Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only to illustrate what some professional MMA fighters do, and you should NEVER attempt to follow what these fighters do in this article.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighting demands a lot from its athletes who have to be strong, lean, flexible, fast, and powerful. Also known as MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighters, the athletes who partake in UFC fights are always looking for ways to reduce their weight so they can fight in a lower weight class and have an advantage over their competitors.
Rapid weight cut begins approximately five days before the weigh-in. Fighters start dehydrating themselves and cutting out all forms of carbohydrates and restrict salt(sodium) intake. In the final stage of weight cutting, fighters wear sweatsuits, take hot baths, and sit in saunas for hours to sweat excessively to shed weight right before the official weigh-in.
While cutting weight is a part (and plague) of the sport of UFC fighting, many of the ways it is done by fighters are not healthy and can lead to health problems later in life. Let’s take a look at how UFC fighters cut weight so rapidly, why they do it, and what the consequences are.
What Does Cutting Weight in UFC Fighting Mean?
Simply put, weight-cutting is a process carried out by fighters in combat sports that involves dehydrating the body as much as possible in preparation for an upcoming fight. The primary purpose of weight-cutting is to enable fighters to compete in a lower weight class due to weighing in at a lower weight.
Rapid weight cutting usually takes place a few days before the weigh-in process of a fight when fighters dehydrate themselves to weigh less and fight in a lower weight class. Once they have made it into a certain weight class for the fight, they then rehydrate themselves to their normal weight which will give them an advantage over their opponent.
Fighters use various techniques that range from extreme dieting and dehydration to sweating excessively by taking hot baths, sitting in saunas for hours, and wearing sweatsuits. They will also change their diet to lose as much weight as possible and eat meals that are high in fat and protein, low in carbohydrates, sugar, and starch-free, and entirely free of salt.
Weight cuts can vary in severity depending on the athlete. Some fighters only drop a few pounds so they can fight in a division that is close to their natural weight, while others undergo extreme weight cutting, losing up to 30 pounds to have a huge advantage over their opponent.
Rapid weight cutting is a dangerous practice and can lead to athletes putting themselves at risk during a fight due to loss of strength and can lead to long-term health risks.
Why Do UFC Fighters Cut Weight?
UFC competitions are split up into weight divisions, which are based on a weight range. Fighters are weighed in a day before the bout and fall into one of these categories according to their weight on the day.
Fighters attempt to lose weight before a fight weigh-in to fall into a lower weight class. Tall, strong fighters who can fight in a lower weight class may have a significant advantage over shorter, smaller and weaker competitors. So, it advantageous for a fighter to fight in a weight class lower than his own.
This leads to fighters always trying to cut weight rapidly before a fight to get into a lower weight class. The weight is usually put back on quickly after the fight.
The weight class divisions in UFC competitions are as follows:
Here is the UFC Men’s divison.
|Weight Class||Weight Requirement|
|Light Heavyweight||205 lbs|
|Heavyweight||205 lbs – 265 lbs|
Here is the UFC Women’s division.
|Weight Class||Weight Requirement|
What Do UFC Fighters Do to Cut Weight Rapidly?
As mentioned earlier in the article, there are three main ways that UFC fighters cut weight rapidly before their bout: extreme dehydration, dieting, and sweating.
UFC fighters will manipulate their water intake and dehydrate their bodies to lose as much weight as possible in the week running up to the fight. Fighters will begin the dehydration process by reducing their water intake over five days before the bout weigh-in, drinking two gallons on the first day, followed by one gallon on each of the next days. This causes the body to go into “flush mode” to filter water out rapidly.
Water intake is then reduced to half a gallon the next day, then a quarter of a gallon, and finally, no water on weigh-in day. The body continues to be in “flush mode” even though no water is being taken in, thus dehydrating the body and causing weight loss.
A report in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition states that 39 percent of MMA fighters will choose to go without water the whole day to make their weight.
The second part of rapid weight cutting that fighters undergo before a fight is calorie restriction or dieting. UFC fighters generally follow a strict diet during the five or six days before weigh-in to help with weight loss.
