How UFC Fighters Cut Weight

How UFC Fighters Cut Weight?

MMA evolved into a highly regulated combat sport where it’s almost impossible to cheat, especially in the UFC, where fighters are tested continuously and prevented from using performance-enhancing drugs, steroids, etc. But, extreme weight cutting is something that has plagued the MMA community (including the UFC). 

Long-time UFC color commentator Joe Rogan once said extreme weight cutting is “cheating at a much higher scale than PED’s” because fighters cut extreme weight to fight in categories lot lower than their natural walking weight. So, how do UFC fighters cut weight?

There are three main steps in how UFC fighters cut weight in only a few days before their match. First, they gradually dehydrate for five days, leading to no water on weigh-in day. Second, they avoid carbs and salt, and third, they sweat a lot.

Of course, that is an over-simplifying process of cutting weight. Let me tell you – the central part of the brutal weight cuts isn’t fat burn, it’s body dehydration. I haven’t even mentioned that the fighters quickly regain all that lost water 24 hours before their bouts, regaining their weight and energy. Let’s dive into how UFC fighters gain a considerable advantage with extreme weight cuts. how much weight do fighters cut? We’re about to find out!

How Do UFC Fighters Cut Weight?

In MMA, the trend of weight-cutting, driven by advanced nutrition and medical care, has become a pivotal strategy. Fighters are shedding so much weight, sometimes over 30 pounds in a week, to meet the stringent weight limits of lower weight classes – far from their natural body weight. This rapid weight loss is a testament to their dedication, but it raises questions about the extremes they go to for a competitive edge. While it is fine to lose weight the pace at which it is lost is certainly concerning.

For many Octagon warriors, losing weight, especially body fat, is a challenging endeavor. While some effortlessly drop pounds, others grapple with losing even a modest 10 pounds. The journey to a lower weight class, say from 205 to 125, is particularly arduous due to the body’s water content. Consider the best flyweight UFC fighters, who typically walk around at 145-155 pounds, in stark contrast to light heavyweights, who may be around 250 or 260 pounds.

The process of dropping a staggering 30 or 40 pounds in a week, only to regain a significant portion right before the fight, is a fascinating yet alarming phenomenon. Icons like Conor McGregor, Jorge Masvidal, and Darren Till have mastered this art, but at what cost? It’s crucial to recognize that such extreme weight cutting is fraught with dangers, including potential organ failure and, in severe cases, death. This is not a practice to be taken lightly or attempted without professional guidance.

MMA fighters often face the dilemma of cutting weight or competing in more weight classes when their bodies can’t sustain rigorous weight losses. Losing water weight is a common tactic, with many able to shed 7-10 pounds on the day of the weigh-in. This ‘remaining water weight’ is generally tolerable for the body.

Take Viacheslav Borshchev’s experience, for example. He walked around at 175-180 pounds but weighed in at 179 pounds for a 155-pound bout, showcasing the rapid weight gain possible with the right team and medical care.

However, the smarter approach is gradual dieting and weight loss from the start of training camp, rather than resorting to drastic measures in the final days. Extreme dehydration/rehydration cycles should only be undertaken with professional nutritionists and medical care. A proper diet is always preferable to severe dehydration and extreme methods like salt restriction or strict protein-based nutrition.

Fighters employ three key strategies: manipulating body hydration, using saunas, hot baths, and plastic jumpsuits to sweat out excess liquid, and adhering to a strict no-carbs, no-salt diet. This approach enables fighters who naturally weigh around 195 lbs to compete in the welterweight category (170 lbs limit). Post-weigh-in, they rehydrate to approximately 185-190 lbs, gaining a sizeable advantage over their opponents. Fighters like Paulo Costa, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Darren Till, and Yoel Romero are notorious for exploiting this system.

In contrast, organizations like ONE FC have implemented strict hydration tests following the tragic death of a fighter in 2015 due to weight loss complications. Competitors must fight at their natural weight class and pass rigorous hydration tests, ensuring their safety and well-being. This approach underscores the critical balance between competitive strategy and the health risks associated with rapid weight loss in the world of MMA.

How Much Weight Do UFC Fighters Cut?

It varies from fighter to fighter. Some fighters enjoy fighting in a category around their natural weight, so they don’t have to undergo rigorous weight cuts. They’ll drop 10-20 pounds during their weight cut, avoiding excruciating dehydration and rehydration.

The average weight cut of UFC fighters is around 15-20 pounds in the last five days before the weigh-in. They do that by using the dehydration process I’ve described earlier, as it allows them to regain a good chunk of that weight before they step into the octagon.

