In the days before stepping into the cage or ring, some fighters are waging war on their own bodies, cutting large amounts of water weight to qualify for the lowest weight class possible, then massively rehydrating for a size advantage.While the method mocks the weight class system, it’s also alarming some doctors and athletic commissions.Professional MMA fighter Danny Davis Junior said he does it to be competitive. On an average day, the Las Vegas mixed martial artist weighs between 190 and 195 pounds. That makes him a light heavyweight, but he fights at welterweight, two classes lower, at 170 pounds. To reach 170 pounds, Davis must cut 20 to 25 pounds. He loses most of it within 24 hours of weighing in for a fight. He allowed News 3 to film the process before
his fight September 18, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona for the World Series of Fighting.For Davis, it’s two rounds of running in a sauna suit, soaking in water above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, then the process Davis called “the mummy.” Wearing a sauna suit, under a track suit, Davis wraps himself in an electric blanket and adds several more blankets on top.“As long as I keep sweating, then I know I’m good,” said Davis.The second round: the worst.Davis was so weak at times, he’d crawl instead of walk.“It sucks,” said Davis, “and it does suck to know that I’d have to do this again for my next fight.”Within one day, Davis cut 17 pounds. That’s not unheard of in MMA, but the amount varies between fighters. UFC middleweight Brad Tavares said he’s cut 17 pounds within 24 hours of weighing in.“I don’t ever want to do that again,” said Tavares. Tavares said he currently cuts between 10 and 12 pounds within a day of weighing in for a fight. In that timeframe, UFC women’s
strawweight Heather Jo Clark said she cuts between 8 and 10 pounds and RFA lightweight Zach Juusola said he cuts between seven and 10 pounds. UFC lightweight Kevin Lee said he cuts about 15 pounds and only needs seven to eight hours to do it.“It’s the hardest part of the fight,” said Lee. “It’s to keep the competitive edge,” said Tavares. “Everyone else is doing it.”“I think everyone has kind of turned a blind eye to it,” said Dr. Margaret Goodman, a neurologist and the former chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission’s Medical Advisory Board.“They’re predisposing themselves to renal failure,” said Goodman. “They’re also predisposing themselves to liver disease.”“In the more severe cases, they don’t make it to the weigh-in,” said Andy Foster, Executive Officer of California’s Athletic Commission. “They’re absent from the weigh-in, because they’re at the hospital.”That’s what happened to UFC welterweight Johnny Hendricks in October 2015. Because of his weight cut, he reportedly suffered a kidney stone and intestinal blockage.At an amateur event July 18, 2015, the Arkansas Athletic Commission said six fighters went to the hospital. Four were dehydrated, and dehydration was suspected in the other two. In September 2013, Brazilian MMA fighter Leandro Souza died. He reportedly tried cutting 33 pounds in one week.“In the earlier parts of my career, when I didn’t know how to cut the weight properly, yes, I felt like I was going to die,” said Davis. “I would need my coach to support my body weight, carrying me. It was awful.” Davis said he now has his weight cut down to a science, even using modern medicine, an IV, to rehydrate after he’s weighed in.“You feel brought back to life,” said Davis.Davis’ IV is administered by a medical professional — not always the case for other fighters, Davis said.“You have guys that just look online, how to put a needle in,” said Davis.The IV jumpstarts the rehydration process and recently received media attention when SB Nation reported boxer Floyd Mayweather Junior used one after weighing in for the Manny Pacquiao fight, and the UFC implemented an IV ban in October 2015.“Not necessarily for the rehydration issue,” said Jeff Novitzky, UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance. “IVs were historically used by some athletes to defeat drug testing, in that they can be taken and drugs flushed from the system.”“If you are really ill, and you need an IV to regain that weight in 24 hours, you shouldn’t be fighting in the first place,” said Dr. Goodman. “If you need an IV to rehydrate, you might be in the wrong weight class,” said Foster. “The danger doesn’t come in the rehydration issue,” said Novitzky. “The danger comes in how much weight is being lost.”The more weight lost, the more seems to be gained between weigh in and fight.“I usually put on anywhere from 15 to 20 pounds,” said Tavares.Juusola said he gains between 12 and 15 pounds, Clark about 10 pounds and Lee about 20 pounds.This weight gain results in a fighter entering the cage, one sometimes two weight classes above their contracted weight. The weight gain is happening in boxing too.HBO reported Gennady Golovkin gained 10.5 pounds and his opponent, David Lemieux, gained 15.25 pounds between weigh in and fight for their October 17, 2015 fight.HBO reported Terence Crawford gained 16 pounds and his opponent, Dierry Jean, 15 pounds, between weigh in and fight for their October 24, 2015 bout. The television network also said Brandon Rios gained 23 pounds between weigh in and fight for his November 7, 2015 bout against Timothy Bradley at the Thomas and Mack Center here in Las Vegas.The massive weight gain is absurd to veteran boxing analyst James “Smitty” Smith.“Nobody seems to enter the ring at the weight they’re supposed to be fighting for,” said Smith. “World championships, weight divisions, it’s totally been devalued.”It’s no big deal to former light heavyweight champion, Eddie Moustafa Muhammad who struggled to make weight, when weigh-ins were the same day.“If you can make the weight, then it is what it is,” said Moustafa Muhammad.Davis said he’s accepted the massive weight cutting and rehydration within MMA “because it is how it is.”“I wish it wasn’t, because I feel like if I can go into the fight, not even thinking about my weight cut, just fighting at my natural weight, I feel like I can be more explosive,” said Davis. “I feel like I have more endurance.”After cutting 17 pounds in one day, Davis would gain 18 pounds before his fight.He would lose the match, well aware that the battles his body endures before even stepping into the cage, affect every one of his performances. Davis would like more weight classes in MMA.Some propose a limit of how much weight a fighter can gain between weigh in and fight, while others suggest returning to same-day weigh-ins.Until the mid-80s, fighters weighed in the day of the fight, but the Nevada Athletic Commission found those fighters to be too dehydrated even then. Goodman said being dehydrated while fighting increases the risk of head injuries, because there is less fluid surrounding and protecting the brain.So Nevada’s commission changed weigh-ins to the day before to allow fighters more time to rehydrate, and commissions across the country followed suit. The Nevada Athletic Commission said right now it is studying how weight cutting and rehydration is currently happening but declined an interview until the study is complete. The California Athletic Commission said it’s implementing changes in its amateur program.Beginning January, Foster said amateur fighters must meet with a commission doctor who will examine the fighter in a hydrated state and set a minimum weight class the fighter can compete in. The idea is to prevent that fighter from fighting at an unhealthy weight class.Foster said that on December 17, 2015, the California Athletic Commission is holding a summit to discuss the weight cutting issue, and that promoters and regulators from around the country are expected to attend.“I consider this an urgent matter,” said Foster. “We’re moving as rapidly as possible.”In August 2015, the Arkansas Athletic Commission implemented an emergency rule that no amateur fighter could gain more than 7.5 percent of his or her weigh-in body weight between weigh in and fight. However, the commission is now made up of all-new members who are not enforcing that rule and will let it expire, according to a representative of the Arkansas Athletic Commission.