Athletes will cut out all forms of carbohydrates, starch, and sugar and only meals that are high in protein and fat. They will also cut out all forms of salt and foods that have salt as the sodium in salt retains water in the body. They might also use a natural diuretic in the last few days before weigh-in to encourage kidney functioning and additional water loss.
The third way UFC fighters use to cut weight rapidly before a fight is to sweat excessively so they lose water. They do this by running on treadmills in sweatsuits, sitting in the sauna for hours, sleeping in thick duvets, or taking very hot baths. These methods can be dangerous and often leave fighters feeling weak at the weigh-in.
How Long Does It Take UFC fighters to Cut Weight?
The time it takes a fighter to cut weight depends on the individual athlete and factors such as their height, weight, body shape, and physical condition. It also depends on the amount they want to lose to make the desired weight.
Most fighters will try and cut between 15 and 30 pounds to make the desired weight, however, some athletes will go to the extreme and lose up to 30 pounds of weight to gain a large advantage over their opponents. This, however, is an extremely dangerous practice and tends to be frowned upon.
How Much Weight Do UFC Fighters Cut?
The amount of weight UFC fighters cut before a competition will vary from athlete to athlete, and will depend on their individual goals. Some fighters will only undergo small weight cuts so they can fight in a category that is close to their natural weight and avoid the excruciating dehydration and rehydration process.
Weight cuts tend to vary from division to division. It’s usual for lighter and smaller fighters in the flyweight or bantamweight divisions to cut less weight before a bout than fighters in the heavier divisions where more rigorous weigh cutting takes place.
Some UFC fighters go to extreme lengths to cut weight to make their weight class. These include:
- Ronda Rousey, who lost 17 pounds in 24 hours in November 2013 after spending five hours in a sauna.
- Darren Till dropped 5.5 pounds in one night to make the UFC welterweight limit in 2018, however, he collapsed and lost his vision.
- Jorge Masvidal lost 20 pounds in a mere six days when he cut weight for his fight against Kamaru Usman in July 2020 but almost passed out.
- Former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao cut between 30 and 40 pounds before a rematch with TJ Dillashaw in August 2014 but passed out from dehydration.
- One of UFC’s greatest light heavyweights, Anthony Johnson, dropped between 50 and 60 pounds to cut to the welterweight class.
- Current Women’s Featherweight World champion, Cris Cyborg, dropped an excruciating 26 pounds before one of her early UFC fights.
What are the Dangers of Cutting Weight?
The process of cutting weight is part and parcel of UFC fighting and if done correctly, can have huge advantages for fighters on bout night. However, many fighters go to extremes with excessive dieting, dehydration, and sweating, which can have long-term risks to their health.
Depriving the body of water – a substance crucial to its survival can lead to a host of health problems. Water in the body drives blood flow to the muscles, which delivers oxygen and various nutrients, and removes waste from the muscle cells.
Two of the greatest dangers of severely dehydrating the body are decreased kidney function and the risk of heat illness or stroke. The kidneys need water to filter the blood and to maintain the correct balance of potassium and sodium, both of which are essential for the functioning of cells in the body. Without enough water, the kidneys cannot filter the blood, which can lead to kidney failure, and death.
Severely dehydrated bodies are also at risk of heatstroke as no sweat is produced to cool the body down. Any exercise that increases the heart rate will push the body temperature up and without sufficient sweat to cool it down, the body will collapse from overheating. This can lead to heat illness, heatstroke, and death.
There is also evidence that dehydration causes a higher risk for concussions and other brain injuries.
While calorie restriction isn’t dangerous in the short term, extreme dieting wreaks havoc on the metabolism, which can lead to health implications that can be life-threatening. Severe dieting can cause physical problems such as physical fatigue, atrophy of the muscles, acidosis, constipation, dehydration, seizures, and gallbladder disease.
Mentally, a lack of sufficient calories can lead to irritability, depression, a lower sex drive, and other eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, which are sadly a common occurrence in combat sports.
Fighters often spend hours in hot baths or saunas to sweat out as much water as possible to drop their weight. Sweating excessively may lead to rapid weight loss, however, it can have dire consequences.
