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UFC to implement new weight-management program for fighters

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC is shooting a double leg takedown on severe dehydration.

The world's premier MMA promotion will implement a new weight-management program in the coming months, based mostly on education and data collection, MMA Fighting confirmed with officials this week. The Las Vegas Review-Journal was the first to report on the story.

Many experts believe fighters severely dehydrating themselves to make weight is the biggest problem facing mixed martial arts today. The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) hosted a summit on the topic in December that was attended by UFC execs Jeff Novitzky and Marc Ratner. Novitzky, the UFC's vice president of athlete health and performance, has been one of the people spearheading the UFC's new program.

One of the main bullet points of the UFC's new Weight Management Policy will be that fighters must check in for fight week at no more than 8 percent of their target weight. If they are greater than 8 percent of that weight, they will be subject to the daily monitoring of their weight and vitals throughout the week and mandatory weight management counseling before their next fight. These procedures will go into place starting at UFC 200, though the promotion will give fighters a grace period to adjust to the new rules.

"The only hard and fast rule in there, and I think it's probably the most important thing in terms of the guidelines, is that 8 percent number," Novitzky told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "If they're not, it's not in the rules the fight won't happen, but we sure are going to pay very close attention to them, including taking daily weight, daily vitals, and as it progresses, if they show signs of being dehydrated, they will be pulled from the fight."

In other words, if a welterweight fighter comes into fight week at more than 185 pounds, he'll face added scrutiny. Same thing for a bantamweight fighter who comes in at more than 147 pounds and a light heavyweight who comes in at 223 or more.

Novitzky has already been tracking and collecting fighter weights on check-in day, going back to when he started with the UFC in the spring of 2015.

The UFC has also started one-on-one information sessions with fighters and coaches regarding safe weight cutting. As part of the new program, the promotion will be collecting data on a fighter's vitals (temperature, blood pressure and heart rate) at check-in, along with their weight. A fighter's weight will be taken on fight night and recorded and stored into a database that can give automatic notifications to UFC staff if there is a red flag.

Beginning when the UFC's Athlete Health and Performance Center opens next year, there will also be a UFC nutritionist on site to provide fighters with nutrition plans and other educational materials. The UFC has also gotten a commitment from the United States Army Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) to conduct weight-management studies on athletes visiting the Performance Center once it is completed.

The UFC's new weight-management program has already somewhat started. At UFC 196, the promotion overhauled the food and beverages given to athletes after weigh-ins and on fight night. For the first time at that event, there was a room set up solely for fighters at the venue with healthy food and beverages available.

CSAC will be debuting new weight-cutting rules at UFC 199 in Los Angeles, separate from this new program. Weigh-ins will begin earlier, at 10 a.m. rather than 4 p.m., to give athletes more time to rehydrate. Doctors will also pay closer attention to fighters' vital signs to see if they are severely dehydrated, though it is not expected that fights will be pulled unless a fighter remains very dehydrated on fight day. Specific gravity tests for hydration will also be introduced.

CSAC has also followed the UFC's lead in banning IVs, which USADA put into effect for the UFC when it took over the promotion's anti-doping program in July 2015.

Severe dehydration to make weight has led to numerous illnesses and injuries -- even death -- over the last few years in combat sports. Extreme weight cuts are tough on fighters' organs and also could make them more susceptible to concussions, brain trauma and knockouts, according to studies. Measures are now being taken by multiple parties to insure the taxing process is being tempered.

"Most of these athletes believe they're bulletproof," Novitzky told the LVRJ. "But when eyes open and ears really perk up is when you start talking about performance. You can say, ‘Hey, look, not only is it not good for you, but if you do it this way with these extreme, rapid weight cuts, your performance is going to suffer.'

"The anecdotes that I get after fight nights are all based on that where you hear, ‘Wow, you're right. I really did feel better, had more energy, felt like I had more legs.' It's very encouraging to hear that."