Weighty Matters

By Jake Rossen Oct 29, 2007
As many of its participants are fond of pointing out -- clichés be damned -- fighting is 90 percent mental. Some might add that the remaining 10 percent of outcomes are decided when athletes step on the scale.

Weight cutting is a deliriously primitive exercise that rewards athletes for having the knowledge to bring their bodies to the point of exhaustion and back. It's a skill, to be sure, but one mandated only by archaic commission standards. In an effort to squeeze every last possible advantage from the system, it's not uncommon to see fighters looking like dehydrated beef jerky the day before their contests.

Frank Trigg (Pictures) remains the prime example of ignoring conventional wisdom: Struggling at welterweight, he devoured carbs and knocked the snot out of respected middleweights Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) and Jason Miller. The peerless Randy Couture (Pictures) also listened to his body and shifted divisions when strategically appropriate.

If their records are any indication, some athletes may be advised to seek challenges in other divisions. Some names whose careers might benefit from eating more, or less:

Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
Heavyweight (205 lbs. and over) to Light Heavyweight (205 lbs. and under)

MMA's heavyweight division has long doubled as Frankenstein's laboratory: It's home to genetically engineered superhumans who often exceed the dimensions of NBA players and public housing. When you have athletes cutting to make its 265-pound weight restriction, you know you're in for it.

At 220 pounds, Mirko "Cro Cop" is one of the lightest combatants in the class, his fighting weight just a few pounds under the day-to-day mass of light heavies. While his redwood-sized thighs and K-1-class striking have served him well overall, we can begin to see how much the clinch work of his heavier opponents has frustrated him. Against the 240-pound Cheick Kongo (Pictures), he was repeatedly bullied into the cage, robbed of his required striking distance. Against Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures), he was easily controlled on the ground, unable to escape the hips of the technically proficient Gigantor.

As "Cro Cop" learned to the tune of a 1-2 record in his UFC bid, clinching in the Octagon is a different challenge than in the ring. Ropes have give, allowing for escapes and maneuvering. Pressed against a chain-link fence by a guy with bowling balls for deltoids, and all you're going to get is a scowl from the judges.

I'm confident Mirko enjoys some Sherdog.com opining with his morning coffee, so I'll make a direct plea -- get Tito Ortiz (Pictures) to educate you on the proper way to shed 15 pounds of water weight and enjoy the success that comes with being on a level playing field.

Some excellent standup affairs are available in the lighter class with Mauricio Rua (Pictures), Quinton Jackson (Pictures) and a dozen others. Hell, your 205-pound debut already happened -- against Wanderlei Silva (Pictures). And if that result won't convince you, I don't know what will.

Ken Shamrock (Pictures)
Light Heavyweight to Heavyweight

Chuckle all you like, but excuse the bluster and carnie attitude of Ken Shamrock (Pictures), and he's not a bad fighter.

What killed Shamrock's momentum in his golden years was the UFC's sadistic insistence on having him contend almost exclusively with agile, speedy light heavyweights. Age is never crueler than to lighter athletes, who may retain their power and technical ability, but are forced to compete with a body that responds to threats on a several-second delay.

Shamrock's reaction times made him chum for Tito Ortiz (Pictures), Rich Franklin (Pictures) and even Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures). But look closer: Against Kazuyuki Fujita (Pictures), his standup was crisp, and his takedown defense against a more lumbering opponent was solid. Against peers Kimo and Don Frye (Pictures), he displayed a tenaciousness that belied his years.

Fans would welcome Shamrock's performances against opponents that don't move with the speed of a Barry Allen. A word to the wise: Avoid a fight with Frank Shamrock (Pictures) and convince Pro Elite that you and Kimbo Slice would sell enough tickets to satisfy your salary.

Elvis Sinosic (Pictures)
Light Heavyweight to Middleweight (185 lbs. and under)

While Elvis has taken more abuse in this space than he has in the ring, and I'll continue to maintain that a fighter with a 1-6 UFC record is Spike Fight Night material at best, there is an alternative to retirement.

A wiry 6-foot-3, Sinosic has the kind of frame that makes his fans long for a 195-pound weight division. While there may be no perfect slot for him, his chances of returning to a winning record greatly improve if he were to shed some mass and make 185 pounds.

Consider Kendall Grove (Pictures), another lanky middleweight at 6-foot-6 who uses his frame to frustrate stockier opponents. Sinosic's weakness has traditionally been his guard, where bruisers can outmuscle him to create distance and land devastating shots. One class down, Sinosic could work the position to actively threaten opponents.

Sinosic is so genial that it's difficult not to root for him -- but as a light heavy, cheering for the Aussie is largely a waste of oxygen.

Chuck Liddell (Pictures)
Light Heavyweight to Heavyweight

I'm not one to ever write off the chances of Chuck Liddell (Pictures) recapturing his light heavyweight title. He did, after all, stand up to Johnny Drama without batting an eye. But after two dismal performances against champion Quinton Jackson (Pictures) and a buzz-killer against Keith Jardine (Pictures), it's looking grim.

Liddell, says training partners, hits as hard as any heavyweight out there. And at 37, he may be settling down into the big boys' slower gear. Both Liddell and UFC chairs have discussed a move to the heavier class before -- why not now, when Jackson looks to be bonded to the title for the foreseeable future?

Some major slugfests await him with the likes of Heath Herring (Pictures) and Cheick Kongo (Pictures); his vaunted takedown defense and anti-grappling would be tested against heavier BJJ players like Gonzaga and Fabricio Werdum (Pictures).

Liddell is one of the UFC's biggest draws, and he's floundering. In the absence of Couture, the heavyweight division is in desperate need of a marquee attraction. If Liddell comes up short a third time in a row against Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) in December, it's a move that makes sense for everyone involved.

Brandon Vera (Pictures)
Heavyweight to Light Heavyweight

When Brandon Vera (Pictures) created the distance to strike in his recent bout with Tim Sylvia (Pictures), he made the big man stumble.

Those opportunities came few and far between, partially because of a broken hand he sustained early, and because the cloud-sniffing Sylvia was able to muscle him against the fence and play a lopsided game of hold ‘n punch.

Vera is too technical, too exciting for that kind of treatment. I don't doubt his ambitions to become a heavyweight champion, but it has to be as frustrating for Vera to be positionally dominated as it is for his fans. His kinetic game is stifled against bigger men. The exciting fights are a class below.

Short Cuts

B.J. Penn (Pictures)'s wildly uneven performances at 170 due to conditioning invite the stricter standards of a 155-pound athletes … Joe Riggs (Pictures), once a super heavyweight, looks like tree bark as a 170 pounder. His chances improve at 185 … Dan Henderson (Pictures)'s insistence on remaining at 205 is denying fans one of Anderson Silva's few real threats at 185 … Topping the scales at 407 pounds for a recent bout, Eric "Butterbean" Esch has let himself go. He'd be a player at 390.

For comments, e-mail jrossen@sherdog.com
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