Making The Cut1
Have you ever wondered how Rich Franklin can possibly be 185 pounds or how Georges St. Pierre is 170 pounds? To make the mark for their fi ght, they cut weight. Weight cutting has become commonplace with the majority of fi ghters in mixed martial arts. Most fi ghters want to be as big as possible going into a fi ght. After all, any advantage you can have over an opponent will increase your chances of victory. Fighters like to have every benefi t that is available.
There are many fi ghters in this sport that walk around at a weight signifi cantly higher than their fi ghting weight. Former UFC Middleweight champion Rich Franklin is typically 205-210 pounds when not fi ghting while light heavyweight contender Forrest Griffi n has been rumored to walk around as high as 230 pounds. But not all fi ghters believe there is a benefi t from being larger. Dan Henderson, who held the PRIDE welterweight (183 pounds) and middleweight (205 pounds) titles, had more success at 205 pounds than at 185 pounds. Even though Henderson is fi ghting Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight championship (185 pounds), Henderson has repeatedly said he prefers to fi ght at 205 pounds.
There are several ways for fi ghters to cut weight, and they are often intertwined. Typically, when a fi ghter is within a few days of weigh-in, he will heavily alter his diet. This includes eating little to no food, as well as very low fl uid consumption. Another common way to cut weight is by sweating it off. If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Ultimate Fighter, you’ve seen fi ghters put on a sweat suit and sit in a sauna. Depending on how much weight needs to be cut, the fi ghter can be in the sauna for hours. While effective, sitting in saunas and sweating off too much water can have detrimental effects. Losing too much water weight can affect the fi ghter’s endurance and overall energy going into a fi ght, thus giving him a distinct disadvantage.
Each fi ghter has his own unique method for cutting weight. Lightweight contender Kenny Florian has a technique that keeps him strong and also allows him to have plenty of energy for a fi ght. “My walk around weight is between 168 and 172 pounds. As my training load increases and my fi ght training diet changes, my weight comes off naturally,” explained Florian. “I arrive for fi ght week no more than fi ve or six pounds away from 155 pounds. My fi ght week diet changes again, and my weight comes off again. By the morning of the day of weigh-ins, my weight is 155 or up to two pounds above 155. If it is, I basically sweat it off shadow boxing or doing a quick workout for no more than thirty minutes.”
Kenny also believes that being the biggest doesn’t always translate into success. “I don’t believe in being as big as possible and doing a big water weight cut,” Florian said. “I would much rather feel strong and energized then trying to cut water and feel depleted. I have a nutritionist who is also a high-level triathlon competitor that monitors my weight and manages my diets year round for the different phases of my training leading up to a fi ght. [The three phases are] the strength and hypertrophy phase, explosion/ strength phase, and “gas in the tank” phase. He works in conjunction with my strength and conditioning coach. Each of the three phases calls for a different type of diet and routine. My full circle of phases is three to four months between fi ghts.”
World Extreme Cagefi ghting middleweight fi ghter Logan Clark has a much different way of cutting weight. “Through the course of a training camp, I will get my walking around weight down between 200-205. When I taper off in training during the last two weeks, my weight will come back up to about 205 before I start the weight-cutting process,” explained Clark. “Throughout training, I consume a great deal of water. Every day, I consume a gallon of water and during training camp that tends to increase. When I am tapering off, and especially in the week before the fi ght, I will water-load. This simply means that I consume as much water as I feel that I can safely handle. This helps me cut back on calories by taking up some space in the stomach. So when I fl y out for the fi ght a few days ahead of time I am about twenty pounds over fi ght weight, but I am carrying a great deal of excess water weight. I will also avoid eating a lot of sodium as I head into fi ght week.”
“My cut from there on generally has me dropping a few pounds per day, just working out once in the morning and once around fi ght time at night,” Clark continued. “This helps to get my body into a rhythm for fi ght night. During this time, I eat fruits, veggies, and some lean meats while avoiding starches. I don’t know all of the science behind my actions, but my plan is compiled from the advice of other fi ghters, so I generally trust it.”
