In a year marked by a movement toward health reform in mixed martial arts, questions are still prevalent about one of the most dominant fighters in the sport and her dangerous weight cut.
Cris Cyborg told Ariel Helwani on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour that she was 165 pounds as of Monday morning. On Friday morning in Brasilia, Brazil, she will have to weigh-in at 141 pounds or less for her main event fight with Lina Lansberg at UFC Fight Night 95.
That's a loss of 24 pounds in four days, which falls under the category of extreme weight-cutting and is exactly what regulators have been trying to taper in MMA. The UFC itself wants fighters to now check in before fights (usually three days prior to weigh-ins) at 8 percent or less of their target weight.
For Cyborg, that would have been 151 pounds on Tuesday. Helwani reported Tuesday morning that Cyborg weighed 160.
There is no firm penalty for fighters who don't make that 8 percent figure. Their weights will be monitored throughout the week and they could be asked to move up to a higher weight class in the future if problems persist.
That is not an option for Cyborg, though. Not only is there no weight class above this one for her, she's not even in a real weight class currently. The heaviest division the UFC has for women is at 135 pounds. Cyborg has fought almost exclusively at 145 pounds for outside organizations, but the UFC has asked her to cut an extra five pounds to 140 to compete for its promotion.
It would be one thing if Cyborg was facing someone this weekend who competes in the UFC's 135-pound division and was moving up to 140. But Lansberg is someone the UFC just signed and she fought her last bout at 145 pounds, Cyborg's usual weight.
"I'm a little upset about this because the girl I fight, she's a 145-pounder, and she has to lose weight [also]," Justino said on The MMA Hour. "She has to work hard to lose weight because she's 145, too. I was a little upset because I said I'd make 140 for big superfights."
UFC president Dana White told Globo this week that there were no plans in the near future to start a 145-pound women's division. It's obvious why. The talent is thin and Cyborg has already decimated almost everyone else the UFC would sign to fill out the weight class. On the other hand, the UFC wants Cyborg because she's perhaps the best women's fighter ever and a draw, otherwise she wouldn't be headlining Saturday's event in her home country. It's a conundrum.
Cyborg, who has not lost a fight since her first pro fight in 2005, struggled getting to 140 for her UFC debut at UFC 198 in May, which ended up being a first-round TKO over Leslie Smith. A video preview for a documentary about Cyborg showed how torturous the cut was.
A UFC official told MMA Fighting on Tuesday that the promotion has been in communication with Cyborg and her team and will be closely monitoring her weight situation this week "with her health and safety in mind." UFC vice president Jeff Novitzky has been in contact regularly with Cyborg and her nutrition coach George Lockhart, per Lockhart.
On Tuesday, Lockhart told MMA Fighting that things have not been easy — and they never are — but Cyborg is on track to make at least 141 pounds Friday. Lockhart said he could not comment on her exact weight as of Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm happy with where everything is at," Lockhart said. "The numbers are all matching up. Everything is going well. She's good to go for the weight cut."
Lockhart, who has a wealth of experience and knowledge in the field and works with multiple high-profile UFC athletes, including Conor McGregor, still acknowledges that cutting weight is not ideal for someone's body.
"It's one of those things," Lockhart said. "If somebody is like, ‘Is cutting weight healthy?' Hell no, cutting weight is not healthy. This is my profession and I'm not gonna say it is. You've gotta be an idiot to say [it's healthy]. But at the end of the day, my job is to make it as safe and healthy as possible."
Novitzky and the UFC have been leaders in terms of weight management in 2016. The promotion has gone before commissions to stress the need for an earlier weigh-in, which gives fighters more time to rehydrate before a fight and allows them to be dehydrated for a shorter period of time. Since UFC 199 in June, every UFC show in every jurisdiction has had a morning weigh-in rather than the traditional afternoon setup.
The UFC's new weight management guidelines, along with asking fighters to come into fight week within 8 percent of their target weight, places a premium on education. The UFC has also been proactive in talking about dehydration issues with fighters at regular summits. Weight management will be a big part of the new UFC Athlete Health and Performance Center, which should be up and running in Las Vegas by spring of 2017.
Multiple sources told MMA Fighting that Cyborg was closer to 155 pounds than 160 by Tuesday afternoon. But the fact remains that the total is a significant amount of weight to lose in a relatively short amount of time. Cyborg has said she walks around at nearly 170 pounds.
Dr. Edmund Ayoub, vice president of the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP), has been vocal about the dangers of weight cutting over the last few months. He described Cyborg's total weight loss as unsafe.
"She's cutting [nearly] 20 percent of her body weight — that's an unprecedented amount of weight," he told MMA Fighting. "She's not gonna be able to even partially recover, even with the longer time. In theory, is [an earlier weigh-in] better? Absolutely, because she'll have an extra eight hours to recover. But she'd need weeks to recover from that, in order to rehydrate from that type of weight cut. Not hours — weeks. So it's very dangerous."
Ayoub said someone going through an extreme weight cut by the means of dehydration followed by rapid rehydration is risking potential brain, heart and kidney issues, among other things, one of which is a decline in performance.
If he were overseeing weigh-ins Friday, like he does for some CSAC shows, Ayoub said he isn't sure if he'd let Cyborg compete. He would have to give a long, hard look at her heart rate and blood pressure levels, which are marks of severe dehydration, he said.
"She's gonna be hypotensive — low, low blood pressure — and tachycardic (abnormally fast heart rate) and that's where I'm gonna say, listen, now we have a problem," Ayoub said. "Hypothetically, you're asking me to let you fight with a blood pressure of 80 over 40 and a pulse of 130. And I'm not gonna do it."
A regular resting heart rate is around 80 beats per minute and that can triple during an athletic event like an MMA fight, the doctor said. Ayoub said someone dehydrated could have a heart rate of 120 and if it doubled or tripled, that person could be at "tremendous risk for a heart attack."
Another issue with Cyborg's weight cut arose Tuesday when a video blog posted to her YouTube page showed her arguing with Lockhart about taking birth-control pills during her weight cut. Cyborg was worried that the pills would make her retain water weight and were potentially unsafe. Lockhart told her the pills would actually help, acting like a kind of diuretic. The scene only added to the controversy.
Lockhart told MMA Fighting that there are added issues working with women because their hormones change significantly over the course of a month. Lockhart said Cyborg's weight cut is the most difficult of any of his clients.
"She would definitely be the toughest," Lockhart said. "The two hardest things: she's a woman because of the hormones and she really walks around at a heavier weight — and not a fat weight."
It might be getting to the point where Cyborg has to decide between her long-term health and her career, especially if the UFC continues to want her to compete at 140 pounds.
"I don't want to say I'll never fight 140 again, that's probably not true," Cyborg said on The MMA Hour. "But a lot of things have to change. If I make 140, I sacrifice a lot of things in my life, my diet, my training, my thyroid, its insane to make 140. I think a lot of things have to be put on the table before I make 140 again."