(Strike a pose, Mike, there’s nothing to it.)
The WEC will make its promotional debut on Saturday in conjunction with the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio. One of the events that punctuates the weekend will be the Arnold Classic Pro Bodybuilding Championships, second only in prestige behind that sport’s Superbowl, Mr. Olympia. The crosspollination between bodybuilding and MMA has been increasing over the last few years as fighters became the new fitness ideal. And nowhere is the “bodybuilding effect” more apparent than the weigh-ins, which have taken on the feel of an event within the event.
Weigh-ins for UFC Pay-Per-View events often draw upwards of 5,000 fans, eager to see their favorite fighters hit the scale. Gone are the days when a fighter simply steps on the scale, makes weight and steps off to take a photo squaring off with his or her opponent. Now, 90% of the fighters will hit one of two bodybuilding poses on the scale…the famed front double bicep or the most muscular pose, otherwise known as “the crab”.
Another aspect of MMA’s physique evolution is that many of the fans and media have turned into quasi-physique judges, using the weigh-in to assess the appearance of the fighters and use that information as some indication of how that fighter will fare in the cage the next night. Years ago it would have been considered MMA blasphemy to even suggest that one’s appearance could have anything to do with their ability to win a fight.
My how times have changed.
Now, many MMA prognosticators and media won’t even make their predictions until they’ve had a chance to see the fighters on the scale, hoping to gain some insight into a potential fight outcome when the fighter strikes a pose. It’s common to hear that a fighter looked “great, big or small for the weight” and no fighter is more closely scrutinized than the one cutting to a new weight class for the first time. (Think Wanderlei’s first trip down to 185 at UFC 110.)
Another group of fighters who get heavy physique analysis on the Toledos are those who have historically had questionable cardio. Perhaps no fighter’s physical appearance has engendered more physique chatter and debate than former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir. After his loss to Brandon Vera at UFC 65 when he was visibly out of shape, bettors waited to see him on the scale at UFC 74 before moving the Vegas line decidedly in Mir’s favor when he looked much leaner at the weigh ins. Mir obliged with a first round submission victory over Antoni Hardonk. Two years later he hit the scale at UFC 100 with a much leaner, scaled down physique in the 245 pound range, fueling the chatter that Mir would lighter, faster and more cardio proficient than Brock. The debate came to a boil. Would his strategy, derived almost entirely from his appearance late Friday afternoon, be a successful path to removing the belt from Brock’s waist? It wasn’t, but the notion that we’d have this discussion largely based on whether or not he had abs, would have been laughed at a decade ago.
Just five months later, Mir sent the MMA world into a frenzy when he said he expected to weigh in 20 pounds heavier to fight Cheick Kongo at UFC 107. “He has to be fat and out of shape. What’s he thinking? He’s going to gas early. I can’t wait to see him on the scale”…all comments that led to one of the more anticipated shirt removals in UFC history. When Mir revealed that the additional weight wasn’t hanging over his shorts, the favorite became a heavier favorite (no pun intended) solely because the weight “looked good on him”. This time the oddsmakers were on point as Mir submitted Kongo in just over one minute. Ironically, he ended Kongo’s night so fast that we never found out if he’d gas, so the whole weight-related analysis ended up having virtually nothing to do with the outcome.
Before you think that only the fans and media are focused on the appearance of the fighters, guess again. The fighters themselves are becoming acutely aware that their value to certain sponsors goes up with a set of abs and down with a beer belly. Supplement companies are certainly going to favor fighters who are leaner and more muscular for obvious reasons. And I doubt Under Armour would have been happy to put Roy Nelson in their ads in skin tight gear instead of GSP. Sponsor appeal equals a larger bank account and at least one fighter was rumored to be so aware of the connection between appearance and opportunity that he used banned substances with the primary goal of enhancing his physique for that weigh-in posedown. Tank Abbott must be spinning on his barstool right now.
So when you watch this weekend’s WEC 47 weigh-in, know that sponsors may be assessing how the fighters might look reppin’ their brand. As each fighter strikes his favorite pose on the scale, some fans and media will be looking for abs, veins and striations as an indicator of cardiovascular capacity and whether the fighter is prepared for battle. And just a few short miles away, some of the most muscled guys in the world will be hitting those exact same poses. Arnold should be proud.
FIGHT! Fans: What do you think? Are weigh-ins the new posedown? Do fans and reporters place too much importance on how a fighter looks?