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Throughout its short history, mixed martial arts (MMA) have seen many changes that have had an impact on its incredible rise over the last two decades. From rules regulations, getting legalized in all states and signing multi-million television deals, MMA was always able to overcome all the issues.
However, a problem with fighters constantly missing the scale, pulling out of the fights or ending up in the hospital beds after the brutal weight cut has been around since the introduction of weight divisions in 2000. Many people, including the UFC color commentator Joe Rogan think that simply adding more weight classes to fulfill the 15-pounds gaps will completely solve the problems.
It seems like people advocating adding more weight divisions are looking at this issue from the different perspectives. It’s completely absurd to even think that the major MMA organization, the UFC wouldn’t implement more weight classes if that will help beat the competition, grow business and create additional revenue!
The reality is, UFC was always trying to stay away from adding more weight classes. There are plenty of reasons for this, and we’ve decided to bring you closer to some of the potential problems that adding more weight classes in MMA may cause. But first, let’s look at the current weight classes and the proposed weight classes.
Current MMA Men’s Weight Classes
|Light Heavyweight||205lbs (93kg)|
|Heavyweight||205 – 265lbs (120.2kg)|
*Proposed New MMA Weight Classes
|Super Flyweight||115 lb (52.2 kg)|
|Bantamweight||125 lb (56.7 kg)|
|Super 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||175 lb (79.4 kg)|
|Super Welterweight||185 lb (83.9 kg)|
|Middleweight||195 lb (88.5 kg)|
|Super Middleweight||205 lb (93.0 kg)|
|Light Heavyweight||225 lb (102.1 kg)|
|Heavyweight||265 lb (120.2 kg)|
|Super Heavyweight||No upper weight limit|
Extreme Weight Cutting Will Continue
Many fighters cut a lot of weight to compete against smaller opponents. Losing a lot of weight and joining a lower weight class allows any fighter to enjoy considerable physical advantages and with that, maximize the chances of victory.
Some of them are able to cut more than the others and the size they carry inside the lower division is astonishing! For example, just look at top Britain’s prospect Daren Till and the size he’s bringing in the Welterweight division (170lbs). (photo of him and Tyron Woodley is a great comparison.). If cutting weight wasn’t a thing he would be competing as a Light Heavyweight (205lbs)!
Let’s suppose there is a hypothetical(as shown above) 165lbs division with two different fighters facing each other in a bout. A fighter in the blue corner who cuts from 185lbs to 170lbs will now cut just 5 extra pounds and receive even more benefits.
On the other hand, a fighter in the red corner who cuts from 170lbs to 155lbs will torture himself less to make 165lbs division but would have to fight under tremendous physical disadvantages by facing a much bigger opponent who can easily cut more weight to fight smaller opponents!
Basically, more weight classes will solve one problem and on the other side create even bigger! To put everything simpler, it’s very possible that big welterweight fighters such as Daren Till or others would be willing to lose those 5 extra pounds and enjoy a massive advantage over lighter fighter coming up to fight at 165lbs division to cut less weight.
Without a doubt, adding new weight classes might save many fighters from going through brutal weight cuts, but will definitely not help smaller fighters facing a bigger man inside the Octagon. As you can see, the problem is not in the gaps between the divisions, but in the fighters themselves who look for a physical advantage. As the former UFC Champion Frankie Edgar once perfectly described:
I think people are always going to look for a way to get an advantage and cutting weight is going to be really tough to get people to stop doing that. – Frankie Edgar (source)
The Divisions Will Become Weaker
With more weight classes, many average fighters who don’t have the championship level set of skills would capitalize on this by switching to the next lower or higher weight class, and probably enjoy more success.
As a result, the rosters of new divisions will be less skilled and less competitive. The imbalance between the new and current divisions will negatively affect the overall depth of talent and we will see fighters constantly switching between the divisions.
Moreover, this will create the opening for many fighters to make a move towards new lower weight divisions and avoid facing the current, dominant titleholder.
