When entering any fight, weight is one of the most important factors in the world of mixed martial arts or MMA. Every time fighters prepare for battle in UFC (or some other MMA organization) they have to regulate their weight. So how UFC (MMA) fighters cut weight? Find out in our article.
UFC (MMA) fighters cut weight by reducing calorie intake, sweating, restricting fluid intake, and training.
There are weight categories in UFC, boxing, wrestling, and other MMA fights that must be strictly adhered to. If fighters come to the weigh-ins with a few pounds of excess weight they get in position to not be allowed to fight, and if fighters appear with a few pounds less they may fall into a subordinate situation over their opponent who will use this small, but very important advantage in strength.
What is weight cutting in MMA?
Many MMA fighters agree that losing weight before a fight is worse than the strenuous training they go through. Cutting 10 to 25 pounds (5 to 10 kg) is normal for every fighter to be at his peak strength for a fight. Not only do they reduce pounds, but reducing weight for a match is considered one of the skills and is part of what is required of every MMA fighter.
Cutting weights is how a fighter manipulates a fight. Coming to weighing with 10-25 pounds less, and then returning those pounds for a fight, can be crucial, especially if it turns out you have so much more pounds than your opponent.
Imagine, you fight with 10-25 pounds more than your opponent, more muscle, strength, and weight. You have stronger punches, tire your opponent easier, throw him down easier, control the ground and clinch. Everything you need in MMA and the ONLY thing you need to do is cut your weight.
Because of this, UFC fighters, boxers, wrestlers, and other MMA fighters will do anything to gain this advantage, and unfortunately, even often, they risk their health for it.
How many weight classes are in UFC (MMA)?
The Unified Rules in the United States designate limits for fourteen different weight classes in mixed martial arts.
|Weight class||Upper weight limit|
|Strawweight||115 lb (52.2 kg)|
|Flyweight||125 lb (56.7 kg)|
|Bantamweight||135 lb (61.2 kg)|
|Featherweight||145 lb (65.8 kg)|
|Lightweight||155 lb (70.3 kg)|
|Super Lightweight||165 lb (74.8 kg)|
|Welterweight||170 lb (77.1 kg)|
|Super Welterweight||175 lb (79.4 kg)|
|Middleweight||185 lb (83.9 kg)|
|Super Middleweight||195 lb (88.5 kg)|
|Light Heavyweight||205 lb (93.0 kg)|
|Cruiserweight||225 lb (102.1 kg)|
|Heavyweight||265 lb (120.2 kg)|
Outside the United States there are no unified rules, so promotions in other countries are free to make weight classes on their own. But, now that MMA is more and more popular, organizations outside of the US are usually in alignment with the Unified Rules.
Weight limits for women in MMA mostly follow the Unified Rules’ limits, but promotions that recognize women’s championships usually only have titles at the lower end of the table. UFC, for example, recognizes women’s titles in the strawweight, flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight classes.
For more about UFC weight classes, check out article we wrote on particular subject.
How UFC (MMA) Fighters Cut Weight
In order to gain a competitive advantage over lighter rivals, athletes in martial arts practice chronic and acute weight manipulation. Chronic manipulation refers to a period of several weeks or even months before a competition, where the proportion of fat is reduced. Acute manipulation covers a period of one week to the day before the competition, that is, until weighing for the same. Although both have implications for performance, the potential negative impact of the latter is much more pronounced.
The time between weighing and the competition itself varies between 3 and 36 hours, depending on the sport and the specific competition. These differences cause different strategies for manipulating body mass.
Weight loss, i.e., bringing it to the right measure, is a process in which excess fluid is generally lost from the body. Weight loss can be very dangerous if it is not done according to certain rules or over expert supervision. The main threat is dehydration, which in extreme cases can cause serious heart or kidney problems. If you want to lose 25 pounds (11 kg) before the match, it requires losing and reducing weight. Losing implies reduced calorie intake and increased energy consumption in order to reduce body fat.
