Former UFC stawweight title challenger Valerie Letourneau now fights for Bellator MMA. The decision was made because Bellator has a flyweight division, and trying to make 115 was killing her, as she detailed during a recent appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour.
“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],” said Letourneau, as transcribed by Danny Segura for MMA Fighting. “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.”
“After the last fight, they [UFC] told me themselves that they didn’t want to see me make 115 anymore, it was just dangerous every time I was doing it. 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.”
“They need more weight classes for women, that’s for sure. 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 and 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.”
The UFC recently announced the formation of a 125-pound division, but later said it was simply an option they were considering. Letourneau is scheduled to fight Emily Ducote at Bellator 181 on July 14, at 125 pounds.
California State Athletic Commission executive director Andy Foster has crafted a 10-point plan to combat the culture of extreme weight cutting in mixed martial arts. The Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports Medical Committee voted unanimously to recommend Foster’s 10-point plan to the full ABC body at the annual conference, which will be held this year from July 22-26 at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
There two clear paths now. Things can go on as they are until a Valerie Letourneau dies during a weight cut, and then significant change will be enacted. Or significant change can be enacted in July. Weight cutting reform is coming to the sport; the sole question is whether someone needs to die first, for nothing.
Indeed, weight cutting is less than nothing. In no rational sport do you deplete yourself to the point of struggling to speak a day before the most intense athletic experience on the planet.
Until Foster’s plan becomes the norm, every coach, every fighter, and every member of the hardcore fanbase should familiarize themselves with what is going on. Towards that end, back in 2015 Foster worked with the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP) to draft a memo on the dangers of extreme weight cutting.
THE DANGERS OF CUTTING WEIGHT AND DEHYDRATING
Unhealthy and dangerous weight loss practices continue to be a serious problem in combat sports. One recent study found that 39% of MMA fighters were entering competition in a dehydrated state. Heat illness and death in athletes have already happened in the sports of wrestling and MMA.
It’s been shown that excessive weight loss, rapid weight loss, and repeated cycling of weight gain/loss causes decreased performance, hormonal imbalance, decreased nutrition, and increased injury risk. Other life-threatening problems associated with improper weight loss and dehydration include:
•Decreased Muscle Strength and Endurance: Decreased blood flow to muscles makes them work less well.
•Decreased Heart and Cardiovascular Function: The heart works harder and less efficiently.
•Reduced Energy Utilization, Nutrient Exchange and Acidosis: With decreased blood flow to tissues nutrients don’t get delivered, and the body’s waste products do not get
removed as well. A buildup of acid occurs which ch anges cells’ functions in the body.
•Heat Illness: This takes on four forms: heat cramps, heat syncope (loss of consciousness), heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (which may be fatal). Dehydration results in decreased blood flow to skin and muscles. This is followed by decreased ability to regulate body temperature. The ability to sweat becomes impaired and core body temperature can rise. This increases the threat of all of these to poorly hydrated athletes doing strenuous workouts.
•Decreased Kidney Function: Dehydration leads to decreased kidney blood flow and decreased kidney function. This contributes to the problems listed in the points here, in addition to decreased urine output, concentrated urine, and leakage of protein into the urine. (It is not known if these changes can result in permanent kidney damage.)
•Electrolyte Problems: Decreased kidney function results in imbalances of electrolytes such as unhealthy increases in potassium and sodium.
•Mood Swings and Mental Changes: All of the above contribute to increased mood swings, poor concentration and focus, disorientation and other mental changes.
•Eye Trouble: Dehydration can cause blurred vision and dry eyes.
•Increased Risk of Brain Injury: There are likely increased risks of brain bleeding and concussion.
•Don’t use extreme methods for making weight such as excessive heat methods (rubberized suits, steam rooms, saunas), excessive intense bouts of exercise, vomiting, laxatives and diuretics.
•Don’t use dehydration as a mainstay of making weight. In addition to the above, it puts you at risk of improper rehydration techniques when, in reality, proper re-hydration takes several hours to days. (Many cases intravenous fluids being used for rehydration after weigh-ins have been reported – this is a doping violation with several organizations.)
•Commit to year-round proper diet and training for proper weight control and body composition.
•By maintaining your weight year round near an appropriate competition weight and not competing in a weight class outside your appropriate weight class you will help avoid large swings in weight.
•Maintain a good state of hydration by drinking fluid throughout the day and staying hydrated during workouts.
•Follow nutritional programs that meet your needs for adequate amounts of calories from a balanced diet high in healthy carbohydrates, the minimum requirement of fat, and appropriate amounts of protein.
•Be wary of nutritional supplements as they are not regulated by the FDA and some have been shown to be harmful.
For more information visit: associationofringsidephysicians.org.