Shedding water weight in the days leading up to a fight is not only a common practice; it’s universal in nature. Slowly draining the water from your body until you’re thirsty. Then weak. Shriveled. Sickly. Unable to sleep properly. When you’re risking seizures, kidney failure, cardiovascular health, you have to ask if it’s really worth it. Both men and women in combat sports are nearly killing themselves, sometimes successfully killing themselves, in order to gain a small edge, because according to them: size matters.
For example: Tyron Woodley claims to have a natural healthy weight of 205 lbs. Kevin Lee and Khabib Nurmagomedov both claim to be approximately 195 lbs. So how is it that these men fight at between 155 lbs – 170 lbs?
Step 1: Drink, drink, drink. In the days leading up to a weigh-in, fighters will consume vast amounts of water. This plays with hormones in your body like aldosterone and makes your body expel more water than you’re taking in.
Step 2: As the weigh-in approaches begin reducing your water intake. The amount you drink should be almost nil by the time you step on the scales. This is where it starts to get dangerous. Your hormones are still altered, so you will continue to flush water from your body even though your intake has been reduced. At this point you will see fighters experience everything from Pepsi-coloured urine (indicating severe kidney problems) to grand mal seizures.
Step 3: Although Step 2 was dangerous, it gets worse. Now that you’re losing water at an alarming rate, it still isn’t fast enough. Time to sit in a hot bath or a sauna. Maybe wrap up in blankets and lay down next to a heater. All of those physical symptoms mentioned before continue into this stage of the weight cut, and they increase in severity.
Step 4: Finally. If you were able to survive your weight cut and avoid the tiramisu then you have successfully made weight. Your weak body will be helped onto the scales by staff as you attempt to stay upright long enough to flex for the cameras, assuming they were able to recognize you at this point. Now it’s time to rehydrate. This must be safe, right? Finally getting all of that water back into you? Not necessarily. Water intoxication is a very real threat. Now you are at a greater risk of seizures, or brain damage, caused by dangerously low levels of sodium in the blood.
There is much more that goes into a weight cut such as diet changes with a professional nutritionist, but all of these steps are real and happening before each fight. Recently though, some fighters have decided to move up a weight class, not cutting so much weight to see what it will do to their performance. They have largely been successful to this point with the likes of Anthony Pettis knocking out karate superstar Stephen Thompson to Henry Cejudo becoming a double champ with a TKO victory over TJ Dillashaw, it seems that the overwhelming evidence leans toward the fact that almost killing yourself before intense physical competition seems like a bad idea. Who would have known?
Not only is staying closer to your natural weight beneficial, but cutting too much can have the opposite affect. Namely, TJ Dillashaw, as a man who is already about as lean as you can get, decided he wanted to drop down a little more. He admitted to using PEDs and still had his chin tested by Henry Cejudo in a weight class with some of the lowest instances of knockouts in MMA. Sometimes you leave your chin behind at the weigh-ins.
Videos have also surfaced showing the barbaric practice, from The Ultimate Fighter’s Steve Montgomery experiencing a seizure due to hyponatremia (a condition of insufficient sodium in the blood) to superstars like Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino crying out in a delirious state. Nobody seems to be immune.
The general thought is that officials will not do anything until someone dies, but tragically, it has already happened on more than one occasion. In recent memory there have been two deaths directly related to cutting weight that have hit the media.
ONE Championship’s Yang Jian Bing (21)
Muay Thai fighter Jessica Lindsay (18)
Due to the intrinsically dangerous nature of this practice, there are sure to be more deaths to follow. Maybe those lives don’t matter enough to the higher ups and only when it happens to a Conor McGregor or Jon Jones-type will they finally make a change for the safety of all fighters.