Fighter weight is directly related to calorie intake throughout the day. In order to lose weight, calorie intake must be reduced in relation to their consumption. In order to know how many calories they need to bring in during the day, fighters must carefully monitor and organize their daily menu. In order to lose a pound (0.5 kg) of fat, fighters have to burn about 3,500 calories. According to the American National Institutes of Health, a safe way to do this is to reduce your daily intake of calories by 500 calories. With this dynamic, you will lose two pounds (1 kg) in a week.
The next thing fighters use to lose weight is sweating. This method achieves temporary weight loss and can serve well before the official measurement, just before the fight. This is accomplished in a number of ways, by running, skipping rope and other cardiovascular activities that lead to sweating and calorie consumption. Fighters often use plastic clothing and heavy clothing for exercise and to increase their body temperature. A sauna is also a great tool for weight loss. All these methods must be overseen and monitored to prevent overheating, which can have very serious and negative consequences for the combatants.
Restricting fluid intake can also significantly affect weight loss. Our body is constantly losing fluid through breathing, sweating, and urination. Restricting fluid intake can help a fighter lose four to seven pounds (2 to 3 kg) within 24 hours. The fighter begins to consume 6-8 liters of water daily three days before the measurement. Increased water intake drives the body to urinate more than usual. The day before the measurement, the fighter reduces his fluid intake to a minimum, limiting himself to some sips of water throughout the day, and also eliminates sodium from the diet. It should be noted that care must also be taken here to avoid dehydration and the danger to the health of the fighter.
The final component of losing weight is training. UFC (MMA) fighters do specific exercises, which cover large muscle groups such as the legs and back. They will train with fast and explosive movements, combining with aerobic exercise. This kind of circular-combined workout, which includes exercises such as squatting, deadlifting, jumping on the box, good morning workouts, effectively burns calories and thus reduces extra weight. When losing weight, keep in mind that the muscle mass remains in an anabolic state.
These are the methods that are most commonly used to bring weight to the desired level and one should always be careful when it comes to things like this because health comes first.
Advantages, disadvantages, and risks
Research findings on the effect of this practice on competition success are doubtful (adolescent Taekwondo, high school wrestlers, collegiate wrestlers). Studies that have allowed an athlete a sufficient period to regenerate glycogen and water between weighing and competition have not shown a negative effect on specific tests. Winners on average return more pounds than losers. This could be due to inadequate nutritional strategies between weighing and fighting, or confirmation that the minimization of weight is a method that brings a competitive advantage.
From an athlete’s perspective, a greater weight gives them more than a physical advantage over a lighter opponent. They gain a sense of sports identity from the process of gaining weight while achieving psychological benefits.
However, the health risks are serious.
In 1997, three American wrestlers died in the process of gaining weight because of food and fluid restriction, the use of sweatsuits, and intense exercise in hot and humid environments.
In 2013, Brazilian MMA fighter Leandro Souza died in a sauna trying to lose 33 pounds (15 kg) (20% of body weight) in 7 days.
Such practices of dehydration, as well as the use of diuretics, have forced many top competitors to hospitalize and drop out of combat due to kidney problems.
Significant dehydration decreases the volume of blood plasma and leads to a consequent decrease in volume and an increase in heart rate, impaired renal flow, and electrolyte imbalance. This makes athletes more susceptible to heatstroke and muscle cramps.
Intensive food and fluid restriction lead to a decrease in basal metabolism, a decrease in testosterone levels, hypercholesterolemia, hypernatremia, and acute kidney injury.
Side effects such as fatigue, weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, cramps, anxiety, disorientation, and nosebleeds are not uncommon, but also with moderate dehydration of 5% of body weight.
Psychological factors have a key influence in martial arts. Intense lowering of the weight can disturb the psyche of the fighter, causing confusion and mood disorders.
The more extreme the weight cutting practices are, the more dangerous they are to health and performance in the ring. Children and adolescents, who are not exempt from these practices, who may have a long-term negative impact on their growth and development, should be emphasized as a particular risk group.