These average Ultimate Fighting Championship weight cuts vary from category to category. Usually, smaller fighters that compete in the flyweight or bantamweight divisions shed fewer pounds. As you go up to heavier classes, more rigorous weight cuts are happening.

The reason behind that is logical and straightforward. If a 200 lbs guy loses 30 lbs to make the 170lbs welterweight limit, that means he’s lost 15% of his overall body weight. That’s still a lot but manageable to do in only two weeks – a week of dieting and a week of dehydration. He can also regain extra weight in 24 hours for his upcoming bout.

However, if your average weight is around 155 lbs and you want to drop to 125, that’s nearly a fifth of your total body weight. Losing that kind of weight by dehydration can cause serious health problems, including organ failure and even death. That is also because you are losing beyond just the excess water weight.

There are fighters such as TJ Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo that do drop that kind of weight, but they start dieting a lot earlier to minimize the amount of weight they cut in the final dehydration process. Even then, they often have difficulty making weight and so to lose weight fast they need to employ more drastic measures days before the weigh-in.

So, the average fighter in mixed martial arts cuts 15-20 lbs, although more and more fighters cut upwards of 30 lbs. Even some heavyweight fighters cut weight to make the heavyweight limit, such as Derrick Lewis, Justin Tafa, and Mark Hunt.

On the other hand, there are still fighters that fight right around their natural weight. Most of them are heavyweight fighters, but some fighters in different divisions, such as Gunnar Nelson and Colby Covington, cut only 10-15 lbs to reach UFC welterweight limit before matches. So, how much these MMA fighters cut vary a great deal.

How Long Do UFC Fighters Cut Weight?

In the MMA world weight cutting to enter into a weight division, where the art of shedding pounds is as strategic as the fight itself. Each fighter’s journey to the scale is as unique as their fighting style, hinging on their starting shape and the pounds they need to shed to hit that magic number.

Consider the fact that most fighters are looking to drop a cool 15-20 lbs to make weight, a tactical move that spares them from an early-start diet during training camp. But the real game-changer happens in the final week, specifically, the last five or six days leading up to the weigh-in. Here, fighters embark on a dehydration marathon that can see them astonishingly lose up to 25-30 lbs. It’s a simple rule of thumb in this high-stakes game: the less you have to cut, the less grueling the journey.

Now, let’s talk strategy. The weight-cutting saga doesn’t just start with a sudden halt in water intake. Oh no, it’s more cunning than that. In the initial three days, fighters guzzle down water like it’s going out of style – we’re talking 4 gallons on day one, tapering down over the next two days. This clever tactic tricks the body into a “flush mode,” setting the stage for a more efficient weight drop.

As the countdown continues, water intake takes a nosedive – from half a gallon to a mere quarter, culminating in a complete water fast on the eve of the weigh-in. This abrupt reduction, while the body is still in high gear, flushing out fluids, leads to rapid dehydration and weight loss.

But the plot thickens post-weigh-in. The moment fighters step off the scale, it’s rehydration time. In the 24 hours leading up to the fight, they strategically sip 1 liter of water per hour – the maximum their bodies can absorb. This meticulous hydration plan can lead to regaining up to 20 lbs, giving them a significant weight advantage when they step into the ring.

Here’s where it gets really interesting: a lightweight fighter who weighs in at 155 pounds can potentially enter the ring on fight day, not only battle opponents in the cage but also wage war against the scales. It’s a fascinating blend of science, strategy, and sheer willpower, all playing out in the pursuit of that competitive edge.

What Do UFC Fighters Eat to Cut Weight?

The water intake manipulation is only one part of the weight-cutting process. UFC fighters have to follow a diet during those last five, or six days, too, to make the manipulation as successful as possible.

First of all, they avoid eating any kind of carbs. Carbohydrates pull water into your body, and you want to accomplish the exact opposite – pulling the water out. It’s not recommended to eat more than 30-50 grams of carbohydrates a day during this period. That includes fruit, starch, or any other kind of sugar and carbs.

Instead, fighters usually load up on protein to replace the energy they are losing. You should always aim for high-quality protein meals such as white meat, eggs, or greens such as spinach, broccoli, etc. Protein won’t tie water to your cells so the dehydration process will be more successful. Eat as much as you want in three meals a day.

However, all the food you eat must not contain salt. Avoid any kind of salt entirely if you’re in the extreme weight-cutting process. Salt contains sodium, and sodium ties to water, which will give you bad results on the scales. Yeah, the food will taste bland and weird, but it’s all worth it in the end if you manage to endure a week of torture.

