Every Pound of Flesh: Weight Cutting in the UFC

Remember that weird kid with the messed-up ears that would run around the neighborhood in a trash bag? This is for him.

“Il a un chien”. He has some dog in him – French proverb, origin unknown.

Anyone even vaguely aware of combat sports should be familiar with the concept of weight classes, a given weight that competitors must fall at or below to be eligible for competition in a particular match or weight category. What some may not know is how brutal this process can be for boxers, wrestlers, or MMA fighters. The trial to not be the “little man in the ring” can sometimes prove more painful than the fight itself. Every combat league across every martial discipline has a different set of rules for how weigh-ins are to be conducted, and the UFC is no exception. The conditions of these weigh-ins often determine what extremes these modern gladiators will go through to make weight before they even set foot in the octagon.

The UFC currently spreads its weight classes among 9 different men’s divisions from strawweight to heavyweight. A strawweight can weigh in at no more than 115lbs/52.5kg while a heavyweight can not check in any heavier than 265lbs/120.2kg. The 4 women’s weight classes range from strawweight to featherweight (145lbs/65.8kg)

The gaps between different divisions will not be equal in gross poundage because a 130lb fighter taking on a 140lb scrapper is vastly different from a 250lb mauler squaring off against a 260lb contender. The important thing to consider is the percentage of bodyweight rather than the absolute numbers.

Weigh-ins typically take place the morning of the day before the fight. Considering that most UFC events take place in time for the after-work bar crowd to tune in, this gives fighters a 24-36 hour recovery period before stepping into the ring. But why would they need so long to recover?

Fighters typically start cutting 5 days before they weigh in, losing on average 20 pounds before that time (more for heavier fighters, and less for the lighter classes). This is how a fighter who “walks around” at 190 to 200 pounds might fight at 170. Fighters begin dieting and restricting calories around a week before weigh-ins. This often includes avoiding all carbohydrates in food as they retain water, but the final 48 hours is when the dehydration process begins.

Fighters restrict their liquid intake to shed the majority of the pounds required to be light enough to fight. Jumping rope in the sauna, running around in plastic jumpsuits: nothing is off the table during these crucial days. Spit in every trashcan you see. Some fighters turn to diuretics, natural or otherwise. This is just as unhealthy as it sounds. Mind you that this is all before you get locked in a cage to do physical combat with another human being who has likely sacrificed just as much as you to be there. If you want to be healthy: don’t compete. If you think getting hit in the head professionally or even as a serious hobby is physically healthy… you may have already been hit in the head too much.

Almost immediately after leaving the scale, fighters will begin the rehydration process after posing for the cameras in what is likely their most unhealthy state during all of the training process. Fighters will immediately start to rehydrate and take in carbohydrates in an effort to “swell up” before getting in the ring, trying to essentially nurse themselves back to health before the fight.

The long-term effects of this fluctuation in weight have not been studied enough, but it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to know the hell it puts fighters through. I would argue for having competitors weight in no earlier than 12 hours before the fists start flying. You want the octagon door to close at 8 pm? Put them on the scale at 8 in the morning. I am personally not optimistic that this will occur in the near future as many fans enjoy the production value of a glamorous weigh-in ceremony, complete with ring girls and (usually) fake hatred. As long as there is a buck to be made from the TapOut crowd, the UFC will capitalize on it.

The details of this excruciating process beg the question: why do they do this to themselves? The simple answer is because they need it. The opposite of love is not hate. It is apathy. Some members of our species would rather bleed than feel nothing. To rage against the dying light.

These are men and women who take pride in their deformed ears and noses, cuts under eye sockets from jabs taken time and time again from both friend and foe alike. The worst thing you can do to them is put them behind an office desk. Like tigers kept in a bad zoo, their souls will crumble to ash. Every drop of sweat down a locker room drain, every wad of spit in a parking lot trash can is an existential battle—the fight before the fight. The price of admission is paid for in the most primordial of ways.

This is why combat sports are the most communal of all “individual” sports (if there is such a thing). Men and women embrace one another after a fight with hands that were just used as clubs to bludgeon one another because they know that they understand each other better than anyone in that maddening crowd screaming from outside of the ring. This is why we should care for their health. As fans, we should wish to preserve so rare a breed.

“Même sans espoir, la lutte est encore un espoir”. Even without hope, the fight itself is still hope. – Romain Rolland

Author

  • Sean Quinn

    Sean grew up playing hockey amongst a family of diehard Philadelphia fans. Raised on stories of Bobby Clarke and the Broad Street Bullies while watching Brian Dawkins run wild on the field only encouraged this passion.

6 thoughts on “Every Pound of Flesh: Weight Cutting in the UFC

  1. This always makes me ask a question: just how much of a difference weight makes? I’m not talking about some hundred pounds of difference, but ten or twenty pounds of difference.

    1. It’s really about percentage of bodyweight. A ten pound difference would be noticeable at any weight class. Twenty would be a big advantage even for the heavy guys.

  2. Interesting article. I do not watch these kind of matches so I enjoyed the incite into the reasons to why fight at all.

  3. I was one of those guys running around in a plastic suit just hours before weigh in then competing without time to rehydrate properly. Not much fun.

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