While there is no solid evidence that weight loss cutting practices have a positive impact on performance, it is illusory to expect fighters to give up on them; the pressure is too great. However, what every fighter and his trainer should keep in mind is that the impact on performance depends primarily on the quality and safety of both weight reduction and weight gain.
How long does it take for UFC (MMA) fighters to cut weight?
UFC (MMA) fighters cut weight drastically, and the biggest weight cut occurs in the last 48 hours before weighting (match). Some UFC and MMA fighters, boxers, and wrestlers can cut their weight in 48 hours up to even 30 pounds.
In professional matches, combatants are allowed 24 hours to rehydrate. This means that a 170-pound fighter on Saturday can weigh 200 pounds on Sunday, gaining a big advantage in the match.
Who cuts the most weight in the UFC?
Weighing in before the match is pretty absurd, and it only hurts the fighter’s health. UFC (MMA), and other fighters that have weight ins, will do anything in their power to gain an advantage above their opponents, even if that means to risk their health.
ONE Championship, Asia’s largest sports media property, has banned weight cutting by dehydration as of December 2015. Athletes are required to undergo multiple weigh-ins and tests before and during fight week, including 3 hours before an event begins.
So, who in UFC cuts the most weight before a weigh-in so they can get upper hand in a fight?
- Sean Sherk – regularly losses about 20 lbs which is almost 13% of his body mass
- Anderson Silva – he stated that he can lose up to 35 lbs before a wight in
- Forrest Griffin – again about 35 lbs (sometimes has even 240 lbs, and cuts them before wight into 205 lbs)
- Gleison Tibau – probably the biggest lightweight in the UFC, cuts his weight from 183 lbs to 155 (which is the lightweight limit). That means he losses unbelievable 18.5% of his body mass
- Thiago Alves – he fights in welterweight (170 lbs) division, and it is said that between fights he sometimes has more than 200 lbs. One of the biggest weight cuttings in UFC
- Anthony Johnson – reports said, that before Johnson fought Yoshiyuki Yoshida in UFC 104, he weighed 220 lbs, a whopping 50 lbs heavier than the welterweight limit he competes at (he missed those weights by 5 lbs)
How UFC (MMA) fighters lose 20 pounds (9 kg) in one day?
Although weight is a factor controlled through combat preparations, extreme weight loss occurs only in the week before the fight or the day before the fight. There are no precise statistics on how many fighters lose weight and to what extent, but according to the most elite fighters in the UFC, about 70% of them lose up to 10 percent of their body weight in the last few days before a fight.
A week before the fight, the fighter begins to drink large quantities of water. The goal is to bring the body to a state where the hormone aldosterone (responsible for regulating potassium and sodium in the body) is much easier to move to a “dormant” phase, in which the body will more easily and more frequently urinate fluid with minerals from its body.
The amount of water brought in increases dramatically at the beginning of the week and fighters sometimes drink up to 8 liters of water in one day. Thereafter, the water intake gradually decreases until the day before weighing (the day before the fight), when fluid intake ceases completely. As the body is still in a state where it releases fluid and minerals, dehydration of the organism occurs which will lead to the desired drop in weight.
Fighters avoid eating any foods that contain carbohydrates or sugars since they “bind” water molecules for themselves, which is then much harder to get out of the body.
The final act of dehydration comes day/night ahead of weighing. The radicality of the measures used depends on how many pounds a fighter must lose and on the body’s ability to withstand it.
The most common method is a combination of numerous procedures. It usually starts by wearing thick, specially designed sweatsuits that raise body temperature and cause sweating. After that, fighters can engage in light training or walking to keep their body temperature at an ideal height at which they no longer have to move to sweat and thus conserve some energy. Towel wrapping to enhance sweating and a multi-hour stay in the is also used. Unfortunately, this does not always go as planned.
