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A weight cut gone bad led to a fight getting pulled last minute from UFC Fight Night 117 in Japan, but was the struggle more of an exception or the rule for pro fighters in MMA? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes and retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes discuss.
Fowlkes: UFC Fight Night 117 went off with one fewer fight than planned this weekend, Danny, and it was all thanks to Mizuto Hirota’s failed weigh-in attempt. Not only did he come in four pounds over the featherweight limit for his fight with Charles Rosa, he could barely stand up long enough to get weighed on the scale.
That’s not an exaggeration, either. After shuffling onstage like a hospice patient forced to move death beds, Hirota almost collapsed while stepping down from the scale and had to be saved by UFC VP of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky, which naturally put the UFC in a precarious position.
There’s no athletic commission for events in Japan, so it was entirely up to the UFC whether to let Hirota fight or not. But after the guy who’s supposed to be safeguarding athlete health has to step in and catch a clearly ailing fighter, it’s not a great look to give him the thumbs up for a cage fight.
So the UFC pulled him from the fight, which was the right move. But am I the only one wondering if Hirota’s big mistake was letting us all see how bad he was struggling at the weigh-in? We’ve all heard stories of fighters who endured terrible weight cuts and still fought. Mike Pyle famously based out in the MGM Grand just trying to make it to the scales for his UFC debut, and that show still went on.
If this had happened away from the cameras, do you think Hirota would have been allowed to fight? And does something like that highlight the problem with extreme weight-cutting right before a strenuous and dangerous activity, or just the problem with weight cuts gone bad?
Downes: I can’t say for certain that Hirota would have fought if the whole episode had not been caught on video, but I’m pretty sure he would have. Imagine, though, if he decided not to fight without us actually witnessing him nearly collapse. He would have been raked over the coals like every other fighter. There is still room for criticism (which we will get to), but it takes some of the sting away when you see an individual nearly pass out.
Outside a few episodes of “The Ultimate Fighter,” most fans and members of the media have no idea what goes into a weight cut. Yeah, they know that involves saunas, sweating and maybe a sodium load, but they don’t see the process. I don’t know if a glimpse behind the curtain would change people’s minds, but they would realize the majority of fighters are severely depleting themselves on weigh-in day. Most are just able to hide it better.
When I fought Chris Horodecki on short notice, I had to cut about 25 pounds in five days. In order to reach the right number, the majority of my time was spent in the sauna cutting water weight.
My memory is a little hazy, but at some point I passed out naked in the warm-up room and remember being woken up by Anthony Pettis, who told me that I had to get back into the sauna (and that my naked corpse made a very awkward sight when Jamie Varner tried walking in with his girlfriend).
The point is, if I had stepped on the scale at that time, I would have looked just as bad as Hirota. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), I had a bus ride over to the arena to get my wits about me.
My story is nothing unique. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of fighters who looked way worse. They were just able to keep it together for a few minutes in front of the crowd.
I appreciate the concern for fighter well-being, but what’s the answer? The benefits of drastic weight cuts may be overstated, but as long as fighters see a perceived value in dropping down, it’s not going to stop. I believe that Hirota is not an extreme case. What say you?
Fowlkes: You’re probably right that there have been plenty of fighters worse off than Hirota who still managed to fight, but just because it’s not uncommon doesn’t make it a good idea. If we’re really concerned about fighter safety, at some point we have to address the fact that it’s not super healthy to drain that much water from your body just before you get hit in the head a bunch.
A big part of the problem is the culture surrounding this stuff. Fighters drop down in weight not so much to get an advantage, but to avoid giving one, since everyone else is dropping so much weight. Fighters assume that extreme weight cuts are just part of the job. Promoters and commissions generally either don’t try to find out or don’t care to know how fighters hit the mark on the scale, just as long as they make it to the church on time.
And when commissions do try to get more proactive about telling fighters which weight classes they can and can’t fight in, as California has done, it somehow comes off as regulatory overreach. As if that is not the exact type of safety precaution that you have a commission for in the first place.
These seem like entrenched problems with the culture of this sport, which is what makes them so hard to fix. So maybe what we need is more than just the occasional peek behind the curtain, Danny.
If we only seem to care about this stuff when we see the ugly reality of it, as with Hirota or back when Cris Cyborg was killing herself trying to make 140 pounds, maybe the solution is to ensure that this process sees the light of day more regularly. If brutal weight cut videos started showing up all the time, do you think fans would become horrified enough to support some serious changes?
Downes: Ben, I don’t care what all the other people at MMAjunkie say, you aren’t a one dimensional guy. I’m amazed that you can find a way to be the most cynical person in the industry and supremely naïve. I know School House Rock had a great impact on you, but knowledge isn’t always power.
First off, weight-cutting videos aren’t always great #content. Watching fighters dehydrate themselves in a hot box is boring. Fans can’t learn anything if they’re so uninterested they don’t pay attention.
Secondly, I wonder if people really want to see how the sausage is made. Making a human connection with athletes can hurt the viewing experience. How am I supposed to yell at Mike Glennon and tell him he sucks when I learn that he has a baby boy?
Thirdly, I doubt an increased view into the weight-cutting experience would have an effect. Sure, there might be a few fans who pause and say, “Wow, that’s dangerous.” The vast majority, though, would shrug it off and blame the fighters. “If they didn’t want to cut so much weight, they shouldn’t be such a fat ass!” How many people blame Cyborg for not making bantamweight?
When it comes to making weight, most fans assume it’s a lack of discipline which accounts for the extra pounds. The Johny Hendrickses of the world don’t help that perception, but I would argue he’s an exception to the norm.
Much like the throwing in the towel argument we had last week, weight-cutting is one of those issues where we’ll have to save fighters from themselves. As long as there is the perceived value of drastic weight cuts, fighters will do it.
You’re right that they’ll view any attempts to regulate weight-cutting as overreach, but it will be a necessary evil. We should be wary, however, of expanding the weight classes as a way of combating this issue.
Rightly or wrongly, one of the classic arguments for the decline of boxing is the explosion of weight classes. The talent pool is already pretty thin at certain levels. Further diluting that pool will only lead to more problems. We need to fix things, but sometimes the cure can be more harmful than the disease.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.
Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie