The Bottom Line: No Time to Weight

By Todd Martin Oct 26, 2021

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Frustration in many circles about the current weight cutting system and the way it is implemented seemed to boil over at UFC Fight Night 196 with the words and actions of Paulo Costa. It wasn’t just that he demanded the weight for his bout be raised substantially the week of the fight and then had it raised once more so that he weighed in nearly 20 pounds above the middleweight limit. It was his attitude about the situation; it was as if he was entitled to this change and confident that he would be successful with this gambit. The latter approach was particularly problematic because it indicated he was aware how he could manipulate the system to his advantage.

Weight cutting is inherently a flawed process. Fighters are punishing their bodies by losing weight at a time when they should be protecting them before a potentially grueling physical and mental challenge. Moreover, the whole ordeal is designed simply to ensure all fighters are on a level playing field, when theoretically they could all just stay the same weight and not bother with the cut at all.

The problem? While everyone recognizes the issues with the current system, there are dangers with every possible alternative. One Championship’s system of monitoring weight and trying to have all fighters come into their fights at a higher weight is likely the alternative with the most promise, but it’s unlikely to be implemented anytime soon. What about the proposals that could be applied in the near to medium term future to try to dissuade fighters from flaunting the weight cut system in the way that Costa did?

One proposal that has been raised is that only a fighter who makes weight can be credited with a victory. Thus, if a fighter misses weight and wins his fight, the fight would be ruled a no contest. If the opponent wins, he would be credited with a victory. This would certainly create a very strong disincentive to miss weight. However, it has a number of downsides. To begin with, this solution goes down the flawed road of organizations trying to deny on-paper results that everyone knows to be true. That has led to plenty of ridicule of the NCAA over the years and was equally maligned when fighters in the past were stripped of wins for smoking marijuana. The one situation where there has been broad acceptance of handing out no contests has been in the case of drug test failures for performance-enhancing drugs. The question is whether missing weight is akin to taking PEDs. There are good reasons to conclude it is not.

Taking performance-enhancing drugs is doubly wrong because it confers an unfair advantage and because it is a purposeful effort to cheat one’s opponent. In many—if not most—failed weight cuts, neither of those elements are true. As to unfair advantage, there is good reason why a fighter who comes in overweight almost always sees the odds move in favor of the opponent. Missing weight is almost always a sign of a tough weight cut and a compromised body. Fighters who miss weight lose more often than they win. Coming in a pound or two heavier a day before the fight confers little benefit in the fight itself.

There’s also little reason to believe that there are significant numbers of fighters trying to game the system. For every fighter like Costa that might appear to be taking advantage of the system, there are 10 visibly struggling to make weight and missing by the barest of margins. Fighters who miss weight significantly are the exception, not the rule. Even if one is sympathetic to the idea of declaring wins to be no contests when a fighter comes in 10 pounds heavier than an opponent, the argument becomes much softer for a half pound, and that’s the more common scenario.

That leads to a second proposal that’s regularly raised to address missed weight cuts, which is creating a wider range of punishments for missing weight, including higher maximum fines. This is something that athletic commissions and promotions should strongly consider implementing, as it is likely to deter the worst offenders while not imposing draconian penalties on those who barely miss, all while providing greater compensation for deserving opponents.

Fining fighters who miss weight by a half pound or a pound 20% of their base pay doesn’t feel like an unjustly soft punishment. If anything, it might be a little harsh. After all, the closer a fighter has come to the contracted weight, the more likely he or she is to have made every effort to get to the proper weight. Fighters know how close they are to getting full pay and not receiving the negative scrutiny that comes from missing weight. They have gained less of an advantage, and there is little need for additional deterrence. The further away the fighter is from the contracted weight, the more of an advantage and the more likely he or she needs to be deterred in the future.

A fine system that incrementally increased with many gradations and a much higher maximum punishment would encourage fighters, no matter how far away they were from the proper weight, to make a full effort to get as close as possible. That would make fighters less likely to come in massively over. It wouldn’t altogether remove the problem of fighters missing weight, but no proposal would. What it would do is make it much less likely that fighters flaunt the rules with little concern for the consequences, while not creating unfair punishment for fighters who miss weight in good faith. It passes a simple test for the many ways to try to improve the current weight cutting system: it’s clearly preferable to the status quo. Advertisement
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