If you need to cut more than the average 15-20 lbs during the process, you can go for a natural diuretic in the last two days. A diuretic encourages kidney functions, meaning you’ll lose even more water. Use the diuretic in the last two days of the weight cut to ensure you don’t go overboard.

I want to highlight how important it is to choose a natural diuretic, such as dandelion root. Fighters want to take the easy way out, so they use pharmaceutical diuretics, which can often be counter-productive and even dangerous. Avoid any pharmaceuticals during this period, if possible, to avoid possible side effects or complications.

Combining this diet with water intake manipulation, the last thing you should do to maximize the results is – sweat it out. Fighters usually don’t go for high-intensity workouts because they’re already depleted of energy. 

Instead, they do low-intensity drills such as light treadmill running or bike riding while wearing a plastic tracksuit. It will intensify the sweating and manipulate the fighter’s weight drastically. After the workout, go for a hot bath, just enough cool not to burn you. Submerge as much of your body as you can into the hot water to stimulate sweating even more.

As a final touch, fighters tend to sit in a sauna before weigh-ins to try and shed those last few pounds. Think of any way to sweat as much as possible in those last few hours. Some fighters even get in the sauna in a tracksuit, lay under 20 or 30 layers of thermo-insulating materials, etc. There you have it – the guide to the UFC fighters’ extreme weight-cutting methods.

UFC Weight Cut Rules

The UFC has some unified rules when it comes to the weight-cutting of their fighters. However, those rules can vary depending on the fight’s location and the governing body officiating it. Almost every US state has its own Athletic Commission (California has CSAC (California State Athletic Commission), Nevada has NSAC), and their weight cut rules can differ, not to mention events happening outside of the US.

First and foremost, the fighters must satisfy the weight limit of the agreed-upon weight class. There are nine different weight divisions in the UFC, finishing with the heavyweight division. If a fighter misses the agreed-upon weight limit, the opponent holds the right to refuse to fight. That rarely happens, though, as fighters usually agree to a catchweight bout.

You must not be more than 1 lb above the division limit for non-title bouts and only half a pound more in championship matches. If you miss the weight continuously, you will have to move to a higher division.

As for the drastic weight cuts, the UFC has taken steps to prevent them, although they still aren’t unified in every state. For instance, CSAC requires an additional weigh-in on the day of the fight. If the fighter has regained more than 10% of the weight they had yesterday on weight-in-day, they will face a penalty, possibly even disqualification from competing in that weight class again.

In the future, fighters will be encouraged to fight in divisions as close to their natural weight as possible to reduce the advantages extreme weight-cutting gives to individual combatants. Kamaru Usman, for instance, fights at 170 lbs, but his natural weight is around 195 lbs, meaning the middleweight category would suit his stature way better.

There were no weight-cutting rules in early UFC fights, as there were no divisions. For example, 180-pound fighter Royce Gracie submitted 265-pound wrestler Dan Severn with a nasty triangle choke in the finals of UFC 4!

What Happens if UFC Fighters Miss Weight?

There are several sanctioning steps for UFC fighters who miss weight for their fights. If a fighter misses weight for the first time, the opponent can refuse to fight and take the show-up money, while the other fighter gets nothing.

But that rarely happens. Instead, the fighter that missed weight has to pay 20-30% of their purse to the other fighter. The amount depends on how much weight they fail to cut. The fight is then deemed as catchweight and usually does not affect the overall ranking.

If a fighter keeps missing weight, they’ll be forced to move to a higher division immediately. Kelvin Gastelum, for instance, was asked to move from welterweight to middleweight after failing to hit the 170 lbs limit several times.

What Happens if a UFC Champion Misses Weight?

In championship fights in the UFC, the weight rules are virtually the same, but some additional rules are set regarding the title.

If the challenger misses weight for the championship fight, the champion can refuse to proceed with the war. If they choose to fight anyway, the battle is deemed catchweight, and the title is removed from play. 

Meaning that if the champion loses, he/she will retain the title because the challenger missed weight. This situation happened several times in the UFC. Most notably, Yoel Romero missed weight two times in championship matches – first, for an interim title against Luke Rockhold, and then for the undisputed title versus Robert Whittaker.

If the champion fails to hit the weight limit, the sanctions would be different. If the fighter didn’t miss the weight by a significant margin, the fight will usually still be held, but the UFC will strip the champion of the title. If he/she wins, the title will become vacant, and if he/she loses, the challenger will become the champion.

