The Weight Debate
A solid game plan is the key to achieving victory on fi ght night, but what many fans don’t realize is that a great deal of that plan comes into play the day beforehand when combatants step onto the scales at their weigh-ins. For fi ghters it’s a complex battle, but one that’s waged solely against themselves and their own bodies. MMA warriors must consider the pro and cons of the different divisions and determine just how heavy they want to be in the days leading up to the fi ght, taking careful count of just how many pounds they will have to drop to make a specifi c weight class.
Most fi ghters follow a strict diet and then use dehydrating techniques before the weighins, rehydrating immediately after they step off the scales to gain their strength and size back for the day of the fi ght. The fact that the weigh-ins take place the day before the fi ght means that MMA warriors typically try to cut as much as they can to meet the maximum pound limit and then gain it back that night. Doing a proper cut can mean the difference between victory and defeat, as a fi ghter can gain a serious size advantage in the ring. But doing it wrong can spell disaster as all of a combatant’s preparation gets laid by the wayside if his body can’t cope with the drastic loss of mass.
While many fi ghters are known for sticking with a particular weight class, on the day of the fi ght it is not uncommon for them to be 10 or even 15 pounds heavier than the scales read at the weigh-ins. Additionally, with the deep talent pool in contemporary mixed martial arts, it is becoming increasingly diffi cult for fi ghters to compete without making drastic cuts to fi ght in lighter divisions. As MMA continues to evolve, it’s becoming just as essential to decide what weight class to fi ght in as what to do in the cage.
One of the greatest fi ghters of all time, former PRIDE FC Middleweight Champion and current UFC star Wanderlei Silva, knows all about the importance of choosing the right weight class. While typically fi ghters cut weight to have the advantage, Silva actually went up to the Heavyweight class to challenge fi ghters such as Mark Hunt and Kazuyuki Fujita. Silva fared well, though his is quick to point out how that was at a very different time — almost 3 years ago.
“Before, with the bigger guys, they didn’t have the technique. Now it’s so much harder because everyone has the technique,” he explains, illustrating how currently it is essential that fi ghters choose the right weight class. The increased level of competition has even made Silva join the trend of dropping to a lesser weight class (his normal weight is between 210 and 215 pounds), with the fi ghter making a stop at 195 pounds to fi ght Rich Franklin on June 13 at UFC 99 in a catch weight bout before dropping to the UFC’s 185- pound weight class.
“It’s a big difference,” he elaborates. “Today, guys are maybe 10, 20 pounds more than the weight class, so the guys are stronger, the punches harder, the guy is harder to take down. They’re taller, so there’s more reach.”
While Silva, like many fi ghters, has opted to move to a lesser weight, he stresses the importance of making the cut in a smart way. “You have to have a good diet and train two to three times a day,” he explains. “It’s good to have a professional to help you. You need to be able to recover.” The MMA star goes on to warn that, “If you cut too much and don’t do it right the day of the fi ght, you lose your strength and then you lose all your training. That’s why you’ve got to do it right.”
Another true MMA legend who has made a defi nitive mark in two separate weight classes is fi ve-time UFC Champion and Hall of Fame fi ghter Randy Couture, and the all-time great knows the importance of choosing the right division and the right fi ght. Couture’s size places him in a rare position to fi ght in both the Heavyweight and Light- Heavyweight classes competitively, and after capturing the gold in the Heavyweight division twice, Couture made the drop to the 205 class after losing to bigger fi ghters.
“The UFC was in a bind when they couldn’t get Tito Ortiz to sign for a fi ght with Chuck Liddell,” he explains. “They came to me and offered me a fi ght with Chuck for the interim title. At the time, I was feeling a bit undersized at Heavyweight anyway, having just lost back-to-back fi ghts to bigger fi ghters, so the move made sense and turned out to be the best thing for my career.”
While many fi ghters who can compete in different weight classes opt for the lower weight, Couture encourages a different approach. “I don’t think there is one answer that applies to all fi ghters in that situation. I think they should compete in whichever division they feel most comfortable and they feel they have the more favorable matchups.” While this can lead a fi ghter to compete in a division where he might not have a size advantage, the MMA legend explains that sometimes this can just make a fi ghter use his head more and sees some of the advantages of weighing less. “I think being the smaller fi ghter forces you to fi ght smarter and adjust your game plan to overcome the weight and strength of your opponent,” he says. “The upside is that being smaller often means you can be the quicker fi ghter, which can really pay dividends.”
He goes on to explain how it is becoming increasingly diffi cult to fi ght in a weight class where a fi ghter does not have a size advantage. “I think we’re seeing a much more scientifi c approach to dieting, supplementation, and weight cutting now than ever before, which is allowing guys like Sean Sherk, Thiago Alves, and Georges St. Pierre to cut considerable amounts of weight while still maintaining great conditioning, strength, and explosiveness,” he explains. “That’s going to make it very diffi cult for a smaller fi ghter to move up in weight and be competitive.”
One of the professionals who knows all about how to help fi ghters cut weight safely and deal with the stress of it is Rosendo Sanchez, a prominent trainer who coaches standout Lightweight fi ghter Tyson Griffi n at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. Sanchez explains just how diffi cult it can be for fi ghters who don’t cut enough weight.
“Every weight class is stacked now. The only one that isn’t is Super Heavyweight.” Since the latter division doesn’t require any weight cutting, it becomes apparent how fi ghters will try to get lighter to gain that precious size advantage on fi ght day. “You take every advantage you can against any guy you fi ght,” Sanchez explains. “In the UFC and the other big shows, you can’t take anyone lightly. It’s so stacked that it’s very hard to move up in weight classes. You have to have an advantage in whatever weight class you’re in.”
While each person’s body does vary, Sanchez explains what the typical plan is for fi ghters like Tyson Griffi n and other similarly situated Lightweights. “The week before the fi ght they’re usually about 165, and then right before the weigh-ins they usually drop about 10 to 15 pounds of water weight.” He adds that if it is done right, it can prove to create a huge size advantage. “If they cut the water and then rehydrate properly, a fi ghter can gain about 10 to 15 pounds back without feeling shot.” Sanchez is quick to caution, though, that there is a limit. “Anywhere from 15 to 20 pounds it typically the max. Any more than that, the fi ghter’s going to kill himself and not be able to perform.”