Sweat contains electrolytes that are needed for the nerves to ensure the heart is beating regularly. A loss of electrolytes through extreme sweating creates a risk of heart arrhythmia, heart attacks, and death. Just three percent dehydration can lead to a 30 percent decrease in overall performance while at the same time putting immense strain on the major organs in the body.
Excessive sweating can lead to chronic dehydration which has a plethora of dangers and risks as discussed above, as well as kidney failure, kidney stones, hypertension, urinary tract failure, intestinal failure, and dementia.
What Happens After Weigh-In?
After a weigh-in, the rehydration process begins when fighters need to replace the electrolytes and water they have lost, as well as build up their strength for the upcoming bout.
UFC fighters will usually rehydrate by drinking an electrolyte-based sports drink, such as Gatorade to replace the lost electrolytes and water. They may also take fluid replacement solutions like Pedialyte that is often given to diarrhea sufferers. Another popular drink that fighters take after weigh-in is coconut water, which is naturally rich in electrolytes and potassium.
Fighters will typically ingest three to five gallons of water and electrolytes in the 36 hours building up to the bout. They will drink this water at regular intervals to rehydrate their bodies and not overload them with too much water. By drinking at regular intervals, it allows the digestive system to continue to function normally, helps the muscles to become supple and the body to return to optimal working order.
Fighters will also change their diet and start eating high-energy foods to replace the nutrients that were lost during the weight cutting and build up strength for the upcoming bout. This is very controlled as binge eating after weigh-in can lead to digestive track issues and make the fighter lethargic before their match.
Their diet will consist of healthy foods that are high in protein and other nutrients to aid muscle recovery, and build strength and stamina such as lean proteins, vegetables, and carbohydrates to keep blood sugar levels up.
To digest and process the food properly before the fight, nutrition experts recommend that fighters eat small meals every 30 minutes until the actual fight.
What are the Rules for Making Weight in the UFC?
UFC rules for weight cutting can vary from state to state in the United States. While the UFC has a set of standard rules in place for cutting weight, each state’s Athletic Commission rules supersede the UFC rules and take precedence over the UFC rules.
For example, in the state of California, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), which regulates all sanctioned professional and amateur boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts, has taken strict measures to prevent drastic weight-cutting by adding another weigh-in on the day of the fight. If the fighter has regained more than 15% of the weight, he/she weighed in with the previous day, the CSAC rule will cancel the fight.
The idea behind the rule is that it will deter fighters from cutting a large amount of water via severe dehydration in order to make weight, only to gain it back for competition a day later. It is not uncommon for MMA fighters to gain anywhere from 8% to 18% of their weight back from the weigh-ins to the fight.from ESPN
For non-title bouts, athletes cannot weigh more than one pound over the limit as set by the UFC or the state’s Athletic Commission body. For title bouts, a fighter cannot weigh in at more than half a pound over the limit set by the UFC or the state’s Athletic Commission body. If the fighter does weigh in over the limit, he/she will face some form of penalty such as forgoing a portion of their purse.
What Happens When a UFC Fighter Doesn’t Make Weight?
When a fighter doesn’t make his or her weight at weigh-in, there are several consequences.
In a non-title bout, a fighter who missed his weight loses a minimum of 20% of their match purse – more if the difference of weight missed is greater. The amount lost is awarded to the opponent for agreeing to the fight. The opponent can also refuse to take part in the bout if the fighter misses a weight.
When the current champion or titleholder does not meet the weight requirements for the fight, two things can happen. The fight can go on if the amount of weight missed isn’t too great, but it will then convert to a non-title bout and there will be no match for a championship belt. The titleholder who missed the weight could also be stripped of his title, however, this situation has never happened in the UFC.
The second thing that may occur is that if the challenger misses their required weight at the weigh-in, the champion can refuse the fight, or the fight may be converted to a non-title fight. If the challenger then wins the fight, the challenger will not be awarded the championship belt and the title-holder will retain his/her title. The challenger will also lose a portion of their match purse to their opponent.
Weight cutting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is a grueling process that many athletes undertake to gain an advantage over their opponents. Fighters go through relentless dehydration and dieting regimes to cut weight so they can fight in a lower weight class, often with detrimental side effects.
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