Fans Practically Begging The UFC: Solve Your Weight-Cut Problem
Fighters missing weight has reached a state of crisis.
Article courtesy of Paul Miller of MMA Freaks
Eight UFC fighters have missed weight in 2018. Meatball Molly McCann was the first of them to lose. Some will chalk it up to coincidence, and say that over time, wins and losses will even-out for fighters who miss weight. But in the here-and-now, this problem cannot be ignored. At UFC Liverpool, McCann’s fellow Scouser Darren Till also missed weight, but he notched a win, and that’s the trend. Molly McCann is the exception that proves this rule: fighters are missing weight, and winning fights.
In the roughly 18 months since the UFC switched to “early weigh-ins”, 53 fighters have missed weight or failed to weigh-in due to aborted weight-cuts according to MMAJunkie. In the 18 months prior to that under the old system, only 17 fighters missed weight. That is why I call this a crisis.
Some people say that missing weight by a couple pounds has no real impact on the outcome of a fight. I don’t believe this to be true at all. The reality of weight cuts is that those last few pounds; that last little bit; are more than just the toughest to shed. Losing those pounds is the point in the weight-cut process when a fighter’s mental resolve and physical endurance are tested the most. They are pushed to the very brink of their ability to withstand the exhaustion and depletion – especially those who choose to cut extreme amounts of weight. We’ve all seen video images of some of the toughest people on Planet Earth laying on the floor, shivering, crying, being patted and soothed by their coaches and teammates, telling them that everything is going to be OK as they are on the verge of losing their resolve to continue the cutting process.
So how a fighter performs inside the cage is a DIRECT RESULT of how the fighter recovers from that exhaustion and depletion in the time between the weigh-in and the fight. When one fighter does not go through the grueling mental and physical battle of losing those last couple pounds, they are recovering from an exhaustion and depletion that is not as severe as that of their opponent. In a sport where winning demands that an athlete leave every bit of their mental and physical selves in the cage, avoiding that depletion, exhaustion, and subsequent recovery is a distinct, concrete advantage. It is such an advantage that it can lead some fans to accusations of cheating, as in the high profile case of Mackenzie Dern, who many feel did not even try to make the 116lb Strawweight limit, instead of coming in at a whopping 7lbs over at UFC 224.
Fighters missing weight is a problem for a host of other reasons. First off, fighters are contracted to make weight. A chronic situation where fighters are failing to meet their obligation is just not a good look for a sport trying to bolster its mainstream credibility. It’s unprofessional. It puts the UFC in a bad light, making it appear as if the promotion is disorganized, populated with athletes who don’t live up to their bargains. It highlights the unhealthiness of weight-cutting, creating controversy when ideally it would just be a behind-the-scenes technicality of the sport. It places the opponent who does make weight in a terrible position, where they must decide on short notice whether to fight at a disadvantage, or refuse, scuttling a fight card that fans have paid to see, and then facing the wrath of Dana White and unfair accusations of cowardice from fans and their would-be opponent. And it places fans in the position we’re in now, watching card after card filled with controversy as the credibility of MMA under the UFC banner takes a hit with every failed weight-cut.
As an admin at the world’s best MMA forum, MMA Freaks, I get a bird’s-eye view of what MMA fans are saying about this topic, and I can say unequivocally that there is almost nothing that MMA fans agree on more than the fact that this is a huge problem. People differ on how it does or doesn’t affect the outcome of a fight, but there is a strong consensus on the fact that something should be done to fix this broken system. As you may imagine, when you gather almost 20,000 Freaks for discussion, they have opinions about solutions. I believe several of them are worthy of sharing.
When looking to attack this problem, traditionally the UFC will fine the fighter 20% (lately 30%) of their purse and give it to their opponent. This is obviously no longer sufficient. The financial penalty only attacks one incentive. Fighters are absorbing that penalty and not changing their behavior. But there is another incentive: the potential win.
As stated at the outset, 8 fighters have missed weight this year, and 7 of them have won. Why not remove the ability of a fighter who misses weight to notch a win on their record? The UFC could financially penalize the fighter more substantially – say 50% – and make the fight essentially an exhibition match for that fighter, only giving them the possibility of a loss or a draw, while their opponent can only win or draw. This would remove all possibility of a fighter “throwing in the towel” on the weight-cutting process while still a few pounds overweight, and still coming away from the fight with a win. But it would acknowledge the effort of the fighter who actually accomplished what they were contractually obligated to accomplish regarding the weight cut. Both fighters would still be highly motivated to compete – one to win, the other to avoid a loss.
A few other solutions I’ve seen discussed:
– Always have a fight-day weigh-in and hydration check, where no fighter would be allowed to weigh in at or above the weight-class above their own – failure indicating that from that point forward, the fighter would be in the next heaviest weight class.
– A fighter who misses weight could automatically be required to fight a weight class above for their next bout, only allowed to return to their prior weight class after one fight at the class above.
– Weight classes could be re-worked to eliminate the gaps between 155, 170, 185, and 205. This would partially address the problem, but not solve it.
– A fighter who misses weight could be removed from the rankings and from any hope of title contention until they fight again and make weight.
– A fighter could face a long suspension in addition to a combination of other penalties.
No system is going to be perfect. But the system the UFC currently employs is severely flawed, and it could be made better. Fans are practically begging for it. Fans don’t want to see fighters punished and penalized. We want them to make weight. Something has to be done to incentive successful weight cuts, and to dis-incentive failed weight cuts. The two things fighters get, even when they miss weight, are money and the possibility of a win. Attack those two things, and I believe the problem would be many steps closer to being solved once and for all. Any combination of the above suggestions from fans could help. But take away that win incentive, and fighters will be taking their weight cuts a whole lot more seriously, or at least reassessing in which weight class they truly belong.