Opinion: Danger in the Cut

By Jason Probst Jun 29, 2011
Joe Stevenson (file photo) did not look strong at 145 pounds. | Photo: Daniel Herbertson

With the mass exodus to drop down a weight class in MMA, in general, and among lightweights, in particular, Tyson Griffin and Joe Stevenson both clearly showed the effects of it at UFC Live 4 on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

That is a troubling trend, because anyone familiar with the stress of cutting weight knows the considerable health risks it brings. Yet in today’s ultra-competitive MMA climate, the inevitability of having to take those risks to stay relevant with one’s career intact closely mimic those in other dangerous sports, like the NFL.

In a word, fighters put their body through an enormous cycle of deprivation to make weight, especially when they drop down a weight class in which they either have never competed before or grew out of earlier in their career. After hitting weight, standard fare is to rehydrate with an IV administered; that’s why if you compare many guys’ physiques while on the scale and at fight time, they look significantly less shredded because they’re terribly dehydrated.

This is not an argument against cutting weight -- which is part of the sport -- nor to move the sport’s weigh-ins to a same day time; if you made fighters weigh in on fight day, most of them would have to move up a weight class, and it would essentially turn the sport on its head. However, what the 30-hour weigh-ins have done is create a contest in how to cut weight while rehydrating back to as large a size as possible, packing on 20-plus pounds in extreme cases to bring an advantage into the cage.

There are diminishing returns to this, which is a grim governing mechanism. Think Joe Riggs at 170 pounds, James Irvin at 185 or the many other Skeletor-like figures we’ve seen on the scales. Griffin, though he won a decision over Manny Gamburyan, looked tired and nowhere near as busy as in previous showings. Stevenson sleepwalked through a decision loss to Javier Vasquez.

With MMA moving toward its second decade, the long-term effects of weight cutting will show up as stars retire and move on to life after fighting. While we’ve often prided ourselves that our sport isn’t boxing, with countless blows to the head causing brain damage, the spate of MMA tragedies related to concussions is a growing body of concern. Weight cutting figures to become part of that discussion in the future.

Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or twitter.com/jasonprobst.

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