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Fightweets: On Kevin Lee and MMA weight-cutting culture

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There was good news and bad news on Friday: The good is that we didn’t have another UFC pay-per-view main event fall out. The bad is that Kevin Lee did not look like a healthy human being in getting to the scale a second time to make weight for his UFC 216 interim lightweight title bout with Tony Ferguson.

So, let’s ponder the implications of that, of Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg finally going off, and a whole lot both serious and silly in the world of MMA, shall we?

Lee and weight cuts

@rosenbluth_alex: Do you think Kevin lee's weight cut is going to affect his confidence going into the fight?

Before we get started, can we admit something? Most of us are listening to the devil on our shoulder and are glad on some level that we still have an intact main event on Saturday night, after the main events of UFC 213 and UFC 215 fell out late. A third weight/illness-related main event fallout in four major cards would have been a catastrophe all on its own.

Of course, that’s looking at things purely from a business perspective. Then there’s the very real human factor. Kevin Lee looked like death warmed over as he took to the scales for the second time in Las Vegas on Friday and finally made weight after missing on his first attempt.

Just imagine for a moment if LeBron James and Steph Curry were forced to lose an unhealthy amount of weight the day before the NBA Finals started. There’s no way you’d be seeing athletes at the highest level with the highest stakes performing at their best. And that’s not a sport in which victory is acheived by inflicting physical harm on your opponent. Yet, in combat sports, we accept someone looking like Lee did on Friday going in to fight a killer like Ferguson just over a day later.

So what can be done from here? California has already instituted measures to monitor fighter weights at various intervals leading up to their fights. They’ve also shown they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is: For example, the California State Athletic Commission did not allow Renan Barao, who had to pull out of UFC 173 in Sacramento due to injuring himself during a weight cut, to fight Aljamain Sterling at 135 pounds at UFC 214. The bout took place at a catchweight of 140 instead.

Nevada hasn’t followed suit with California’s innovations. There’s nothing fishy about the second weigh-in attempt Lee was granted, as the Nevada Athletic Commission followed their stated protocol, but said protocol is outdated. As long as the sport is overseen by a patchwork of state commissions of various levels of commitment and competence, there are going to be uneven results in trying to reform weight-cutting issues.

The Association of Boxing Commissions recently added four new MMA weight classes, at 165, 175, 195, and 225 pounds, but promoters are not compelled to follow them, and the UFC has given no indication they have any desire to add weight classes.

Additional weight classes might not have changed what happened Friday, anyway. Fighters are always going to look for an edge, and they tend to cut the absolute most they can feel they can get away with. Adding 175, for example, could have the effect of making a large middleweight who can’t get down to 170 think of undergoing a big weight cut to 175.

Until that culture changes, there’s not going to be a quick or easy fix to this issue. I hesitate to ponder what has to happen to force such a cultural change.

Potential biggest upset ever?

@dpop2: Would Borg beating DJ be bigger then the Serra/GSP upset?

That’s a great question. And one I don’t expect to have to address on Sunday, so let’s cover it now. I think I’m actually willing to say that a Ray Borg flyweight title victory over Demetrious Johnson at UFC 216 would topple Matt Serra’s legendary knockout of Georges St-Pierre to claim the welterweight title at UFC 67, the fight which has stood the test of time as the one most named-checked as biggest upset in MMA history.

For one thing, keep in mind that the Georges St-Pierre of his first title reign wasn’t the same fighter who dominated in his second reign. It was clear GSP was on his way to becoming one of the greats back in 2007, but he was still immature, and if anything, the upset loss helped mold St-Pierre into the fighter he later became.

Johnson, meanwhile, is at the absolute peak of his powers, has reigned as flyweight champion for five years, has barely been touched during the course of his title reign, and, in case you haven’t heard the first 14,888 times it was mentioned, will surpass Anderson Silva’s UFC title defense record if he wins tonight.

Imagine if Serra’s victory over GSP actually happened toward the end of GSP’s second reign, when he was at the height of his powers, and imagine, too, that Serra came into such a bout with a history of weight misses and fight withdrawals, and that’s about what you have with Borg.

I’m apparently not alone in this assessment: I put out a poll on Twitter, and, granted, I’m typing this early Friday evening and you’re not seeing this until Saturday morning and things could change but as of the time of this typing, nearly 70 percent of you believe a Borg upset would be bigger than GSP-Serra.

Any fighter against DJ?

@guicruzzz: If you could any non-UFC fighter and turn him into a flyweight to fight DJ, who would it be?

Great question,'s Guilherme Cruz a.k.a. the Brazilian Beast. If I’m following the letter of the law here with your question, I’m going with Brock Lesnar, for no other reason than it would be hilarious to see shrunk-down mini-Lesnar. (On second thought, what if we blow up Mighty Mouse to 265 pounds and have him fight Brock?) But really, the only answer on who to turn into a flyweight and fight Johnson is Anderson Silva, isn’t it? Maybe we can work on getting this done today so we can have DJ vs. Silva in in DJ’s attempt to break SIlva’s record.


@WolfBible: What the hell is going on with CM Punk?

Shhhhh ... let sleeping dogs lie, thanks.

218 from 1 to 189

@hunt5588: On a scale of 1 to UFC 189, what level of violence should we expect out of UFC 218?

Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar. Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou. Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje. It’s like three hours of Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald mad-dogging each other.

Boston Crab

@Floydroid27: How fake was that boston crab finish fight?

You mean The Greatest Finish Ever in Combat Sports is fake??? (Watches the full clip of the fight that made the rounds). Umm ... where are those See no evil/hear no evil monkey emojis when I need them?