By Nick Barringer
Although it will be another 24 hours before the UFC Fight for the Troops 3 Combatants step inside the Octagon, all the competitors will indeed do battle today. While every fighter will be bigger, stronger, and better trained than this diminutive adversary, most all will both fear and hate it. This metallic enemy has the ability to ruin a fight card with one simple, unbalanced reading. The weigh-in is truly the fight before the fight and the scale is the foe who will determine if the fighter’s efforts will be rewarded or punished.
Let’s focus on the final skirmish with the scale that occurs in the last days leading up to fight known as the final weight cut.
First I will clarify that the weight loss I am discussing is not the same as one typically refers to when they are dieting. Rather, this final cut is a rapid loss of fluid in order to make weight followed by a rapid rehydration process before the fight. If done correctly, a fighter might gain a tactical advantage over his or her opponent. However, if done incorrectly, the fighter might put themselves at a disadvantage or worse, in the hospital.
The simple answer is to be bigger and stronger than your opponent. If I walk around at 185 and cut down to 170 and fight an opponent who is naturally 170, I should have a size and possibly strength advantage as I will most likely be back up in the 180s on fight day giving me at least a 10lb advantage. However, it is not always that clear cut as research involving wrestler’s showed no clear advantage gained by cutting weight. However, since cutting is the norm in most combat sports, a clear advantage might not be seen and cutting might rather ensure a level playing field rather than a tactical advantage. Some research even suggests that weight cutting offers a psychological advantage to the athlete by increasing focus and commitment.
What does it do to performance?
It is well known that severe dehydration, along with being dangerous, destroys performance. However, the fighters will have 24 hours to rehydrate before they enter the octagon. Research has actually shown that rapid weight loss followed by adequate time to recover has little to no negative impact on performance. A study showed Judokas who rapidly lost 5% of their bodyweight experienced no decrease in Judo-related performance after they were given a 4 hour recovery period. So 24 hours is adequate time to recover if the weight cut was done correctly.
Weight Cutting Over Simplified
- Eat clean during camp so you are with ~5% of your target weight before the cut. 5% is chosen as it has been shown not to negatively impact performance . So if 185lbs is your weight class, ideally you want to be around 195lbs before you start your final cut. This will vary among athletes, however. When the weight cut gets in the 10% and above range, the risk of the athlete’s performance and health suffering increase.
- Sweat: can be accomplished by heat and exercise. Ideally the more passive the process the better—hence the sauna. Don’t have a sauna? A bathtub will work. If you think you were sweating during a hot southern day at 90 degrees and 80 percent humidity imagine what your body will do at 102-104 degrees and 100 percent humidity.
- Rehydrate: 24 ounces of fluid replacement/sports drink for every pound lost.
Weight cutting has been associated with increased risk of injury in Collegiate Wrestlers and in extreme cases lead to death. Research has also demonstrated that dehydration might influence an athlete’s concussion screening scores making it hard to determine the level of degradation caused by an actual concussion. This is of particular concern when dealing with MMA athletes where concussions regularly occur.
Weight cutting is a process that should be taken seriously and under medical supervision. Although it has risks it provides yet another tactical layer in the physical chess that is Mixed Martial Arts. It is a demonstration of both the determination and professionalism of the athletes about to step in the cage.
So I encourage all of you to enjoy the weigh-in. Appreciate both the art and science of how each athlete has stripped their physique down to only the essential muscle, bone, and sinew. Then at 1900 EST on Wednesday the 6th in Fort Campbell, KY, applaud how in a matter of 24 hours they have refueled and transformed their body into a larger and more powerful apparatus that conducts a ballet of violence.