UFC champions never missed weight, though. The closest they ever came to this scenario was Anthony Pettis missing weight for a title eliminator fight against Max Holloway. As none of them was the champion at the time, Pettis didn’t get the chance to win the title even if he emerged victorious in the match, while Holloway was eligible to become the champion if he wins.

Biggest (and Worst) UFC Weight Cuts

Although most fighters don’t endure extreme weight cuts, some go to extreme lengths to meet the desired limit. The MMA world is stacked with fighters who shred an excessive amount of bulk, water, and muscles, but the names in the paragraphs below stand out for brutal weight-cutting.

One of the most mind-boggling weight-cutters in UFC history was Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. He started his UFC career in welterweight, where he cut upwards to an absurd 40-50 lbs for his matches throughout his training camp. He continually missed weight, though, so he was forced to climb to the middleweight division.

Again, he missed the limit by a staggering 12 lbs, and the UFC ultimately cut him from their roster. When he returned, he was a big light-heavyweight fighter, knocking people out cold and fighting for the title two times. Right now, he is a giant body-builder, planning to compete in the heavyweight division.

Speaking of light-heavyweight fighters, another LHW star was well-known for his ridiculous weight cuts. Daniel Cormier, the long-reigning LHW champion, fought for the heavyweight title against Stipe Miočić while weighing 246 lbs. Considering he was the UFC champion at 205 lbs, it’s absurd to see how much weight DC was cutting to make the LHW limit.

Another UFC superstar endured incredible weight cuts throughout his career, and that superstar is Conor McGregor. He fought in the featherweight division and went to welterweight for his next fight. That’s a 25 lbs difference between the two appearances, showing just how much weight manipulation a human body can endure in such a small time frame.

Fighters with notoriously rigorous weight cuts currently in the UFC are Darren Till, Kamaru Usman, Max Holloway (at featherweight), Mackenzie Dern, etc.

Conor McGregor Weight Cutting

Another UFC superstar endured incredible weight cuts throughout his career, and that superstar is Conor McGregor. He fought in the featherweight division and went to welterweight for his next fight. That’s a 25 lbs difference between the two appearances, showing just how much weight manipulation a human body can endure in such a small time frame. McGregor was switching between three weight classes!

How do ufc fighters cut weight - Way of Martial Arts

Some people like to call Conor McGregor the God of manipulation between respective weight classes. In the first part of his UFC career, McGregor was cutting 35+ pounds to reach the preferred weight class – featherweight. He scored many knockouts at 145 because he was significantly bigger than his opponents.

Conor hoped two divisions up following his UFC 194 title victory over Jose Aldo and met Nate Diaz at welterweight, which led to a huge cashout and a rear-naked choke loss in the second round. Despite McGregor winning in the rematch, he was unable to score a knockout!

Nowadays, his walking weight is around 190 lbs as he started lifting weights following the leg injury in Dustin Poirier’s fight (lightweight). Conor will never cut to 145 pounds again, but there are many potential money-making combats at 155, so you can expect some of the most extreme methods of losing weight on McGregor’s end in combat sports!

How much weight do boxers cut in fight week?

Some fighters will cut only a few pounds, while others can drop 10-20 pounds, depending on their goals and weight classes. In smaller weight divisions, fighters lose fewer kilograms. But in boxing, being a weaker guy doesn’t mean much, as there is no wrestling – you are not allowed to drag the fight to the ground or press your opponent against the fence.

Boxers mostly cut 10-20 pounds because a massive weight cutting would significantly affect their performance, especially in a title bout.

What is a weight cut in UFC?

A weight cut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship or any other MMA promotion refers to all the efforts fighters place themselves through to compete in divisions in which their weight is below their walking around (normal) weight.

How many days do UFC fighters cut weight?

It depends on the fighter. Some fighters, like the former 125-pound title contender Wilson Reis, start dieting 2 months before the competition. The majority of Octagon warriors diets for 2-3 weeks before the competition, when they lose around 20-30 pounds.

Unfortunately, some fighters get a short-notice fight offer, so they have to take rigorous weight cuts and hit the scale. In those cases, the amount of lost water weight is very critical, and it might lead to heart issues or other health problems. If somebody accepts the bout on a 7-day notice or shorter, UFC is sometimes ready to offer a catchweight combat to protect the competitor’s health.

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
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Vladimir Vladisavljevic

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He has been training in kickboxing for over seven years and holds a Taekwondo black belt. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. Vladimir is a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster. He was known as The Bulgarian Cowboy in the Western world. In addition, he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his love of esports, one of the fastest-growing fields in the world. Our testing and reviewing method.
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