larger man, by TKO. Of course both guys took those bouts. They need to get paid and they don't want to face the scorn of uneducated fans who will question their desire. You can't blame them. What you can do is make sure they get a higher percentage of the offender's purse.

Here's another idea: What if someone who misses weight by more than 5 percent is disqualified from earning an official victory? If the weight offender wins, it's a no contest on both athletes' record. If the fighter who made weight wins, he or she gets a win and the offender gets a loss.

Think about it. Charles Oliveira was not in Lamas' weight class on weigh-in day. He was literally a lightweight, not a featherweight. Alex "Cowboy" was much bigger than Brooks and exploited that advantage. In a way, he did cheat, which led to a victory, much like when an eye poke or low blow finishes a fight. Those aren't ruled TKOs for the fighter committing the foul; they're no contests or disqualifications.

Maybe rather than that, a fighter who misses weight by a certain percentage is disqualified from a win bonus? These are all things to look at.

On the other hand, you don't want to impose so great of a sanction for missing weight that fighters will come close to death trying to hit that mark in fear of financial or sporting detriment. This is not a black and white issue.

All of this also unearths the topic of added weight classes. It was bandied about in Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) committees earlier this year, but did not have enough support and did not end up being brought to the body for a vote at the annual conference in August. It could be put back onto the agenda for next year.

Maybe Alex "Cowboy" is more of a true 165-pounder. In the proposed weight classes, the 170-pound division would be abolished in favor of 165 and 175, moving up in 10-pound increments until light heavyweight. This is something that should be considered. If we want fighters competing at a more natural weight -- and that is a hope for the future -- there needs to be more weight-class options to accommodate them.

As much as the early weigh-ins have helped this year — and they truly have — more will have to be done to stop the unhealthy, misguided culture of weight cutting. Earlier weigh-ins were always thought of as the first step, not the final one.

The recent trend of fighters being way off the mark on weigh-in day needs to be addressed — and not by the imposition of a second weigh-in. That's a movement in the wrong direction.