Weight Cutting: The Most Revolting Thing in MMA

It's not an “issue.” It's a problem, and it's borderline criminal.

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The business of mixed martial arts is largely gross and seedy, but the sport itself still creates moments of magic that no other sport can replicate. Even after more than a decade spent covering thousands of fights—in a time when I will readily tell you I am no longer as passionate about the sport as I once was—mixed martial arts still has the ability to surprise the shit out of me. 

In a good way, I mean. Like Jorge Masvidal taking Ben Askren’s soul in front of God and everybody last weekend, or Conor McGregor blasting Jose Aldo in 13 seconds, or like Randy Couture turning Tim Sylvia into his child for five full rounds. Or Brock Lesnar beating Frank Mir into a bloody pulp before spewing rage saliva all over everyone seated cage side and then screaming about Coors Light and getting on top of his wife later. These (and so many other) moments are pure, unfiltered magic. They’re the sort of thing that made me fall in love with the sport in the first place, back before the unrelenting blunt force trauma of a packed schedule beat the passion out of me. 

(True story: I was sitting next to Shaun Al-Shatti on press row that night in Las Vegas for McGregor vs. Aldo, and when the KO happened, we both screamed. Loud. I also grabbed Shaun’s leg without realizing it and kept holding it long after our screaming stopped.)

There are many slimeballs in the sport, but there are also good people who genuinely care about helping the athletes who endure unthinkable tortures for shamefully meager income. They don’t get as much coverage because—and I doubt this will surprise you—feel-good stories generally don’t pay our bills. Society in 2019 craves conflict, and MMA is no different. 

It may seem ironic to you that I am bemoaning the level of our discourse in a newsletter largely focused on searing critique and juicy stories others can’t or won’t cover. Believe me: the irony is not lost on me.

But also: I have written heartfelt stories here about Rose Namajunas and Chael Sonnen, and I have written stories here that are essentially just me taking dumps on the heads of Dana White and others, and you will not be surprised to learn that one of these story types generates far more traffic and new paying subscribers than the other.

There is no shortage of gross things to discuss about the MMA industry, and I’ll continue to write about them. But today’s topic is one I hope we can all agree on.

It’s time to get rid of weight cutting, once and for fucking all.

From the moment carny promoters first realized they could make money by charging the public for the right to watch two underpaid fighters beat the shit out of each other, weight cutting has been a problem. Not an issue; that’s a word we in the media use to sugarcoat things, to dampen the impact of a practice that is barbaric, cruel and deadly.

Weight cutting is not an issue. Weight cutting is a problem. A big one. And every promoter who has run even one show without someone dying from a weight cut should consider themselves extraordinarily fortunate, and also extraordinarily stupid for allowing the practice to continue. Every sticky-fingered athletic commission official or doctor who deemed a sickly fighter healthy enough for a cage fight the next day should not just be summarily removed from their positions; they should also, at minimum, be used as an example of the sort of negligent, criminal behavior that is unacceptable in a sport where the margin between life and death is much thinner than anyone involved in it wants you to realize.

I was in Los Angeles in October 2009 to cover UFC 104. I stopped going to weigh-ins years ago, but in 2009, I eagerly seized every coverage opportunity available, which included Friday’s weigh-ins.

Anthony Johnson, current super heavyweight, was scheduled to fight Yoshiyuki Yoshida at welterweight the next day. Johnson fighting at welterweight was a bad idea in general, but on that Friday afternoon, it was pure insanity.

Johnson’s weight cut was so botched and so horrific that his team had to carry him from the hotel to the fighter van, from the van to the tent where weigh-ins were taking place, then up the stairs onto the stage, to the scale and back. He also looked—and I mean this quite literally—near death. Remember how Conor McGregor looked during his featherweight cuts? Like Skeletor, only deader? That was Anthony Johnson on that day.

And somehow this did not cause anyone from the UFC or his team to take a step back and say, wait, maybe this isn’t a good idea after all.

I went up to Johnson a few hours later in the hotel, after he’d rehydrated to 230 pounds or thereabouts, and asked him about the weight cut and how he was feeling. He responded as though I’d asked him the dumbest question any reporter had ever asked. He could not believe how dumb I was for intimating that he might not be healthy mere hours after his body and organs shut down while trying to ensure he would be much bigger than the guy he’d face the next day.

He destroyed Yoshida in 41 seconds the next day, and some of you might point at that result as evidence that everything from the day before was perfectly okay.

But it wasn’t okay, because what happens after an athlete nearly kills themselves dropping weight has zero goddamn correlation to what happened before they step on the scale.

Also, Anthony Johnson currently weighs close to three bills, which means the former welterweight (seriously, I still can’t believe that was a real thing) would need a hellacious cut just to get down to the heavyweight division’s upper limit.

Fighters, and those who have fashioned careers and cottage industries for themselves as weight-cut gurus despite lacking any sort of medical or scientific training, will tell you about the professionalism of their weight cuts.

I’m a professional, they’ll say, and professionals get the job done, which is a mostly true statement when applied to other things, but is not at all true when the thing they claim to be a professional at is nearly committing suicide.

Case in point:

Aspen Ladd fights Germaine de Randamie on tomorrow’s UFC event, which purports to be a television-worthy fight card but which is really just a clever ruse to get Urijah Faber out of retirement and back in front of his hometown Sacramento crowd. Ladd has struggled with weight cuts in the past—not because she is lacking professionalism, but because weight cuts are literally borderline suicide—but today’s was the worst.

Fast forward to 5:45 in the video below and see for yourself.

Watch that video and then realize Ladd was deemed healthy enough to fight tomorrow night. And then watch Ladd’s manager twist himself into a pretzel trying to explain why his client looked like she was on the verge of death: Because she wanted to hit 135 instead of the required 136.

Sure, Dave. Your client looked like a near-corpse because she wanted to hit 135 pounds instead of 136. I’m sure she would’ve looked totally fine and healthy if she’d opted to not be a professional and avoid cutting that extra pound!

This is the kind of harmful, enabling bullshittery practiced by most (but not all) managers, agents, coaches, promoters, commissioners and doctors in the fight game.

If anyone in Aspen Ladd’s circle truly gave even one fuck about her short-term and long-term health, they would’ve pulled the plug before the cut ever came close to 136 pounds.

But they didn’t, and that is because they are greedy or stupid or selfish or oblivious or all of these things and more.

You know what the worst part of weight-cutting is? Besides everything, I mean.

The worst is that, despite everything we know about its horrors, we also know nothing will change until the worst comes to fruition. These horrifying incidents will continue to be glossed over until a tragedy hits the UFC. That’s the only way things will change. And not because UFC executives will then have some kind of come-to-Jesus moment and vow to change their ways. If they cared about their athletes well-being, weight-cutting would have been banished years ago.

No.

A tragedy is the only way things will change because a death is evidently what it will take for ESPN to stop pretending that weight-cutting is normal and acceptable and part of the cost of doing business with their partner.

And at that point, there will be no undoing the catastrophic damage suffered by the sport. Not by the UFC or Bellator. Not by athletic commissions. Not by ESPN. Why? Because those are all the people who might have prevented it from happening in the first place, but opted for greed, arrogance and idiocy instead.