Home Events MMA: Solving the Rapid Extreme Weight Loss Dilemma

MMA: Solving the Rapid Extreme Weight Loss Dilemma


Drastic weight cuts are prevalent throughout all combat sports. Though the original idea for setting up weight classes was to ensure the match-ups are safe and fair. It’s become common practice for athletes who might not be best served by dropping down to a lighter class do so just to get a fight. Business is business and nothing motivates more than money, except possibly fame. So when a fighter’s pay is on the line they might do just about anything to make sure they can “make weight” for that potentially big paycheck.

UFC 177 Weight-Cut Debacle

That being said, health concern over the severity of Rapid Extreme Weight Loss (REWL) have taken center stage post UFC 177. Headliner Renan Barao was forced to cancel his title bout against T.J Dillashaw due to complication from REWL. Barao was slated to fight as a bantamweight at 135 pound.

Renan Barao pulled out of UFC title fight due to weight cut complications
Renan Barao pulled out of UFC title fight due to weight cut complications

Barao was not the only fighter on the card to suffer complications. Flyweight Henry Cejudo was scheduled to make his UFC debut, but was pulled from the card by UFC officials when the cut resulted in nausea and cramping. He was five pounds away on the night before weigh-ins and was told cutting any more would be a safety concern.

In the post event press conference following UFC 177, President Dana White stated, When they come in we weigh all of them so we have a good idea where everybody is and know where they are.  What happened this time, and don’t quote me on this…is he (Barao) got to (138 pounds) and that was it, his body shut down and wasn’t cutting any more weight…He was 138 when he feinted and it wasn’t even a feint, what happened is once you deplete all the electrolytes in your body you basically become paralyzed.  That’s what happens.  You become paralyzed and you can’t move any of your limbs.  They had to come and call 911.”

White was asked if the complications suffered by Barao were as sign that the UFC should get more involved in the process.

The response from White was, “Nobody’s ever been hurt from it. I mean, there’s only so much we can do.” 

Yes, Competitors Have Been Hurt From the Weight-Cut

The statement that there is only so much the promotion can do may be pretty legitimate for the most part, but stating that no one has ever been hurt from REWL is misinformation.

  • Nova Uniao flyweight fighter Leandro “Feijao” Souza suffered a stroke and passed away while cutting weight last year
  • Fighter Jordan Murray requiring gallbladder surgery due to weight cutting
  • Rodrigo Damm was forced out of UFC Fight Night 29 due to kidney Issues caused by a drastic weight cut
  • T.J. Cook hospitalized with severe kidney failure post Strikeforce Challenger Series 17 after taking a fight on a less than a week notice
  • Canadian fighter Jer Kornelsen required CPR after losing consciousness during a cut
  • Three college wrestles died in a 6 week period due to weight cutting

    Shooto Brazil Fighter Leandro "Faijao" Souza's cut caused complications costing him his life.
    Shooto Brazil Fighter Leandro “Faijao” Souza’s cut caused complications costing him his life.

There are numerous other examples, but these are some of the most memorable.

Renan Barao is the latest addition to this list.

Who Is Responsible?

The responsibility of making weight is typically that of the fighter. There are an endless plethora of weight-cutting techniques and they all work differently for different people. It is important that the fighter and their trainers have a well-thought out plan to make the cut. This includes diet, exercise and the inevitable element of dehydration.

At this point the UFC weighs their competitors a week prior to the scheduled bout when they arrive at the location. This gives the promotion an idea of how much weight the fighter will be attempting to cut off in a week. Much of which is likely to come from dehydration at that point. This also allows them to determine if there are any concerns of matches not taking place due to competitors missing the mark.

Is There More That Can Be Done?

Since most state athletic commissions serve as the sanctioning body over MMA promotions, the regulations would likely have to come from the top down to ensure compliance.  Though, there is no reason promotions could not implement protocol on their own.

Some suggestions that have been brought up in previous conversations across MMA and health forums include the following:

  1. Mandate multiple official, year-round weigh-ins taken at random with licensed fighters to establish each competitors “normal” or “walking” weight.
  2. Fighters should be barred from competing in a weight class that’s lighter than 90 percent of their established “normal” weight.
  3. Fights cannot be offered on short-notice (less than 30 days) fighters greater than 5 percent of their weight limit
  4. 30 days prior to date of the event, competitors can not be more than 10 percent over the weight limit for their weight class.
  5. Competitors should not be more than 5 percent over the weight limit 10 days prior to the event
  6. Asses hydration levels using diagnostic measures such as evaluating urine specific gravity

The World Boxing Council already has some of these precautions in place for championship fights, requiring that fighters be weighted 30 days, 7 days and one day prior to the event with restrictions on how much they can lose.