This is what makes UFC (MMA) dangerous
Although many will not recognize it as a sport because of the brutality and the scenes in which two fighters are massacred to the blood in the ring, MMA actually rates quite well compared to other sports. In MMA history, there have been four registered fatalities in professional fights caused by injury or impact. Sports such as automotive or ski jumps have the death rates far higher, and even sports where contact is milder, such as football or basketball, have a much higher number of deaths than mixed martial arts.
The rate of deaths in case of weight loss is much more difficult to estimate, but research to date confirms about 30 deaths in amateur and professional MMA in this millennium. In addition, because of the liver, kidney, or general body exhaustion problems, over 100 fighters in the United States alone have sought professional help. Particularly high risk is affecting young and non-established fighters who are following the trend, as well as the biggest stars of today, but who do not have good health control.
If you are wondering why fighters don’t lose the weight they want and fight in that category, the answer is simple – because they never weigh as much as when they are on weight ins.
How would a fighter gain weight quickly to qualify for fights in a heavier weight class
In order to gain weight quickly, you would need to eat lots of carbohydrates, salt and drink plenty of fluids. Carbs and salt make you hold onto water. That is exactly the first thing fighters reduce, or completely remove when they want to cut weight.
But, it is very unusual for a fighter to try and get weight for a fight. That would mean they have more weight on a paper, but not more in muscles, condition, speed, and quickness. Those gain pounds would only make problems for them, make them tire quicker, be slower, and less agile.
Maybe the only reason why someone would do that would be money (some UFC (MMA) fighters earn much money), and it is definitely not recommended for a fighter, this time not so much because of health, at least not caused by gaining weight.
Weighing is a farce
After weighing, the fighter has 24 hours to the fight. The only thing he does in that period is to restore the weight.
The human body can receive about a liter of water per hour and fighters usually in these 24 hours, while awake, by rehydrating, replenish 9-12 liters of water. It is advisable to have a heavy meal immediately after weighing, which especially contains carbohydrates and salts.
Some fighters also use the infusion to restore weight, but it has recently been banned in the UFC. In those 24 hours, most fighters return the weight they had before losing weight. Although it depends on the body’s ability to recover and withstand shock, some fighters regain between 25 and 35 pounds (11 to 16 kg) of body weight in 24 hours.
Therefore, weighing the day before the match is irrelevant – fighters meet the rules, but enter the fight with 25 or 35 pounds (11 to 16 kg) more than the category for which the fight is registered. So it’s no wonder that in the middleweight category (170 lb / 77.1 kg) you see a fight of fighters who weigh about 200 pounds.
Weighing should be done just before the fight because it is one of the ways to prevent the usage of illegal substances in sports, and that is for fighters to fight rivals from lower categories. 25 pounds more than a rival is a big advantage and any wrestling or clinching with much heavier man fatigues much more.
MMA is a sport where usage of illegal substances is a big problem, but not just because of performance enhancers, anabolic drugs, or hormones. Because while everyone is pointing their finger at these substances, they forget that the highest form of doping is legalized.
A call to change the UFC (MMA) weighting rules
A case has been documented where an individual gained 29 pounds (13 kg) or 20% of their body weight during the 32 hours between weighing and fighting. Such and similar cases undermine the meaning of dividing fighters into categories and call into question the spirit of sport.
But the problem is not just in the sporting spirit. Despite repeated warnings from the medical community about health risks, the practice of rapid weight loss remains extremely prevalent among athletes. Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable, who, by using these methods, compromise normal growth and development.
There are several proposals to protect the health of athletes, but also to achieve more realistic and fair fights. Most of these suggestions are based on shortening or eliminating the weighing and competition intervals, and include mandatory hydration level tests, determining a competitor’s weight from which the athlete should not deviate significantly, etc
Until such proposals are accepted and implemented, it is essential that the process of cutting and returning of weight is carried out under the supervision of expert nutritionists to protect the health and performance of athletes, in UFC and all of MMA (as well as other sports where it exists).