Brazil’s MMA commission proposes shifting divisions as solution to weight-cutting dilemma
By: Steven Marrocco | June 20, 2018 7:45 am (Foto: MMA JUNKIE)
By: Steven Marrocco | June 20, 2018 7:45 am
The Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission (CABMMA) has a potential solution for fixing MMA’s weight cutting woes: Shift up the divisions.
A rep for the Brazilian athletic commission argues the timing of weigh-ins won’t head off problems at the scale. Giving fighters a wider target within divisions will.
“If we don’t approach this issue with a more realistic and immediate way – and this is what our numbers are showing us – we will have a long and rough road ahead,” CABMMA director of operations Cristiano Sampaio told MMAjunkie.
The Brazilian commission has been collecting data on fighters and weight from events it has regulated – including four UFC events – since it adopted the California State Athletic Commission’s 10-point plan on weight-cutting in July 2017. One of its key takeaways from the numbers, Sampaio said, was the need to change the definition of the currently accepted weight classes. Rather than a division’s weight representing a limit, it should mark a starting point that cuts off at the next highest division.
Sampaio said allowing a higher range of weights – while still keeping the numbers associated with current divisions – will encourage fighters to compete closer to their natural mark and keep them from coming into the cage dehydrated.
“To sacrifice the athletes with a weight cut – even being fully aware of these numbers – to maintain our interpretation of the divisions, that isn’t making any sense to us,” Sampaio said.
The new MMA divisions would look like this:
- Strawweight – 115 pounds up to 124.9 pounds
- Flyweight – 125 pounds up to 134.9 pounds
- Bantamweight – 135 pounds up to 144.9 pounds
- Featherweight – 145 pounds up to 154.9 pounds
- Lightweight – 155 pounds up to 169.9 pounds
- Welterweight – 170 pounds up to 184.9 pounds
- Middleweight – 185 pounds up to 204.9 pounds
- Light Heavyweight – 205 pounds up to 224.9 pounds (cruiserweight reference)
- Heavyweight – 225 pounds up to 265 pounds
Additionally, Sampaio believes there should be a greater weight allowance for non-title and title fights. As an example, a fighter competing in a non-title bout could start with a three-pound allowance, with the allowance decreasing by one pound for each fight. For title bouts, the allowance would start at four pounds and decrease by one pound for each bout.
The greater allowance is warranted for title fights, Sampaio said, because they are more important to a fight card. By 2020, allowances would be phased out altogether.
The new weight ranges reflect data on how much weight fighters are gaining between weigh-ins and fight night. Of 22 events and 227 fights the commission regulated, 44.9 percent of fighters gained 10-15 percent of their body weight on fight night, and 8.4 percent gained 15 percent or more.
The UFC mandates that fighters show up on fight week no more than 8 percent from their target weight, and it promises additional monitoring for those over that mark. But there’s no hard and fast rule on how much a fighter can gain and lose.
CABMMA’s numbers indicate fighters are undergoing severe weight drops close to their fights – and potentially widening the weight gap against opponents. They support recent findings from the CSAC, which said approximately 30 percent of fighters were gaining 10 percent or more of their body weight on fight night. The UFC’s Performance Institute recently released a study recommending UFC fighters stay under that mark.
“That is something we have been very concerned about,” Sampaio said. “In some occasions, (fighters have gone) one, two and even three divisions above. It is a concern to us that involves health and fairness in the sport.”
Sampaio believes the issue is aggravated by the fact that, in Brazil, MMA events typically start later in the day, allowing fighters more time to recover from weight cuts – and also gain more weight.
“We could go back to the afternoon weigh-ins without a problem, and we would then be giving the athletes the same amount of recovery time they get in the U.S.,” Sampaio said. “But that itself would not eliminate the problem of dehydration.”
Under the CSAC’s 10-point plan, fighters who come in 10 percent heavier on fight day are supposed to be asked to move up a division. But Sampaio questions whether it’s realistic to force a large group to do so, and if it’s even feasible given the patchwork of weight standards employed by athletic commissions around the world.
Even in California, at least one UFC fighter, Drew Dober, has already pushed back against the 10-point plan, saying he wouldn’t abide a recommendation to move up. Sampaio said there’s nothing the commission can do to prevent a fighter from gaining too much weight on fight night, and so fighters continue to gamble at the scales, endangering their health while also potentially creating an unfair fight.
“They could come in at that lower range in the weigh-ins, not make weight, and certainly on fight night, that we would most likely allow the fight to happen at welterweight,” Sampaio said. “All we do today is apply a fine.”
A better approach to the issue, Sampaio said, is to move the target at the scale so fighters won’t be pressured to rely on dehydration to lose and gain large amounts of weight in a short period. With fight day checks – and enforcement of the new limits – there won’t be an arms race mentality of losing as much as possible to gain an advantage over your opponent, because fighters will know the range where their opponent will be.
ampaio said the data already supports the new ranges and would rule out more misses at the scale.
“I would say 90 percent of the fighters are not gaining more than the ranges I’m proposing,” Sampaio said. “There’s simply no purpose any more for them to cutting that much weight.”
As of now, the UFC’s solution is to move the weigh-ins from the morning to the afternoon the day prior to an event. UFC President Dana White cites a jump in weight misses as the primary reason for the switch, even suggesting laziness could be at fault. Several fighters have disputed that characterization and said it’s a mistake to go back to the old system, which shortens the length of time they have to recover from the dehydration of a weight cut.
“In a perfect world, same-day weigh-ins could prove to be an alternative to reduce dehydration and weights above the division outlined in the contract,” Sampaio said. “But if that is to be achieved with the current format, it will need an intensive education program, severe penalties, and a (way to roll it out gradually). In my eyes, it’s only viable in a long term, if it’s viable at all, because it would clearly impact the whole industry.”
Sampaio cautioned that the conclusions reached by CABMMA are only exploratory at this point, and they don’t represent a formal change in policy. But he said the problem is undeniable and needs to be fixed. It was only after adopting the 10-point plan and looking at the numbers that he realized how serious the situation is.
“On a global level, this has to be looked into by commissions,” he said.