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Fightweets: Fix weight-cutting issues before tragedy strikes

UFC Fight Night: Volkov v Struve
Darren Till missed weight for his UFC Liverpool win.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

The MMA machine rolls on with its usual array of subplots. So let’s get right into the latest edition of Fightweets.

Darren Till and weight-cutting reform

@jimwezendonk: Should they ‘punish’ fighters who missed weight by making them weight in again a few hours before the fight, where the fighter can’t weigh in more than the division above him?

There was something about Darren Till’s weigh-in situation in the lead-up to UFC Liverpool that really put an exclamation point on just how screwed up the entire weight-cutting system in mixed martial arts has become, no?

It’s not just that Till missed weight for his scheduled welterweight main event against Stephen Thompson by three-and-a-half pounds. It’s that, after the agreement between Till and Thompson’s teams that stated Till had to weigh in at 188 on Sunday — an entire weight class ahead of their contracted weight — a segment of the community basically said “whoa, that’s way too dangerous for Till.”

Seventeen pounds over the contracted weight was a burden on Till. How did we get to this point?

And that was before video came out showing Till’s harrowing weight cut. You can only imagine some of the weight-cut scenes out there that we don’t see.

There’s been a fair bit of “that’s how the game is played/fighters know what they’re getting into”-type response to this, in large part by people who will never have to cut weight.

You know who else accepted scenes like Till’s weight cut as “just part of the game” for the longest time? Collegiate wrestling. Then three NCAA wrestlers died cutting weight in a five-week span in 1997. The college wrestling community responded with immediate and real changes. They’re not perfect, but they’ve been a gigantic improvement, and collegiate wrestling hasn’t had a similar rash of bad incidents since.

The difference here, of course, is there were strong, centralized institutions like USA Wrestling and the NCAA overseeing things, while MMA is overseen by a patchwork association of commissions who can’t even get their rule sets on the same page, which is going to make change difficult.

I don’t have all the answers. If anyone did, they’d probably be instituted by now. But here are a few thoughts:

  • It’s time to rethink early weigh-ins. It was done with the best of intentions. The idea was that fighters would have more time to rehydrate. But there’s been a dramatic spike in fighters missing weight in the two years since the system was implemented. While there hasn’t been an in-depth study done, the mere fact there’s such a huge leap in weight misses should at least be enough to get regulators to put the pause button on early weigh-ins to try to figure out why this keeps happening.
  • Fighters who have missed weight, then had their opponents accept the fight anyway, have won nearly all their fights this year. Stop giving W’s to fighters who miss weight. If a fighter who misses weight wins their fight, have it go into the books as a no-contest for both. If the fighter who misses weight loses, it goes into the books straight, as a win for the guy who made weight and a loss for the fighter who didn’t.
  • If a fighter misses weight by more than a certain amount — say, two pounds — then their promoter should not give them their next fight in the same weight class, and they should go up a division for their next fight. If said fighter makes the higher weight in their next fight, then perhaps there could be guidelines developed under which they could return to to their previous class for the following bout, under a doctor’s supervision. If said fighter goes back down, and misses weight a second time, they should never be allowed to fight in that weight class again.
  • It’s time for the major promotions to get serious about adding more weight classes; 155/165/175/185 instead of the current 155/170/185 would be a real start. The dangers simply outweigh the negatives that come with the dilution of talent at this point.
  • In the meantime, for the love of god, stop rewarding fighters who miss weight in the rankings. Till rocketed up the UFC’s welterweight rankings after his win over Thompson. This was on the heels of Mackenzie Dern briefly entering the strawweight rankings after weighing in closer to the flyweight limit. I’m starting to think lobotomies are prerequisite to get a place on the UFC’s ranking panel.

Beyond that, I don’t agree with some who call for more punitive measures, like docking a bigger amount of the fighter’s pay for missing weight than is currently in place, or issuing suspensions. That’s only going to encourage more fighters to make more dangerous cuts than they’re already making.

My growing fear is that it’s going to take the death of a fighter during a weight cut to force changes, as was the case with college wrestling. There’s still time to prevent it.

Michael Bisping’s legacy

@hunt5588: What’s your favorite Michael Bisping memory?

So, before I get into Michael Bisping’s career, I’ve got something I feel I need to address. It’s June. It’s LGBT Pride month. My regular readers know I came out publicly last year.

I’ve rarely mentioned it since, because, well, this isn’t about me, it’s about my beat, and you’re on this site to read about MMA.

But still ... SB Nation partner site Outsports points out that all four major North American pro sports are going to have representation in New York’s Pride parade this year. And that makes a hell of a juxtaposition with MMA’s current relationship with the LGBT community.

What’s this got to do with Michael Bisping? Well, in the week since Bisping announced his retirement, he’s been treated with glowing praise for his significant accomplishments in the sport. So much so that everyone from his fighter colleagues to my colleagues in the media to the fans have glossed right over the fact that for much of his career, it’s seemed like every other word out of his mouth was “f*ggot.”

At the time the rest of the sports world is moving toward LGBT inclusion, MMA and the UFC seem to be regressing. We not only turn a deaf ear to this kind of language, but we also keep giving platforms to people like Fabricio Werdum, who not only unapologetically takes money from gay-murdering dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, but has been openly flaunting the connection. It’s all getting pretty tiresome, and will continue to be a worse and worse look for the sport as the rest of the sporting world moves forward until it’s addressed.

Now, all that said? I don’t think Michael Bisping is a bad guy or a hateful person. God knows I heard just as bad of language on a regular basis growing up in white, working-class Boston neighborhoods in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

But you grow up, you get older and a little more worldly, and hopefully you learn and grow as a person and lose this type of language, no matter whom it’s directed at.

So yes, Bisping’s casual use of homophobic language is a part of Bisping’s legacy, as much as so many wanted to pretend it didn’t exist this week. But that doesn’t erase his significant accomplishments. He single-handedly put U.K. MMA on the map and we’re just now starting to see the next generation of stars who were inspired by him make their mark.

For awhile, he seemed destined to be forever known as the guy who constantly came up just a bit short. Then in a bit of karmic justice, the guy who always tested clean rose to the top once legitimate, full-time drug testing was instituted, and he had a moment for the ages when he knocked out Luke Rockhold to win the UFC middleweight title at UFC 199, which, to answer your original question, will always be my favorite Bisping moment.

I’m glad Bisping is getting out the game now instead of coming back and risking his health. He had a legendary career and should be a no-brainer pick for the UFC Hall of Fame. But his record should be examined, warts and all, and the less savory aspects shouldn’t be whitewashed.

What’s next for Moraes?

@TheeLoniousMonk: Two incredible KOs from Moraes. BW top 5 are killers. What is Moraes best and worst matchups?

We’re about to find out, aren’t we? Moraes’ switch-kick finish of just Jimmie Rivera in 33 seconds on Friday night at UFC Utica was a statement, and that statement is this: Moraes should only be fighting competitors in the T.J. Dillashaw/Cody Garbrandt/Dominick Cruz echelon from here on out, and no one else.

It’s highly unlikely any of these guys will wander right into a running knee as did Aljamain Sterling in Moraes’ previous fight. It will be interesting to see how Moraes will respond to any of that trio’s footwork. But we know already Moraes has explosive capability like no other bantamweight, and I wouldn’t rule out a win over any of the above.

Big fights

@ThePineMartin: Besides Stipe vs. DC, is there anything worth getting overly excited about?

I’m not sure what you mean by “overly excited,” and I’m not sure I want to find out, but, I mean ... you have seen that Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez have their rematch coming up on July 28, haven’t you?

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