This is a guest post by KJ Gould.
Whenever a professional sport implements rule changes for the benefit of either paying audiences, commercial masters or the health and well being of its competitors, after the ubiquitous backlash of naysayers and worse case scenario 'what if?' ponderings, athletes eventually find a way to adjust and make it work. When their careers are concerned, they can't afford not to. In the case of Mixed Martial arts we've seen the adjustment made countless times when in the sport's short history we've gone from no time limits, no weight classes, and almost no rules to what we have today. We've also seen fighters adjust their performance to how fights are typically judged and officiated and based on how their promotional contracts are structured (for better or worse).
So it stands to reason any change in the current way fighters make weight for a fight will see a similar adjustment, such as competing in a weight class appropriate for their physical proportions where both fighters are still a similar weight when the first round of combat starts. Since weight classes exist in the first place under the claim of safety for the individual from their opponent, a similar policy of safety for the individual from themselves should be implemented as long as weight classes are a requisite for the legality and regulation of MMA.
Multiple weigh-ins seems an easy enough solution to implement if promoters and commissions are at all serious about the health and well being of these fighters. What has to be unanimously decided first though – likely by a committee hearing of doctors that work with the commissions and the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) that MMA falls under – is a percentage of bodyweight deemed 'safe' for a competitor to temporarily lose before competition. And when I say 'safe', I simply mean the maximum percentage that isn't deemed 'dangerous'.
For the sake of argument and of simplicity, let's say it is 10%. It might be deemed more or it might be deemed less, but that's not really important right now for my proposed process. A fixed percentage means the lower the weight class, the less weight can be safely cut in order for a fighter to be cleared to compete. For example, the Flyweight limit of 125lbs would require a fighter to cut no more than 12.5lbs to 'make weight' for the fight. The Heavyweight limit of 265lbs would require a fighter to cut no more than 26.5lbs to make weight for a fight too.
OK then, but how can we be sure too much weight still isn't being cut in one go? One idea is, and why 10% is a convenient figure, is to have multiple weigh-ins up until the final weigh-in the night before the fight. The one before the fight is still the only one with all the bells and whistles for the benefit of media and fans alike; the previous ones need only be a backstage affair. All fighters are obviously in the event area the day before a fight to weigh-in, most are in the area two days before for the press conference and media obligations, and again most fighters are in the area several days before in order to finish up camp and adjust and acclimatize to differences in environment, time zones et cetera.
It's fair to assume then that most fighters are in the area as much as 5 days out from the weigh-in, so let's have the first weigh on this minus-fifth day. If we're sticking to the 10% figure, on the minus-fifth day a fighter has to weigh no more than 10% over the weight limit. It's up to the fighter and their team to weigh-in at the same time on the minus-fifth day as they would on the weigh-in day. So a Flyweight can weigh no more than 137.5lbs on this day, otherwise they're not cleared to fight. Similarly a Heavyweight can weigh no more than 291.5lbs on this day.
Now let's have another weigh-in, 2 days before the final weigh-in the night before the fight. Using 10% as a base still, fighters can weigh no more than 4% over the weight limit on this weigh-in. So a Flyweight can weigh no more than 130lbs on this day, otherwise they're not cleared to fight. Similarly a Heavyweight can weigh no more than 275.6lbs on this day.
Again, it's doable with all fighters in the area of the event venue where weight scales can be easily kept. It can be as necessary as doctors deem it as part of the fighters' physicals before competition. And when the paired off fighters make the weight on the final night before the event, they should still be similar in weights when they do finally fight, despite both coming in heavier than the official limit made the night before.
And as I mentioned right at the beginning of this article which I will reiterate here, these athletes can make the adjustment if they're serious about having a career in the sport where they can reach the pinnacle that is a UFC title fight and potentially earn a lot of money along the way. The dangers of fighters not being able to make weight using this process is short term and is offset by healthier fighters and more physically even matched fights in the long run. Promoters and commissions just need to be brave enough to see something like this through and know that the adjustment will happen.