Weighty Issues

Lighter in the pocket equals lighter on the scale.

There has been a lot written about Anthony Johnson’s complete failure to come close to making weight for his UFC 142 fight against Vitor Belfort, just as there was when “Rumble” failed to make weight at UFC 104 for his fight against Yoshiyuki Yoshida. At UFC 142, the talented striker tipped the scales at a whopping 197 pounds—11 pounds over the 186-pound limit for non-title fights in the middleweight division. As a professional athlete, it was his contracted responsibility to be on weight. The UFC, the fans, and, most importantly, Johnson’s opponent have a right to view the excess poundage as a sign of disrespect.

ANthony JohnsonUnfortunately, we’ve heard this song before… many times.

Welterweight contender Thiago Alves showed up at UFC 85 for his main event fight against Matt Hughes at 174 pounds and looked utterly monstrous in the cage when he brutally TKO’d the former champion in the second round. Paulo Filho was four pounds over for his WEC title fight against Chael Sonnen that turned the main event into a non-title affair, as was the case when Travis Lutter couldn’t make weight against Anderson Silva at UFC 67. When Johnson stepped into the cage with Yoshida, UFC announcer Joe Rogan commented that Rumble looked like he was two weight classes above Yoshida, as he viciously knocked him out in 41 seconds. If Rogan were on the mic when Cyborg Santos utterly brutalized Hitomi Akano after missing weight by six pounds, he might have said three weight classes.

Are opponents angry when their adversary fails to make weight? It sure seemed that way at UFC 139 when both Danny Castillo and Miguel Torres excoriated Shamar Bailey and Nick Pace, respectively, for coming in heavy, but that was after punishing them in the cage. John Makdessi may have done the same in his post-fight interview at UFC 140, but he never made it to the mic after an off-weight Dennis Hallman steamrolled him in the first round.

The penalty for missing weight is that 20 percent of the offending fighter’s purse is given to their opponent. Nevada State Athletic Commission head Keith Kizer says he offers to make the fight a catchweight bout so that the on-weight fighter can keep the entire 20 percent, otherwise the fine is split with the commission at 10 percent apiece. Before you scream that Johnson paid the ultimate price for his third offense when he was cut from the UFC, let me be clear, this isn’t about Johnson. It’s a much bigger issue—one of fundamental fairness and professionalism.

Something has to be done to make sure that we don’t continue to see these incidents of poor weight management affecting events and the fighters who worked hard to fulfill their responsibilities. Money talks, and apparently, the current 20 percent price tag isn’t speaking loudly enough to make sure some fighters get the message. When a fighter misses by one pound and has to come back to weigh in again, that’s one thing. However, four, six, 11 pounds is something else.

I’m not a big fan of bitching about something if you can’t propose some type of solution, so here are two ideas to cut the frequency of fighters missing weight.

• No Win Bonus

There is no question that missing weight can create a competitive advantage for the overweight fighter. Not having to diet and dehydrate down to the contracted weight while your opponent is laboring in the sauna can create an advantage. Does that always translate into a win? Of course not, but that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that every effort is made for each fight to start on a level playing field. That said, promotions should put in their fighter contracts that fighters who miss weight for a full-notice fight are not eligible for win bonuses. Keeping in mind that the fight is starting with an unfair advantage to the heavier fighter, why should he or she be rewarded for winning? At UFC 140, Hallman was fined $3,000 but pocketed a $15,000 win bonus, so he actually got rewarded a cool 12 Gs for having a competitive advantage. Doesn’t quite add up, does it? If you woke up the morning of the weigh-in looking at a tough cut for a critical fight and you could put yourself through hell to make it and potentially be wasted come fight time, or take a fine, apologize, and stand a better chance of winning, scoring your bonus, and moving forward, isn’t there a temptation to take the fine? I don’t know of anyone who has intentionally made that decision, but that temptation shouldn’t exist within the rules.

• No Post-Fight Bonus

The infringing fighter should not be eligible for Knockout or Submission of the Night bonuses. Thiago Alves got an extra $50,0000 for his TKO of Matt Hughes at UFC 85. If the off-weight fighter is involved in the Fight of the Night, their share of the bonus should be given to their opponent. To deprive the fighter who made weight of a bonus he earned while fighting with a competitive disadvantage would just be pouring salt on the wound.

If any of this strikes you as heavy-handed, put yourself in the position of the overwhelming majority of fighters who discipline themselves and suffer to make weight rather than feeling sorry for the fighter who doesn’t. It’s the way the world works—there are actions and penalties for those actions. Penalties and degrees of repercussions for one’s actions act as a deterrent, and the 20 percent price tag isn’t enough. Lighter in the pocket equals lighter on the scale.

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