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The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s war on doping has created a crisis of weight-cutting catastrophes, so prepare yourselves for fighters to campaign against the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s current IV ban.
The logic behind banning UFC fighters from using IVs, on paper, is simple: Take away the IVs and you take away a good amount of doping options from fighters. What you’re also taking away in the process is the fastest way for athletes to recover from illness and dehydration. There's no denying the impact the USADA IV ban has had on UFC fighters missing weight and the damage it has done to the company's matchmaking. Everyone from the UFC to the California State Athletic Commission has made changes to address the new reality, and those changes have horrifically backfired.
Big names, no names and every name in between seemingly fail to make weight for one of the UFC’s weekly cards. It’s unprofessional, inexcusable behavior with significant business consequences. Guilty parties are costing themselves, their camps, their opponents and their opponents’ staff pay days. Is it worth it to tell your opponent to drop dead while you’re almost dropping dead yourself during a grueling weight-cutting process that shouldn’t be happening in the first place?
You don't need Popular Science to write the article on why cutting weight is so dangerous for professional fighters, but I’m glad the public is wising up to how dangerous it is to drain as much fluid out of your body as possible 24 hours before you participate in an ultra-hazardous sport.
Once the USADA ban went into effect, the UFC made the call to go to early weigh-ins the day before the fight. The logic was sound: Make weight, have a ceremonial weigh-in and give fighters more time to recover.
Weigh-ins used to be a big positive to sell PPVs. Fans loved eating the cotton candy of staredowns and Joe Rogan confirming everyone making weight. Now? The weigh-ins are ceremonial and meaningless until you find out your favorite fighter missed weight by several pounds, killed themselves in the process and put the promotion in a nightmarish scenario: Do we or do we not cancel the fight?. Earlier weigh-ins have thus far had the perverse result of significantly more fighters missing weight. Their “nutritionists” botched the diet plan; somebody got sick before a fight; or fighters botch the weight-cutting process so badly that they are suffering strokes and heart attacks. The fighters are their own worst enemies. Who are the adults in the room?
Reacting to the chaos, California’s athletic commission passed new rules and regulations requiring fighters to weigh in the day of a show. Gain more than 10 percent of your body weight after weigh-ins and expect to be pushed up to a new, proper weight class. Additionally, California’s commission pushed the Association of Boxing Commissions trade organization to promote the addition of extra MMA weight classes.
The industry-wide response was a proverbial middle finger. Some fighters are avoiding California. High taxes used to be the easy cover story, but California is the UFC’s de facto testing ground for new rules and regulations. Instead of adopting California’s policies, other states are pushing back hard. From one show to the next, you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Which means everything is now being dumped in the UFC’s lap. How do you fix MMA’s weight-cutting crisis without ditching the IV ban?
First, the UFC needs to be consistent in how it books fighters who miss weight. Either everyone fights or no one fights. Throw out the situational ethics and maintain a one-way policy. UFC 221 on Saturday was the perfect example. Yoel Romero missed weight. Romero was still allowed to fight Luke Rockhold in a fight where the latter was in a situation with zero upside and 100 percent downside. Lose the fight and you lose the title with no guaranteed rematch. What kind of title fight is it when one fighter can’t win the belt? This has to stop. Nothing devalues the marketing of a title belt faster than champions losing to fighters who can’t become champions. Interim titles are even worse.
Second, the UFC must take care of fighters who are professional and hold up their end of the bargain. Pay the full show money. Don’t treat fighters doing their jobs as guilty parties. John Dodson shouldn’t have lost out on his show money just because his opponent was not fit to compete. The UFC must financially punish fighters who miss weight by making those fighters pay for everyone involved in fight preparation. There are two options to enforce such a policy. The first option is to utilize a liquidated damages contractual clause. The second option is to make fighters pay for a surety bond. When promoters screw up, athletic commissions have the option to hit their bond to recover money to pay fighters. The UFC could stipulate a condition where fighters are bonded. Your CPA and tax preparer in California has to be bonded; the same principle should apply to fighters in the UFC.
Third, the UFC should automatically suspend fighters who miss weight. The length of suspension for missing weight should be the same as it would be if you were suspended for doping. Treat punishment for missing weight the same as for doping. If you have to cut so much weight that your body shuts down, you shouldn’t be fighting in the first place. If you are such a procrastinator that you find yourself cutting 20 or more pounds days before a fight, that’s on you, not on the promoter or your opponent. Start suspending fighters for missing weight the same way you suspend for doping offenses and see how fast bad behavior changes.
The easy solution for the UFC to decrease the escalating weight-cutting crisis is to repeal USADA’s IV ban. Expect the chorus to grow louder on this front. Reject those calls by demanding more accountability from the fighters.
Founder of FightOpinion.com and creator of Fight Opinion Radio, Zach Arnold is a longtime professional wrestling and mixed martial arts writer (focusing heavily on the North American and Japanese fight scenes, respectively). Arnold has written articles on numerous websites, including 1wrestling.com, WrestlingObserver.com, BoxingScene.com, and FoxSports.com. He is also the founder of PuroresuPower.com, a Japanese pro-wrestling website started on June 20, 2000.