Weight cutting has long been a part of combat sports. When done safely, it allows for fair fights. When done recklessly, it can ruin fights – and lives. . .
AN INTRODUCTION TO COMPETITION WEIGHT CUTTING
It’s true that over the course of the history of competition, people will find ways to have gain any advantage possible. Fighting is no different.
Enter: cutting weight. For pretty much as long as fighters have been weighing in, cutting weight has been a practice done by almost everyone.
There are a lot of misconceptions of what cutting weight is, and these misconceptions can prove to be costly, hindering performance during competition or, worse, even causing death.
(Title image courtesy of Andrew Miller, The Star Ledger.)
WHAT WEIGHT CUTTING IS
Cutting weight is a process that involves manipulating hydration levels in the body over the course of just a few days. Fighters will often sweat out as much as they can in order to lose weight temporarily. They will weigh in at the agreed upon weight, then rehydrate and eat to get their weight back up to normal.
Temporary weight loss is key. The best way to go up and down is through dehydration, then rehydration. Up to 60% of the human body is water, so many people are holding onto more than they think they are. This is how fighters who are fighting at a certain weight look nothing like that weight come fight day. This surprises and even disgusts many people unfamiliar to this practice of the fighting world.
Methods to dehydrate (many fighters use more than one method, often at the same time) include:
- hot baths (sometimes with Epsom salt)
- running in a sauna suit
- water loading (a week-long process)
- salt manipulation
All of these methods should be done in a safe manner. Big weight cuts should never be attempted on a first try.
WHAT WEIGHT CUTTING IS NOT
As mentioned above, people can be very uninformed as to what cutting weight really is, and that can have severe consequences. Cutting weight is not:
- a method of long-term weight loss (meaning you are not intending to keep the weight off)
- starving yourself for weeks to lose weight
- fad dieting
- a replacement for a healthy weight loss program
There are a lot of people who use their entire fight camp to lose weight, training with low energy every single day and not being able to make any real progress during the camp. How could they? Their fight camp is more of a weight loss camp and not a training camp, and that’s not how it should be.
Some athletes attempt to drop massive amounts of weight, but it’s just not possible sometimes, even if you have one month to prepare. If a fighter cannot make their fight weight from eating clean (with sufficient calories, i.e. not starving themselves) and a couple days of dehydration, that’s a problem. The fighter either needs to fight at a heavier weight class or re-evaluate their lifestyle so they can walk around healthily at a lighter weight.
WHY FIGHTERS CUT WEIGHT AT ALL
By temporarily losing and then regaining weight, the fighter hopes to gain an advantage over their opponent by being heavier. The more weight the fighter can cut, the more of an advantage they will get (or so they think – more on that later).
The way of thinking is that the heavier and bigger you are than your opponent, the harder you will hit them. Generally, you expect our opponents will have a more difficult time fighting you. But what if your opponent cuts weight, too? Then, from many fighters’ perspectives, it’s even more important to cut weight so you’re not the one who’s at a disadvantage during the fight.
IS WEIGHT CUTTING SAFE?
Cutting weight has its negative effects, including hormonal damage and imbalance, and fatigue, not to mention the very real risk of death if done improperly (especially without supervision). However, because athletes want an advantage, they will grit through the self-torture. Still, the truth is dark: there have been people who have died after passing out in their sauna suit or even in their sleep because heat stroke, heart stoppage or kidney failure.
Many commissions have found ways to try to get rid of this practice altogether, to make fighting a safer sport for all. Some fighting promotions enforce strict rules with weigh ins, making sure the fighter’s weight doesn’t change by more than a certain percentage. For example, ONE Fighting Championship has a strict “no weight cutting” rule. They do random weight checks and will check the fighter’s weight three hours before fight time, ensuring the fighter’s weight has not changed much since the day before. They also perform urine tests the week of the fight to make sure the athletes are properly hydrated.
There are also well-known tournaments such as IFMA and TBA that require the fighters to weight in every single day that they’re fighting. This discourages them from having to cut a lot of weight, keeping fighters safe and fights intact.
While it’s understandable why fighters do cut weight, it will be even better if everyone can get on board with fighting at their walking weight. This will promote a healthier and happier environment for all fighters and will finally get rid of a practice that can very easily become deadly.
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.