Urijah Faber was almost about to rule out fighting in his home state a few weeks ago.
When discussing new weight-cutting rules implemented by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), Faber made it seem like his days fighting in the Golden State -- at least at 135 pounds -- were numbered.
"If it does apply, moving forward, I probably won't be able to compete, because I cut a lot of weight," Faber said at a UFC 199 media day.
In February, CSAC passed emergency weight-cutting rules, the most significant of their kind in the nation. CSAC wants to outright ban severe dehydration, which many MMA fighters use to manipulate their weight to reach lower divisions.
Beginning this spring, CSAC weigh-ins will be earlier, beginning at 10 a.m. the day before the fight rather than 4 p.m. to give fighters more time to rehydrate. On-site physicians will be more diligent about categorizing severe dehydration in athletes on weigh-in day and fight day. Specific gravity tests will also be used to test for hydration.
CSAC has said it will pull fighters from cards if they are severely dehydrated, which has drawn concern from the MMA community -- from fans to fighters to promoters.
"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?" Bellator MMA president Scott Coker told MMA Fighting earlier this year. "It's gonna be tough. They have their job to do, but we have our job to do as well."
Bellator 154 is in San Jose on May 14, but the new CSAC rules will likely not yet be in effect due to a recent alteration. In California, there is a multi-step process to get regulations implemented. It's not as simple as the commission voting on it like it is in other states.
The new rules should be in place by UFC 199 on June 4 in Los Angeles, according to CSAC executive officer Andy Foster. That card has two title fights. Luke Rockhold will defend his middleweight belt against Chris Weidman and Dominick Cruz faces Faber for the bantamweight title.
So should fans be at all concerned that one of those competitors -- like Faber, who cuts more than 30 pounds to make weight -- won't make the bout?
Not at all, says Dr. Edmund Ayoub. The Association of Ringside Physicians vice president has been extremely influential in the forming of these new rules, along with Foster and CSAC chairman John Carvelli. And he wants to make it clear that killing fights is not what the commission is setting out to do.
"I don't foresee it," Ayoub told MMA Fighting. "The goal here is for every fighter to get educated and every trainer to get educated. There's this underlying push from promoters and belief from fighters that, 'If I can lose weight and be at a lower weight class than I normally would be, I'm gonna be stronger.' That's a myth and it's absolutely wrong. I need to get people to change that thought."
On the day of weigh-ins, Ayoub or another doctor will examine a fighter for severe dehydration. The three warning signs, Ayoub said, are low blood pressure, high heart rate and unusual skin turgor (or elasticity). Specific gravity tests will also be in play.
If an athlete has red flags in all facets and his or her specific gravity test comes back that he or she is dehydrated, that fighter will not be then pulled from the fight. Ayoub said he will advise that competitor of what he or she has to do to be hydrated properly in time for the fight.
"If I see somebody at weigh-in who is crazy dehydrated, I'm going to explain to them exactly what I want them to do and how I want them to hydrate," he said. ... "I am not in any way shape or form anxious to disqualify a fighter. That is not my intention and that is not the policy of CSAC under John Carvelli or Andy Foster or me. That is not our goal."
If that same fighter comes in the next day for the event and is still severely dehydrated, then and only then would Ayoub consider pulling the plug on the fight -- the same way he would if he knew a fighter was attempting to compete on a broken leg.
Ayoub said that a fighter who is already dehydrated going into a bout could be potentially fatal. He said studies have shown that a fighter can lose up to two gallons of sweat in a five-round MMA fight. That's more than 16 pounds of water weight.
"If you lose 16 pounds of sweat in an already dehydrated body, if you start out dehydrated, you're potentially going to die," Ayoub said. "This is why we have an endgame here and it's fighter safety. These are the realities of it."
The doctor said that there is resistance to these changes much in the same way there was to the elimination of 15-round bouts in boxing.
"We used to think the money rounds in boxing were 13, 14 and 15," Ayoub said. "People died in those rounds. Boxers died. Boxers became different people, with traumatic brain injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from those rounds. We changed that. We decided that these aren't the money rounds. We decided that it really doesn't matter what fans want to see, wanting to see two fighters at the end of their rope, so to speak. That's not what we're looking for. We're looking for the safety of the sport."
Many fans are concerned about the well being of their favorite fighters, but they also want to see said fighters compete. The last thing most parties involved want is the yanking of a big fight at the 11th hour. And Ayoub is right there with that philosophy, so fans, fighters and promoters can likely rest easy.
"The goal here -- and this is important -- is not to disqualify a fighter," Ayoub said. "The goal here is to change the thought process that losing massive amounts of weight and getting to a lower weight class is going to make you a better fighter. Because it absolutely unequivocally is going to do absolutely the obvious. But there's still a mindset here."