California's new weight-cutting regulations are giving Bellator MMA pause.
Promotion president Scott Coker told MMA Fighting in a recent sitdown that he is "concerned" about the stricter rules on weight cutting and dehydration and is unsure about bringing a big title fight to California in the future.
"I think that they're reacting, but I think the consequences could be impacting, like how do you feel comfortable bringing a title fight here that has to make a certain weight on a certain date?" Coker said. "It's gonna be tough. They have their job to do, but we have our job to do as well."
Earlier this month, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) passed a package of new, emergency rules regarding the extreme weight cuts prevalent in mixed martial arts. CSAC banned IVs to rehydrate, lengthened the potential time between weigh-ins and the fight and made severe dehydration a strict thing doctors must look for on fight day.
The latter thing seems to be the most disconcerting for Coker. The Bellator boss, who lives in San Jose, Calif., and typically runs a good amount of shows in the state, does not want to be put in a tough position if a doctor pulls the plug on one of his top fights at the 11th hour.
"I'm perfectly fine with what [CSAC executive officer Andy Foster is] implementing and I hope it's something that can evolve," Coker said. "But as a promoter, if fighter X shows up, fighter Z shows up, we have national TV there -- and then, oh, the fight is off? You're .002 over [on the test] and the doctor says you can't fight? It could be really problematic for us. I'm gonna talk to Andy about it. I'm sure it'll all work out.
"It doesn't mean we'll stop promoting there, it's just that we might not bring title fights or fights that you're worried about somebody making weight."
CSAC chairman John Carvelli wants to make clear that the commission is not in the business of eliminating fights. He said that the word "severe" is an important one in a doctor determining who is and who is not fit to fight. CSAC will also be implementing specific gravity hydration tests on fight day.
"For heaven's sake, I hope that if a trained ringside physician sees signs of severe dehydration in one of these athletes that they will do something about it," Carvelli said. "That's why they're there. ... I think these are simple things we're doing that everyone hopefully can get on board with to avoid something dreadful happening to one of these great athletes, one of their athletes that they're promoting and working with."
CSAC hosted a weight-cutting and dehydration summit in December in Los Angeles. Representatives from the UFC, Bellator and other promotions attended. Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP) vice president Dr. Edmund Ayoub spoke to those gathered and many of the stakeholders in the room added something.
The regulatory meeting happened just days after ONE Championship fighter Yang Jian Bing died due to complications from weight cutting. A few weeks later, ONE imposed its own strict weight-cutting regulations on fighters and almost the entire roster moved up a weight class.
Studies have shown that extreme weight cutting and dehydration can make fighters more susceptible to concussions and brain trauma. Ayoub said that not only is 24 hours not enough time to rehydrate the brain, fighters will also be weaker and performance will suffer after severe dehydration followed by rapid rehydration.
At the summit, Carvelli asked the 30 to 40 people there if they agreed extreme weight cutting was a problem in MMA. Everyone did.
"We're all agreeing this is a significant problem," Carvelli said. "It is our responsibility to address this problem. That's what we do."
The IV ban is something the UFC, with USADA as its anti-doping partner, has already administered. Carvelli urges Bellator to do the same thing. Ayoub recommended a greater time in between the weigh-ins and the fight to allow for more hours for athletes to rehydrate, so CSAC will be extending it to 30 hours from 24. The commission will look into going up to 72 hours in the future.
Coker is not against new regulations regarding weight cutting. In fact, Bellator will play guinea pig to a new weigh-in procedure at Bellator 150 next week in Kansas. Fighters will have the option to weigh-in between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. the day before the fight, up from 4 p.m. The Kansas Athletic Commission experiment was heavily influenced by Foster and CSAC.
"Basically it comes down to health and safety," Coker said. "Andy Foster is all about watching how much they cut, dehydrate. And he's very worried about the safety of cutting weight. I agree with him. We're gonna do this test in Kansas to see how it works."
Coker said he had talked to Foster about making these changes in baby steps and he's not sure if the new CSAC rules qualify as such.
"I'm really concerned about that to be honest with you," he said. "There's health and safety, but I also think that we have to be careful that we don't overreact to the point where none of the big fights will come here. This is not just Andy, but commissions in general. We want health and safety as well. They want health and safety. But if you look at MMA's health and safety record, it's pretty amazing."
At the end of the day, though, Coker knows CSAC's heart is in the right place.
"What I do believe is they're trying to do what's best for the fighter and make sure that nothing happens to the athlete," Coker said.