Weight cutting has been one of the biggest issues in mixed martial arts ever since the sport adapted weight classes, but no one has figured out the perfect answer to the problem.
In recent years, weight cutting has caused numerous fights to be cancelled and athletes have even died due to the extreme damage done during the weight cutting process.
Last weekend at UFC 216, main event fighter Kevin Lee suffered through his own tough weight cut while trying to get down to the 155-pound limit for his lightweight title fight against Tony Ferguson.
Lee has made the cut numerous times throughout his career, but this instance was made even tougher after he contracted a staph infection just days before he was scheduled to step on the scale for his main event title fight.
Lee’s head coach Robert Follis went through the entire weight cutting process with him and while he can’t explain exactly how much of a toll the staph infection took on the Detroit native, there’s little doubt it made the whole thing that much harder.
“Knowing how we normally cut, I would say it had an impact. I think it slowed things down, I think it made it harder for that weight to come off,” Follis told the Fight Society podcast this week. “I think it affected him a little bit physically but at no point were we done sweating. As soon as they cleared us to cut [after the first weigh-in], we went back and kept right on sweating. It just took a little bit longer than we thought. We actually allowed some extra time, we cut a little bit earlier than we normally do. His body just wasn’t responding.
“We have notes from every weight cut we’ve ever done. We know down to the minute what we’ve done in every camp. Weight cutting is an art that uses science but it’s still an art and it’s never exact.”
After the fight was over, Lee once again made the push for the UFC to add an additional weight class at 165 pounds, which he’s done several times in the past as well. UFC president Dana White quickly shot down the idea and instead suggested that Lee and other athletes take advantage of the new UFC Performance Institute where athletes can work with nutritionists and trainers at no cost to them in the lead up to the fight.
White also stated that adding more weight classes wouldn’t ensure that safer measures were being taken regarding extreme weight cuts in MMA.
It turns out Follis agrees because while he knows additional weight classes might save some fighters, the exact opposite will happen as different athletes will then try make an even more extreme cut to try and gain a competitive advantage.
“People talk about adding weight classes but I just see that extending the problem,” Follis said. “As soon as you extend the weight class, people are going to get bigger and they’re going to cut just as much weight. This is really a commission issue and the commissions really need to pull together and figure out a way across the board where it’s consistent and it’s safe for the fighters. A commission’s job, they’re No. 1 objective is fighter safety.
“Of all the things that I do with my fighters, the most dangerous is knockouts but we can work to avoid that, it doesn’t happen all the time but every fight we have to go through a weight cut to remain competitive in a weight class. People will say you don’t have to weight cut but then you’re giving up 15 pounds of muscle to someone. There’s a reason why there’s weight classes.”
Follis looks at an organization such as ONE Championship, who made drastic changes to their policies after a fighter died in 2015 after suffering from a brutal weight cut. States such as California have also begun instituting new rules to curb the extreme weight cutting that takes place in MMA, but Follis knows it’s an issue that needs to be addressed on a global level not just within certain states.
“I would really love to see them make it a priority to work together to come up with a system where people can’t cut too much weight and those things get toned down to where how much you can sweat isn’t a big factor in how well you fight. Quite frankly, the fact that the weight cut becomes such a deal, so important on how well you sweat, how fast you can rehydrate, how your body handles it — don’t we just want to see people come in at their best and fight? For me, I really feel like the weight classes don’t matter cause they’re just going to extend [weight cutting],” Follis said.
While there are plenty of fighters pushing for additional weight classes, Follis believes that’s only going to slow down a few symptoms involved with weight cutting for certain athletes but there’s no chance it will cure the disease.
Follis suggests a complete overhaul to weight cutting regulation when it comes to MMA or the problem will just persist no matter how many divisions are added to the sport.
“After doing this as long as I have I can tell you honestly, I mean I don’t like losing but it’s part of the sport. You’re accepting of it. You’re going to have some losses. But the one part that I absolutely don’t like being a part of and don’t like doing is the weight cut. I’m good at it and I can help my guys do it, but I would love to take that out of the equation,” Follis said.
“As long as you have that day before weigh-in and the ability to cut weight, people are going to do it. You have to take that off the table with rules. Anything is better than what we’re doing right now.”
Listen to the rest of Follis’ interview on the latest Fight Society podcast here or download and subscribe to the show via Apple Podcasts.