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Click Debate: It’s time for regulators to call another weight-cutting summit

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It was a little more than two years ago now that the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) called a stakeholder meeting regarding the problem of extreme weight cutting and severe dehydration in the sport of MMA.

At that summit, which included doctors, regulators, promotion officials and some fighters, the first proposition of an earlier weigh-in was broached. The idea to give fighters more time to rehydrate in between the weigh-in and the fight was meant then to be a trial — will this make for fewer fighters walking into the cage still dehydrated?

For the most part, that aspect of the morning weigh-in, which has been used almost across the board since June 2016, has been a success. However, other unforeseen issues have cropped up. Uriah Hall is the latest example of a morning weight cut gone wrong. The UFC middleweight was rushed to the hospital Saturday morning before the UFC Fight St. Louis weigh-ins and there is fear he might have had a seizure, MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani reported.

That doesn’t mean the early weigh-ins should be abolished straight away, because their desired effect has been achieved. What it means is that more changes need to be made, as was intended when the those stakeholders met in Los Angeles in December 2015.

And it’s time for all the aforementioned parties — and even more commission officials and people from the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) leadership — to sit down in a row again and hammer out some reform.

Weight cutting is the biggest problem currently facing mixed martial arts. It’s affecting nearly every major UFC card and deteriorating the long-term health of athletes, or worse.

In 39 UFC events last year, a fighter either missed weight or fell out in the days leading into a card due to weight-cutting related issues 36 times. On multiple occasions, UFC title fights were lost or changed because one competitor had to be rushed to the hospital due to a bad weight cut. An LFA fighter, Clovis Hancock, was clinically dead for 15 minutes after collapsing during a bout and was later told once revived that he was severely dehydrated. He later admitted he had a brutal weight cut, dropping from 215 pounds to 170.

Everyone involved in the MMA world can do better, from the commissions to the promoters to the fighters themselves. And all three need to be on board with needed changes that are approved by doctors.

CSAC’s weight-cutting summit gave birth to the early weigh-in and the California commission’s 10-point plan that was approved last May, which includes licensing by weight class, monitoring of weights leading up to fight week, moving up repeat weight-miss offenders and the recommended moving up of fighters who come into fight day above 10 percent of the contracted weight class.

The plan is still in its infant stages, so it’s hard to say if it’s working or not. But the fact is that it lacks teeth unless other regulatory bodies — and promoters — go along with it. One state alone can’t change a sport-wide epidemic. And no other commission has approved the 10-point plan to date, though it has been discussed in a few places.

So, regulators from the prominent commissions need to come to the table at a summit. As do UFC executives, who can potentially present some of the data they have compiled since they started tracking fighter weights throughout fight weeks beginning in July 2016. CSAC has been running its own study on how much fighters weigh the day of the contest compared to weigh-ins. All of that information can be brought to doctors and experts on dehydration to begin forging some solutions.

There is precious little science in combat sports regulation. As the Nevada commission noted back in August when discussing Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor, no peer-reviewed research has even been done on the affects of glove size, which is stunning considering gloves have been a part of combat sports rules for nearly a century. The UFC has the money and the resources — including the sparkling, new $14 million UFC Performance Institute — to put toward getting answers on weight cutting and dehydration. And there is work being done on that front already.

None of these changes can happen unilaterally, though. All the stakeholders need to work together and that includes the fighters. They need a seat at the table — they are the ones putting their bodies on the line. At the last weight-cutting summit in 2015, just a few fighters showed up, including Josh Thomson and Bubba Jenkins. The insight they were able to provide to regulators, promotion executives, attorneys and doctors was invaluable.

Getting all these influential figures in a room together won’t change anything in the snap of a finger, but just moving ahead with a dialogue is a big deal. Just an acknowledgement that this is a huge problem plaguing the sport would be a good start.

There are fighters, after all, going to the hospital before even stepping into the cage on a regular basis at this point. If athletes are causing more long-term damage to their bodies in the sauna than they are in competition, that should be of serious concern to all the aforementioned parties.

The early weigh-ins are not the problem. They wouldn’t even exist if fighters were competing at a more natural weight. What the morning weigh-ins seem to have done is expose the most dangerous weight cuts and some of those results are frankly frightening.

Things need to change and the parties with interest in the sport need to sit down and hammer out what to do together. Not just some commissions, like with the revised Unified Rules. Not just one promotion.

Sport-wide reform is needed. Things aren’t good now. Hall is laying in a hospital bed Sunday morning, rather than getting ready to fight Vitor Belfort.

The next time something like this happens? Well, no one wants to think about what one step worse would look like.