CHICAGO — Out with the new and in with the old. At least that’s what Dana White intimated earlier this week on the UFC Unfiltered podcast.
The UFC president said the promotion is looking to abolish the two-year-old early weigh-ins in favor of the old system of having fighters weigh-in in the afternoon. The morning weigh-ins were instituted first by California in 2016 to give fighters more time to rehydrate before the fight and the protocol was eventually adopted across the board by most MMA promotions.
But, while it has been successful in some ways, the odd side effect has been that nearly triple the amount of fighters in the UFC have missed weight with the early weigh-ins.
Hours after White’s comments, fighters took to social media to plead their case. Many of the UFC 225 athletes competing this weekend prefer the morning weigh-in for various reasons over the afternoon weigh-in, they told MMA Fighting. Not only is there more time to rehydrate after the water cut, they say, but they also spend less time dehydrated, because the weigh-in is in the fighter hotel, rather than the fight venue.
“I think that was one of the best steps we’ve taken as a sport for the fighters and I don’t know where it came from that they want to weigh-in at night again,” said Joseph Benavidez, who fights Sergio Pettis on Saturday. “I’ve never heard a fighter say that. The guys that are missing weight, they obviously have problems whether they have a sauna in their room or they weigh-in at this time, that time or the next day. They’re gonna have a problem making that weight. That’s not how you fix it.”
Though the amount of fighters missing weight in the UFC over the last two years has gone up, more than 96 percent of fighters still make weight. And the ones who make weight regularly don’t understand why the UFC would change the rules to accommodate the small percentage of fighters who miss weight.
“It’s a little unfair, honestly,” Pettis said. “The 90 percent of fighters that are making weight, we’re taking advantage of that time. We’re taking advantage of the extra time we get to replenish our body. It takes the brain, I believe, 72 hours to rehydrate. So we’re going in there not completely rehydrated [with the afternoon weigh-in]. More time for us is better.”
In Ricardo Lamas’ opinion, the answer is increasing the punishment for fighters who miss weight. Currently, fighters who miss are fined a percentage of their purse (the amount depends on jurisdiction). Lamas believes their entire show money should be taken away and the morning weigh-ins kept intact.
“It let’s us recover more and with better recovery we’re gonna fight better the next day,” said Lamas, who meets Mirsad Bektic at UFC 225.
Not every fighter is in favor of the early weigh-ins. Former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, now a welterweight, prefers to weigh-in in the afternoon, like the UFC used to do.
“For me, I would prefer the evening or the afternoon,” said dos Anjos, who fights Colby Covington for the interim welterweight title Thursday. “It’s not fun to wake up at 6 a.m. to cut weight, to cut the last pounds. I think we can still get a good night of sleep — not good, better. It’s not gonna be good, either way. And get some better sleep, wake up, have some time to cut the weight and make weight in the evening.”
That being said, dos Anjos does not believe the morning weigh-in has been the cause for the increase in fighters missing weight.
“Weight cuts start 12 weeks before the fight,” said dos Anjos, who has been open about how hard his weight cut to lightweight used to be. “Weight cuts start when you sign the contract. If you miss weight, it’s your fault. That’s what I think. For me, it’s better to weigh-in in the afternoon, not the morning. But still in the morning, I never missed weight and I think if you miss weight it’s your fault. You had two or three months to cut that wait. You know that, you signed the contract for that and it’s your fault.”
Carla Esparza, who fights Claudia Gadelha on Saturday, was a college wrestler and she believes in the NCAA system, where athletes weigh-in the same day as the competition. The later the better, Esparza said.
“So that people are fighting closer to their true weight and not just cutting more weight so they can hydrate up,” she said. “If I could, I would do weigh-ins morning of the fight. We’re stepping into the cage at the weight we stepped on the scale at.”
The fear from regulators with same-day weigh-ins is that fighters would still cut a large amount of weight and then go into the cage severely dehydrated, which would be extremely dangerous. If weight cutting is going to remain the way it is now, many fighters say they’d prefer to have time to recover. Some have even proposed moving them earlier, to Thursday afternoon, if people don’t want to weigh-in in the morning.
“The early weigh-ins, it really helps me,” Gadelha said. “It helps a lot of fighters. You make weight in the morning and then you have more than 24 hours to recover weight and to feel good for fight night. If you weigh-in at night, you only have a few hours to get your weight back and feel good. I think it’s their fault, the fighters that are not doing it right. I’m gonna be really sad if we go back to the night.”
Fighter safety is of the utmost importance. While changes are needed in weight cutting, some have questioned whether going back to a Friday afternoon weigh-in is actually safer. Doctors have been in favor of weigh-ins further out from the fight.
“For the fighters’ health being a concern, I think [the afternoon weigh-in] is horrible for the fighters’ health,” said Dan Ige, who fights Mike Santiago at UFC 225. “Especially with no IVs. I studied kinesiology and nutrition in college. Some guys are cutting 15, 20 pounds fight week. I don’t cut that much weight, but there are guys who are. … That is not enough time for the brain to rehydrate.”