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Fighters participate in historic morning weigh-in before UFC 199

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. -- Luke Rockhold sauntered out of a conference room at the Marriott Manhattan Beach on Friday morning. He flipped off his glasses, grabbed a piece of paper to sign and exhaled. The weight cut was over.

A nearby reporter asked the UFC middleweight champion what it was like weighing in earlier in the morning rather than the usual time of 4 p.m.

"F*cking great," Rockhold said.

For the first time at a UFC event, fighters were able to weigh-in beginning at 10 a.m. Friday. The athletes had a four-hour window to hit the scale at the fighter hotel, rather than waiting until the usual 4 p.m. weigh-in show at the arena. The new rules are part of a package passed recently by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) to battle severe dehydration in MMA and boxing.

Rockhold and his UFC 199 opponent Michael Bisping both weighed in before 11 a.m. So did co-headliners Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber. In fact, all but two fighters on the card -- Sean Strickland and Clay Guida -- hit the scale and were done with their weight cuts before the clock hit 11. Strickland and Guida trickled in not long after.

The process went smoothly and fighters raved about it afterward.

"This is 100 times better," Cruz said.

Added Faber: "It was awesome. It was great."

The 4 p.m. weigh-in show will still take place with the official weights from the morning announced. The UFC and CSAC preferred to keep those weights embargoed until the weigh-in show.

Fighters arrived downstairs at the hotel outside a conference room. They checked in with CSAC and UFC officials, were briefly placed into a waiting area and were quickly brought into the conference room to weigh-in thereafter. No fighters had to wait more than five to 10 minutes to step on the scale, which was actually too long for CSAC executive officer Andy Foster, who was surprised so many fighters arrived right at 10 a.m. to weigh-in.

"I was shocked that so many [wanted to weigh-in at 10]," Foster said. "I thought there would be demand, but I didn't think it would be almost everyone. I thought many, but I didn't think everyone."

Foster said in the future he will limit the hours from 10 a.m. to noon, because just about every fighter wants to weigh-in as early as possible. He also said he might add another doctor to keep the process moving swiftly. An early weigh-in will likely be the standard in California moving forward.

"There wasn't much of a bottleneck, but I would say a few fighters had to wait five, maybe at the max 10 minutes and to me that's a little long," Foster said.

After fighters weighed in, they were given water and had the ability to grab wholesome food like fruits, yogurts and protein shakes. Even a little Nutella. Then, they were examined by a CSAC doctor. Cole Miller was the first fighter to weigh-in and Ricardo Lamas was second.

"I got to drink water while I was getting checked by the doctor," Lamas said. "This is a much better process."

The CSAC rules likely won't become official California laws until next week, but the UFC was open to having UFC 199 be the first event using the new regulations. In addition to the earlier weigh-in, doctors were more diligent in examining fighters for severe dehydration. A hydration scale was on hand and specific gravity tests will be used to test for hydration Saturday before the fight. The goal for CSAC is to not send dehydrated fighters into the cage.

Highly regarded MMA nutrition guru George Lockhart, who worked this week with James Vick and others, lauded CSAC and the UFC for this new process. Rather than fighters being on weight for four hours or more waiting for a 4 p.m. weigh-in, Vick and others only had to go downstairs to weigh-in. They only had to suffer at that artificial weight for 10 to 15 minutes at the most.

"However long it takes you to get downstairs is how long they're gonna be dehydrated," Lockhart said. "It's awesome. ... The longer you're dehydrated, the harder it is for your cells to rehydrate themselves. The fact is these guys are dehydrated for five minutes, they're not gonna have that negative impact. Plus, the six extra hours."

UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky said the education process about the perils of extreme weight cutting has already set in with fighters. The UFC is encouraging athletes to come into fight week at 8 percent or less of their target weight. Novitzky said Tuesday when UFC 199 fighters arrived here only four out of the 26 on the card were more than that 8 percent. And those four were not much over, either.

"Overwhelmingly positive about it," Novitzky said of fighters' reaction to the earlier weigh-in. "They all love it and that's putting it mildly, actually. Real good things."

UFC president Dana White said Thursday at the pre-fight press conference that there is a concern that more hours to rehydrate will encourage bigger cuts. Novitzky echoed that Friday, but said there is no evidence of that thus far.

Foster, Novitzky and others are gathering data for the future Friday and Saturday. Novitzky said UFC officials will meet next to discuss making earlier weigh-ins permanent for UFC events. Commissions in Kansas and Mohegan Sun have already tried out the new regulations, but it hasn't been passed across the board yet.

"I think uniformity is important," Novitzky said. "I don't think we can bounce back and forth between doing this and not doing this. We need to decide either way which way we're going to go."

History was made Friday in Los Angeles. And fighters and coaches are hoping this becomes the norm. It'll be up to the UFC, other promotions and state athletic commission to band together to give fighters a healthier experience.

When we look back five or 10 years from now, a morning weigh-in could very well be the regular practice and we'll be wondering why fighters were ever made to wait until 4 p.m. to step on the scale.

"I just want to see if there's a downside," Foster said. "I don't see one right yet, but we have to evaluate things better."