The strategy of cutting weight immediately prior to fighting is commonly used in virtually every combat sport from boxing to wrestling to mixed martial arts. It is also one of the most debated subjects in combat sports due to the inherent dangers that weight cutting possesses, dangers that are taking the spotlight following the recent death of Brazilian mixed martial artist Leandro “Feijao” Souza.
Souza reportedly died of a stroke during the final hours of a weigh-cut for a last-minute fight at Shoot 43 recently. There has been no definitive report that the weigh-cut was the cause of the stroke, but due to the timing, it is possibly related.
Whether the weight cut was the cause or not, the issue has once again been brought to the forefront of conversation.
The standard weight-cutting approach by most athletes is to watch their diet throughout camp, make sure they are within a certain range of their contracted fighting weight in the final day or two prior to weigh-ins, and then do a final, manageable cut to be on target at the weigh-in.
“I have proper nutrition. I have a lot of time to make weight,” said former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva during a UFC World Tour stop in Rio de Janeiro on Monday. “When I get to the fight, I always get there four or five kilos above (nine to 11 pounds), at the most, and I can lose that weight very easily. I don't wait to lose weight on the last minute.”
Most agree that the more dangerous part of weight cutting is typically when a fighter, for whatever reason, takes a fight on short notice or waits until the last-minute to shed a much higher percentage of their body weight.
In the day or two prior to weigh-ins, Silva is in a position where he has about four to five percent of his body weight to lose, something that is not difficult to achieve by temporarily losing water weight and then rehydrating following the weigh-in.
“I think the biggest problem is for athletes to accept fights at the last minute and wait to cut weight in the last minute,” he added. “No one can do that. There is no way you can recover your weight from one day to the next.”
When a fighter is unable to recover their weight prior to fight time, which generally means they are unable to fully rehydrate, there can be severe consequences. If a fighter is still dehydrated when he enters the cage, he may suffer from anything as simple is a lack of energy to his skin being less elastic and easier to split open to more severe consequences like an accelerated heart rate to light headedness and an increased susceptibility to knockouts.
UFC president Dana White concurred with Silva’s comments about the issue, adding that no fight is worth putting an athlete’s life at such an extreme risk.
“Where you see the dangerous situations are the guys that take last-minute fights and have to lose a ton of weight. It's never good,” he said, also during the UFC World Tour press conference.
“In the UFC, these guys have plenty of time. They know when they have to fight. They know the time they have. They diet and do the proper nutrition to get down the right way. When they get closer (to weigh-ins), they cut a few pounds. That's the healthy, normal way to do it.
“I don't think that the cutting weight process is ever going to be perfect, but I said it today in an interview I did with a gentleman earlier, I don't care what level you fight on, no fight is worth dying over.
“If you can't make the weight, don't take the fight.”