For example, Alexander Gustaffson failed to capture the Light Heavyweight (205lbs) title on three occasions. With the talent and skills that he has, Gustaffson will absolutely dominate the new 195lbs weight class and crown himself as a champion without facing his bitter rivals in Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Would his championship status be considered the same as Jon Jones? We don’t think so.
This principle can often be seen in Boxing. Because boxing has tons of divisions, the promoters always have a hard time setting up an interesting fight for the fans. Basically, too many talented fighters are spread among too many weight divisions which allow them to avoid each other on their way to the top.
As a result, we constantly see top-level fighters smashing the unknown opponents and by doing so, diminish the public interest for the sport.
“We’ve always kept things simple. One of the things about boxing is you used to have junior middleweight, super-middleweight, and all these different weights, and it was hard to follow. You didn’t really know who was the champion, and this is pretty simple and easy to follow. We have enough weight classes.” – UFC President Dana White (source)
More Multiple Titleholders – More Problems
Adding more weight classes will mark the birth of triple or quadruple titleholders since the differences in weight between the next up or next down in weight division will be much lower.
The reality is, multiple titleholders are not able to defend all of their titles separately and this will prevent many talented upcoming fighters from receiving a media spotlight and opportunity to claim the golden belt.
Fortunately, we have already seen the UFC taking on this concept and its ineffectiveness in practice. If we look at the first-ever UFC “Champ-Champ” Conor McGregor and his days as a Featherweight and Lightweight champion, we can clearly see the potential problem emerging.
The Irishman never defended his titles and as a result, many talented fighters in both divisions got prevented from moving forward and pursuing the ultimate goal.
By shifting our focus to boxing, we can see how confusing and bad things could get. Manny Pacquiao is an eight-division boxing World champion which is equivalent to holding the titles in all male’s UFC divisions! So, the math is simple: If a champion defends his title once a year, Pacquiao will have to fight eight times!
We can fairly say that additional weight classes and multiple titleholders would develop into the centralized concept which can lead up to the suppression of the divisions and fewer title fights!
More MMA Divisions Will Lead to Saturation
Since its foundation, UFC has been concentrated on quality rather than quantity. As a result, UFC always had the necessary time to promote the events the right way, built an enormous hype and interest around the fights and make the overall experience unique.
Adding new weight divisions naturally requires more events. Like in the concept of multiple titleholders, the UFC partnership with the biggest Television sports network EPSN gives us an early look at the potential problems in the future.
Immediately upon the agreement, UFC and ESPN have decided to increase the number of fights and events. As a result, we’ve events almost every Saturday and MMA community is already lamenting having a hard time keeping up with the sport! In pure economic terms, this will ultimately lead to an economic surplus in which the supply of the UFC events is much higher than the public demands.
Everyone Loses In The End
In addition to the saturation problem, new weight classes will certainly affect the consistency of high-quality events! What’s more, while the quality of the show would take a dive, the financial expenses would remain the same if not bigger. UFC already uses a large amount of every possible resource to keep the quality of production at the highest levels.
However, more weight divisions will force the promotion to go beyond its business limits and switch its costs to produce far more events. At some point, it will become impossible to maintain the same quality as the revenues will start declining.
Let’s suppose UFC adds more weight classes to bridge the gaps between the current divisions. This leads to more fighters and more money to cover all the costs.
Straight away, they will need to re-budget their finances and cut the costs on all companies’ levels to cover the costs of these changes. This typically means reducing the fighter salaries, promotional expenses, broadcasting costs, and many others.
The grass is not always greener just because there are more weight classes. Advocating for more weight classes is an obvious and reasonable suggestion but as it might sound as good, it will actually lead to much bigger problems.
No matter what UFC and the commissions do, fighters will always find a way to benefit from the existence of the divisions. The only reasonable solution which will force every fighter to compete closest to their natural weight is to change the weighing system.
The Asian “ONE FC” promotion was the first one to introduce the concept of “walking-weight” competition which prevents the fighters from weight cutting. However, they’re still in the process of learning and discovering its benefits.
Overall, pushing towards new weight classes at this stage of our sport could end up in a disaster as additional weight divisions will not solve any of the current issues in MMA. At the end of the day, weight cutting is a fighter’s choice!