Clark also has a different method than Florian for shedding the last few pounds. “The night before weigh-ins, I am ten pounds overweight. I have gradually cut out fl uids during this time, but I still consume some water until the evening before weigh-ins. I’ll work out that night by grappling, hitting pads, a bit of bag work, and/ or some running depending upon how I feel. This will drop three to four pounds. Day of the weigh-ins, I get up and have a preliminary weigh-in at six to seven pounds over. I’ll throw on my rubber suit and some sweats and head for the gym and sauna. I generally alternate riding a stationary bike with sitting in the sauna. After about an hour of this, I’ll go and check my weight. I should have three pounds left to drop then, so I’ll go back to the hotel room and take a nap,” Clark said. “I try to drop the last of the weight as close to weigh-ins as possible so that my body is dehydrated for as short a period as possible. About an hour and half before weigh-ins, I get all of my gear on and head for one last set of sauna/bicycle sets. I always make weight.”
On the other hand, there are some fi ghters who cut a smaller amount of weight like Frank Edgar. Edgar walks around at 165 pounds, and generally just does a strong diet and manual labor to get the unwanted pounds off. “I just get on the treadmill and sweat it off,” said the New Jersey native. “I diet down quite a bit. I eat smaller portions and watch my diet.”
World-renowned mixed martial arts trainer Greg Jackson has fi gured out his own methodical way to cut weight in order to keep his fi ghters strong and healthy. Jackson’s camp has some of has some of the best conditioned athletes this sport has to offer, such as Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine, Georges St. Pierre, Leonard Garcia, and Nate Marquardt. Most of the aforementioned fi ghters are much larger than their fi ghting weight, but Jackson has found a system that works well for them. “I usually have them diet down to within eight pounds, then cut weight using the sauna or treadmill.” Jackson does believe that his method is accurate though. “Some fi ghters cut weight in ridiculous ways. When you start cutting ten or twelve pounds, I’ve noticed through trial and error that performance gets affected.”
Promoting fi ghter safety is the main concern of all the athletic commissions. There has been concern among medical professionals about the short- and long-term ramifi cations of cutting weight improperly. In fact, the New Jersey State Athletic Commission had changed its policy for combat sports in championship bouts, so the fi ghter must weigh in thirty days prior to his fi ght, and be within 10% of his target weight. The fi ghter must also weigh in seven days prior to his fi ght, and must be within 5% of his target weight. Then, the fi nal weigh-in will occur twenty-four hours prior to the fi ght, where the fi ghter must make the contracted weight. This methodology is to encourage fi ghters to walk around closer to their fi ghting weights, instead of cutting large amounts of weight improperly.
One question that fi ghters, trainers, and fans alike wonder, is how much does cutting weight affect performance, and if it does, what is the best way to cut the weight? “Obviously, performance suffers,” explained Dr. Joseph Estwanik, MD of the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians. “It is well proven in documentation that performance suffers after you lose the weight. Even a 2% rapid loss of body weight, also knows as fl uids, can affect your endurance by 20%. So, my advice that if guys want to be their best, is that the fi ghter gets within a reasonable point, so that the weight loss is gradual getting to their desired body weight, so it’s not just all water weight. What I personally have concerns with as far as competitiveness, fairness, and safety is that it makes no sense if people weigh in 24 hours ahead of time to compete for a division, and in fact weigh ten or twelve pounds over that when they touch gloves, then in fact we’ve defeated the purpose of weight classes,” said Estwanik.
There are some very dangerous methods that are not recommended by any doctors or athletic commissions that some inexperienced fi ghters may try to lose excess weight. One of these very risky methods is water deprivation. This could be very dangerous, because a lack of water intake can result in serious dehydration, which can be fatal. Diuretics are another way to lose unwanted weight unsafely. Most, if not all, athletic commissions ban this type of drug from entering a fi ghter’s system. Diuretics can increase the excretion of water from the body. These methods are highly discouraged and are not safe practice.
Weight cutting has played a pivotal role in mixed martial arts, both helping and hindering fi ghter performances. Fans have seen size play a part in fi ghts, such as the April 2003 fi ght between Matt Hughes and Sean Sherk, where Hughes was able to out-muscle Sherk through the majority of the fi ght. We’ve also seen fi ghts where size didn’t play a factor, such as when Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia fought for the UFC Heavyweight title earlier this year. But as the sport grows and fi ghters become more aware of their bodies, weight cutting is sure to be a mainstay in mixed martial arts.