One of the major concerns about the new, earlier weigh-in procedure that seems to be all the rage in MMA is that it could encourage fighters to cut even more weight. UFC president Dana White expressed that potential issue himself before UFC 199.
Mike Dolce, from his experience, doesn't see that happening. A big name in MMA weight management and nutrition, Dolce told MMA Fighting in a recent interview that he has been a big proponent of an earlier weigh-in long before it became a rule in California and adopted in other places. The diet guru can't foresee that fighters-will-cut-more downside happening.
"I would bet dollars to donuts that we will not see that," Dolce said. "It's already a very invasive process that the athlete would rather not go through. They simply go through these weight cuts to even the playing field with their opponent, who's doing the same. They're not looking to put themselves at further disadvantage by dropping another weight class, especially because these weight classes are so spread out."
At the end of the day, Dolce said, the fighters do still have to make the weight, even if they are getting a few more hours to rehydrate before the fight.
"The athletes know how difficult it is to make weight and even with the new, I'll call it a 36-hour rule, it doesn't make the weight-cutting process any easier," Dolce said. "What it does is allow them for more optimal for rehydration. I have not heard one single athlete make a statement such as that or make a move such as that."
The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) passed weight-cutting rules in February, including moving back the afternoon weigh-in the day before fights to the morning. So, instead of athletes hitting the scale at 4 p.m. during a weigh-in show, they are officially weighed in hours earlier at a 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. session with commission officials present.
The UFC has now used this earlier weigh-in procedure in Los Angeles and Ottawa and petitioned the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) to bring it to Las Vegas for the three International Fight Week events. The NAC passed it last month with a re-evaluation planned. Bellator has also had fighters weigh-in earlier in Kansas, at Mohegan Sun and in St. Louis for its big Dynamite 2 event.
Dolce said he sat down with UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky when they were both in Australia for UFC 193 back in November. The founder of The Dolce Diet said he brought up fighters weighing in earlier then. A few weeks later, Dr. Edmund Ayoub, vice president of the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP), proposed it at a summit for MMA stakeholders called by CSAC. Novitzky, other UFC officials and representatives from Bellator were in attendance.
The idea behind an earlier weigh-in is to give fighters more time to rehydrate between hitting the scale and the fight. Keeping dehydrated fighters from stepping in the cage was the goal. Not only is a dehydrated fighter, with fluid drained from his or her brain, more susceptible to brain trauma and concussions, motor skills also take a major hit.
Those affects, Dolce said, begin at just being 2 percent dehydrated. That's the equivalent of a normally 200-pound fighter at 196 pounds.
"Cognitively, their brain cannot make proper associations at a faster rate," Dolce said. "Visuospatially, their eyes cannot track speed, distance and timing at an appropriate or a full-speed rate. This is simply at 2 percent. So we're sending a 200-pound athlete, should they weigh 196, their skillset will already be diminished, putting them at a much higher risk of receiving one of these possibly career-ending injuries -- fight-ending injuries, for sure.
"Motor skills are the first area that are actually affected negatively and tat's as low as 2 percent. Once we hit a 3 percent level, then we're talking muscular contraction, endurance, heart function. This is where things start to get scary. Because now they can't see the punch or kick coming as fast, they can't react to that type of movement, their brain is already a little fuzzy, a little cloudy and now they have diminished physical ability to defend themselves."
A byproduct -- and perhaps the most praised part thus far -- of an earlier weigh-in is fighters no longer have to wait for the weigh-in broadcast to step on the scale. The UFC and Bellator are continuing to do weigh-in shows in the afternoon, but the fighters have actually weighed in hours earlier. Those official weights are announced during those shows.
Previously, fighters had to make their weight cut, hit the target number and that wait hours without food and water to be transported to the venue and then for the weigh-in show to begin.
"They have to hold their weight abnormally low, maintain an extreme level or severe level of dehydration for no reason other than public spectacle," Dolce said.
Dolce is a big proponent of an earlier weigh-in, but still is displeased with USADA's rule that fighters can no longer use IVs. That ban went into effect in October. Being able to have more time to rehydrate now is helpful, but Dolce believes IVs applied by medical professionals after weigh-ins should be the norm.
Weight-cutting is prevalent in MMA, more than in any other sport. It's something that has carried over from amateur wrestling and there is still a firm belief among many that being the bigger fighter in the cage is better. Dolce, though, has seen a decrease in weight-cutting, at least at the elite level, with more fighters approaching him about maintaining their current weight class or even moving up in weight.
The UFC is going to be instituting guidelines beginning during International Fight Week regarding weight-cutting. The main one is that the UFC would like every fighter to check-in on the Tuesday before the event at 8 percent or less of his or her target weight. Novitzky told MMA Fighting in a recent interview that he has already seen those check-in weights drop over the last year. But for some that's still going to be difficult.
One of the reasons why, Dolce said, is there is not enough weight classes in MMA and more specifically the UFC. The 20-pound difference between middleweight and light heavyweight is too much, according to Dolce. He feels the same way about the 15-pound gap between lightweight and welterweight. Some athletes naturally fall in between those weights and have to make the choice between fighting bigger men or women or making a difficult weight cut.
"Every 10 pounds should be the maximum jump until we get to those higher body mass athletes," Dolce said.
The Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) rules and regulations committee will be voting on the addition of weight classes in 10-pound intervals beginning at 115. The results will be presented in August at the ABC convention and the ABC body will then vote on it. The UFC has resisted an increase in the number of weight classes in the past.
"This is where the politics of sports interferes with the health and safety of the athletes," Dolce said. "They're very valid. I don't want to discount the politics and the business side, because without those there is no sport. But there needs to be third-party medical professionals on these boards as part of every single decision to insure health and safety of athletes."
In the last seven months, there have been more rules placed on weight-cutting and weigh-ins than the last few years combined. CSAC is also cracking down on extreme weight cuts with hydration testing. But there is more work to be done, Dolce said.
"The healthier the athlete, the better they perform, the more visually appealing the performance, the more the sport grows," Dolce said. "That's what we want to see. We want to see athletes competing at 100 percent of their full potential in every single fight card and then we'll see a dramatic growth in a sport that is already growing exponentially. But these athletes are competing sub-optimally right now."
The good news is that the earlier weigh-in is a benefit to the most important stakeholder to MMA: the fighter.