Tipping the Toledos: What To Do With Fighters Who Come In Heavy

by FIGHT! contributor Larry Pepe

Anthony Johnson tipped the scales at a whopping 176 pounds at the weigh ins for UFC 104, six pounds over the limit and five full pounds over the one-pound non-title fight allowance. As a professional athlete it was his contracted responsibility to be on weight and the UFC, the fans and, most importantly, his opponent, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, all have a right to view his excess poundage as a sign of disrespect. And in the words of UFC announcer Joe Rogan, Johnson looked like he was two weight classes above Yoshida when he knocked him out just 41 seconds of the first round.

Unfortunately, we’ve heard this song before.

Fellow welterweight Thiago Alves showed up at UFC 85 for his main event fight with Matt Hughes at 174 pounds and looked utterly monstrous in the cage the next day when he brutally TKO’d the former champion in the second round. Six months later Alves’ teammate Wilson Gouveia came in four pounds over on his way to making Jason MacDonald submit to a barrage of elbows on the main card of the TUF Season 8 Finale. Paulo Filho was the same four pounds over for his fight with Chael Sonnen that turned the main event title fight into a non-title affair and deprived the Team Quest product of fulfilling his ultimate goal of becoming a world champion.

The penalty for coming in off weight is that 20% of your purse is taken away and given to your opponent. Some commissions, including California’s, take half of that 20%, leaving the fighter with 10% of his opponent’s purse. For less than three grand, Yoshida was put at an obvious competitive disadvantage in having to fight a much larger version of Johnson than he would have otherwise seen standing across the cage, just as Hughes and MacDonald did. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know and I suspect not, but that isn’t the point. Fights are contested at agreed weights as a matter of fundamental fairness and some extra dough in your paycheck doesn’t compensate for that.

Something has to be done to make sure that we don’t continue to see these incidents of poor weight management affecting main events and the fighters who busted their ass to fulfill their responsibilities. Money talks and apparently, the current 20% price tag isn’t speaking loudly enough to make sure some fighters get the message. When a fighter misses by a pound and has to come back to weigh in again, that’s one thing. Four to six pounds is another. In fact, I had the opportunity to speak to Nevada State Athletic Commission head, Keith Kizer, today who informed me that they will usually take a lesser percentage of 10% for missing weight by one or two pounds and escalate the percentage up to a maximum of 25% for more egregious situations, like repeat offenders or significant misses on the scale. (Keith will be coming on an episode of Pro MMA Radio in the coming weeks to discuss the issue.)

I believe that the promotions should put in their fighter contracts that if they miss weight they are not eligible for their win bonus and a percentage of that bonus should be paid over to their opponent, win or lose. Keeping in mind that the fight is starting with an unfair advantage to the heavier fighter, why should he be rewarded for winning? Gouveia was fined $9,200 at TUF 8 but made $18,400 on his win bonus so he actually gets rewarded $9,200 for having a competitive advantage. Doesn’t quite add up, does it? If you woke up the morning of the weigh-in with ten or twelve pounds for a critical fight that could move you up the ladder in your division and you could put yourself through hell to make it and potentially be wasted come fight time or take a fine of a couple grand and stand a better chance of winning, scoring your bonus and moving forward, might there be a temptation to take the fine? I don’t know of anyone who has intentionally made that decision, but it sure sounds tempting and that temptation shouldn’t exist within the rules.

Lastly, the fighter should not be eligible for Knockout or Submission of the Night bonuses. I was glad to hear Dana White state at the UFC 104 post-fight press conference that Anthony would have received the Knockout of the Night but was not eligible because he failed to make weight. If that’s a new rule, and I applaud it if it is, the rule wasn’t in place at UFC 85 when Thiago Alves got an extra 50 grand for his TKO of Matt Hughes. If the off-weight fighter is involved in the Fight of the Night, his share of the bonus should be given to his opponent. To deprive the fighter who made weight of a bonus they earned while fighting with a competitive disadvantage would just be pouring salt on the wound.

Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio.

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