While most fighters transition between MMA organizations for better contracts, more exposure, or just simply to face a higher level of competition, one fighter has changed employers to avoid extreme weight cutting.
Former UFC stawweight title challenger Valerie Letourneau announced earlier this year that she was no longer with the UFC, and just a week ago, MMA Fighting reported that the 34-year-old veteran had signed with Bellator. According to the Letourneau, the decision to move to Bellator came down to her health, as the UFC doesn’t yet have an appropriate weight class for her to compete in.
“After the last fight, they [UFC] told me themselves that they didn’t want to see me make 115 [pounds] anymore, it was just dangerous every time I was doing it,” Letourneau told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. “They were more concerned that something really bad was going to happen to me, so they offered me to fight at 135 [pounds] and I was not interested to fight at 135. I’ve lost so much weight since I cut down to 115 [pounds], my body has changed so much. I was already a small at 135, and I just got smaller so it made no sense to me.
“That’s when I said, ‘then just release me if you can’t have me fight at 125, and I don't want to fight at 135, so what’s the point to be on contract?’ After this fight happened at 115, they [UFC] told me they weren’t ready to open flyweight so they released me to give me a chance to at least keep fighting.”
Not long afterward, the UFC mistakenly announced that it was creating a 125-pound women’s class for The Ultimate Fighter 26. That announcement ended up being premature, but the idea is still under consideration.
For now, Letourneau already has a Bellator flyweight fight booked in July against Emily Ducote. And with her struggle to make the stawweight limit being a thing of the past, the Canadian fighter looked back the worst weight cut to she’s made in her 10-year-long MMA career, which just happened to be for her most high-profile fight to this day.
“The worst was when I fought Joanna [Jedrzejczyk], and you can talk to ‘Bigfoot’ and talk to Mark Hunt, because I was sitting between them [in the sauna],” Letourneau said. “They had to take me to the hospital right after weigh-ins. I couldn't even drink, eat, or speak. And I don't know if you remember, but we did an interview as soon as we walked off the stage and I couldn't stop shaking. I couldn't stop shaking, and I couldn't even walk. I just made it to my chair and after that, I couldn't move, I was so cold, so cold inside. I felt like all my bones were knocking on each other and they had to give me an I.V., I was going to die.
“You’re not supposed to have I.V., but you get to this point I had to push. My blood pressure when I started cutting weight was 80 over 35, that’s how low it was. Can you imagine how I was feeling? Just trying to have a conversation, just trying to even think properly, I was losing my voice, vision. I couldn't even hear properly. So you just think your heart is going to stop. Mentally, you just stay strong and say, ‘okay, I'm going to make it tomorrow.’ I was talking to my body like it’s not even part of myself, like it’s a machine and you just keep going, keep walking, keep doing your thing. But how many times can I do this? And the more you do it, you're more traumatized. Every single time, you're more concerned of — let’s say a week from the fight, I was thinking more about how much I was going to suffer again to make it to 115 [pounds, rather] than the fight.”
Letourneau is surprised there hasn't been any major incidents regarding weight cutting in the UFC, as she says there’s usually no doctors or nurses monitoring fighter’s weight cuts. The American Top Team fighter takes inspiration in some of her teammates such as Dustin Poirier and Jorge Masvidal, who have gone up a weight class to fight at a more natural weight.
Weight-cutting remains one of the biggest and most dangerous issues in the sport of MMA. Letourneau believes that fight promotions should institute more weight classes, much like boxing, to give fighters healthier weights to compete at. However, Letourneau does recognize that it’s ultimately fighter’s responsibility to compete at an appropriate division.
“They need more weight classes for women, that’s for sure,” Letourneau explained. “And I even heard many guys saying that 15 pounds between, let’s say 155 and 170, I remember [Donald] Cerrone was saying 155 pounds is five pounds too small for him, but then 170 pounds is almost too big, and I believe him. For me, I could even fight at 120 pounds with my diet and everything. But the five extra pounds [to make strawweight], imagine every pound takes me an hour to an hour an a half to lose of sauna, of hot bath. So it’s five to six more hours of struggle and that’s how you kill your body.
“We just need more weight classes and we need fighters to be more responsible. You make the decision to make that weight and if you can’t, then just go up.”