Whatever fighters might say to each other in the buildup to a fight, they’re united by the suffering of a weight cut, according to former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton.
“If Conor (McGregor) and Floyd (Mayweather) had to cut weight together, they’ll be best friends,” said Newton.
Before UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes woke up from a triangle choke in time to claim the title from Newton at UFC 38, the opponents bonded in the sauna. Hughes struggled to cut one-tenth of a pound to make the 170-pound limit for the fight.
The process was not going well, according to Newton. Hughes’ lips were peeling and he had stopped sweating. Newton didn’t see what the muscled welterweight had left to give.
“He said, ‘I’ve got point-one to go,’” Newton remembers. “I’m like, ‘You’ve got point-one nowhere to go. I wish we could save all this effort for the actual fight.’”
Fifteen years later, Newton wishes another referee would have been in the octagon the night he lost his belt. Now 41, his fighting days are long behind him. But he’d like to see another wish come true – more weight classes in MMA.
“Cutting weight for us, especially later in our career, is our biggest battle,” Newton said Monday in a speech at the Association of Boxing Commissions’ annual meeting. “It’s our toughest battle, but also our most dangerous one, by far.”
Up for a vote Wednesday is an aggressive 10-point plan to curb excessive weight cutting, which has turned into one of the sport’s most pressing issues after a series of high-profile fight cancelations and fighter deaths in smaller promotions.
The plan includes steeper fines for missing weight, a 10 percent cap on weight a fighter is allowed to gain in the time between weigh-ins and an event, and weight-class restrictions for those who miss weight more than once. Also included is the addition of four new weight classes: 165, 175, 195 and 225 pounds.
The California State Athletic Commission, headed by Andy Foster, passed the rules in May. Foster also chairs the ABC’s medical board and put the plan up for full approval by the ABC, a regulatory body comprised mostly of state athletic commissions from North America.
Promoters are under no obligation to adopt the new weight classes. But representatives from the UFC signaled on Monday they approve of the plan, though it’s unclear if the industry leader will add the new weight classes with 12 divisions already active.
“We like all of them,” Jeff Novitzky, UFC’s VP of athlete health and performance, said Monday of the recommendations. “We are in favor of it.”
Not all regulators appear to be in favor of the package. Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission chief Greg Sirb countered Novitzky on Monday by suggesting the ABC adopt the NCAA’s rule for weight-cutting, which he said prohibits athletes from being under 5 percent body fat. Novitzky stressed dehydration and rehydration of athletes is a more meaningful measure of whether an athlete is cutting too much weight.
When Newton first started fighting, there was little attention paid to weight classes, much less how many pounds a fighter shed to get to the cage.
“My first fight, I weighed 186 pounds, and my opponent was 286 pounds,” he said. “It’s a lot. Trust me.”
Newton eventually found his stride in the welterweight division, which had yet to become a powerhouse of talent in the sport. Initially, he had no trouble getting to 170 pounds. Several times, he said, he cut 28 pounds in two days. But that changed in his late 20s.
“As soon as I hit 28, I was like, (expletive),” he said.
Fighting overseas in Japan, Newton could determine his fighting weight with his opponent because the events were not formally regulated. But stateside, his success at 170 pounds pigeonholed him in the industry.
“You’re being pushed by your trainers and your manager,” he said. “‘This is your only shot. You’ve got to make this weight.’ You know I almost killed myself last time, right? ‘Well, this time try to do it differently.’ What are we going to do, raise the sauna a couple degrees?”
When he was cutting weight, Newton took the measures that are now common knowledge to MMA fans: He strapped on a plastic suit, rode a stationary bike, and worked out. He hopped in the sauna, then got out after his body stopped sweating. He was tricking his body to start the process all over again so he could lose more weight.
Then as is largely the case now, commission officials had little idea of the lengths he went to in order to hit the right number on the scale.
“It’s happening long before we’re on your radar,” he said. “There’s no way you’re going to be able to stop it.”
Newton ventures he would have had a longer lifespan in the cage if MMA was more like boxing, where fighters inch up four or five weight classes over the course of their careers. He said the gaps between MMA’s standard weight classes and promoters’ adherence to them only serve to decrease longevity and expose more fighters to traumatic brain injuries.
“Our careers have an incline that goes straight up, and an incline on the way down – straight down,” he said.
A member of the MMAFA, Newton is among those lobbying for changes to the way the industry is structured so that fighters have a greater voice in their destinies. But he is adamant that regulators must move now to implement protective measures to help keep fighters as safe as possible before they step into the cage. What no one wants, he said, is to read about another fighter who died from cutting too much weight.
“We’re playing Russian roulette long before you guys know we are,” he said. “Because I’m not letting you in my training camp to watch me train 30 days before a fight. And you’re not following me home for the the next two weeks after the fight.
“These are the risks we take, and they’re far beyond your ability to regulate them. And the only way to do it, and ensure our safety, is to add these weight classes.”
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