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Top MMA storylines of 2017: 5. Weigh-in drama

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC has run 11 pay-per-view events so far in 2017. In seven of them, a fighter either dropped out in the day or days leading into the event (almost always due to a tough weight cut) or there was some kind of collective holding of breath during official weigh-ins.

In 38 UFC events thus far, 36 times there was either a fighter missing weight or falling out of the fight in the days before due to circumstances compounded by weight cutting. And UFC 219 on Dec. 30 features two fighters — Cris Cyborg and Khabib Nurmagomedov — in the main and co-main event, respectively, who are known for having a tough time making weight.

Nurmagomedov had to be hospitalized while cutting weight before an interim lightweight title fight with Tony Ferguson at UFC 209 in March. Daniel Cormier needed the support of a towel to juke the scale at UFC 210 to make 205 pounds. The UFC lost title fights at both UFC 213 and UFC 215 due, at least in part, to weight cutting.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

At UFC 216, Kevin Lee missed weight on his first attempt, but was allowed to continue cutting by the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC). He made it the second time and was allowed to fight Ferguson in an interim lightweight title bout. Lee later said the weight cut via severe dehydration “damn near killed” him.

At UFC 217, Joanna Jedrzejczyk narrowly made the two-hour weigh-in window to hit the mark successfully for a UFC women’s strawweight title defense against Rose Namajunas. Jedrzejczyk lost by first-round knockout the next day and weeks later threw her nutrition team, Perfecting Athletes, under the bus for making “unforgivable” mistakes during the weight cut. She said she was “lucky to be alive.”

Earlier this month, Sijara Eubanks was supposed to compete in the first UFC women’s flyweight title fight at TUF 26 Finale. Instead, she had to be rushed to the emergency room with kidney failure due to a weight cut that decimated her body.

If all this doesn’t sound like an epidemic that needs to be addressed post haste, we don’t know what would.

Weight-cutting has always been an issue in mixed martial arts, a carryover from amateur wrestling. It seems like it has gotten worse than ever in 2017 with no signs of the practice and its health risks slowing down. The process of sucking as much water as possible out of a human body to make an artificial weight (nearly to the point of hospitalization), then rehydrating to fight in a cage the next day has been universally panned by doctors and scientists.

This is not just a problem in the UFC. In November, LFA fighter Clovis Hancock had to be revived after dying in the cage during a bout. He had cardiac arrest, kidney failure and a contusion on his heart. Doctors told him he collapsed due to severe dehydration. Hancock told MMA Fighting that he had the toughest weight cut of his career before that fight, getting down to 170 pounds from 215 pounds.

In May, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) passed some potentially ground-breaking new regulations that combat extreme weight cutting and severe dehydration. The 10-point plan includes provisions like making doctors clear a fighter to compete in a certain weight classes, moving fighters up a division if they are not within 10 percent of the weight class on fight day, and increased fines for weight-miss offenders.

CSAC executive officer Andy Foster and his staff also do weight checks via Skype or FaceTime before the fighters arrive at the host city for fight week. That worked very well at UFC 214 in Anaheim, Calif. All the participants in three title fights — Cormier, Jon Jones, Cyborg, Tonya Evinger, Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia — were checked 30 days out of the event and again 10 days out.

Ahead of that event, the commission also said it would not license Renan Barao to fight Aljamain Sterling at 135 pounds. Three years ago, Barao passed out while trying to cut to 135 and hit his head, forcing him out of a title fight against T.J. Dillashaw in Sacramento, Calif. Barao and Sterling ended up fighting at a 140-pound catchweight.

CSAC moved up a bout earlier this month between Alex Perez and Carls John de Tomas at UFC Fresno from flyweight to bantamweight, because de Tomas was “significantly” over the 10-percent regulations during fight week. De Tomas also missed weight by five pounds the last time he fought, back in June.

Perez ended up winning the fight, but complained afterward that de Tomas was given an unfair advantage in moving the bout up to 135 pounds. CSAC said Perez, too, was over the 10-percent threshold during fight week, which is why the commission moved the fight up with no fine for de Tomas.

Since the package of rules has passed, CSAC doctors have said UFC fighter Drew Dober must move up to welterweight or get cleared by a doctor to fight at lightweight after he was 18 percent above the lightweight division on fight day at UFC 214. CSAC recommended new Invicta bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya move up to featherweight after she weighed 15 percent above the contracted division at Invicta FC 25.

While rules like these are a step in the right direction, commissions outside California could let Dober fight at lightweight and Kunitskaya fight at bantamweight again without a problem. CSAC doesn’t have jurisdiction over those other regulatory bodies and no other commission has passed the 10-point plan or any elements of it.

Late in the year, the Texas Combative Sports Program brought up the weight-cutting reform rules during an advisory meeting and other commissions have expressed interest, but new regulations are unlikely to be passed before the year is up.

The UFC itself was hurt a great deal by weight-cutting mishaps in 2017. The promotion has guidelines that say if fighters comes into fight week above 8 percent of the weight class, they will be monitored. And UFC doctors and vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky have been good about pulling the plug on dangerous weight cuts before they cross a severe point. The UFC Performance Institute, which opened this year, has a full-time nutritionist in Clint Wattenberg and that could improve things as well moving forward.

Hopefully, one of the big stories of 2018 is how commissions and promotions came together to quell this massive problem.

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