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Chief Medical Officer On The Dangers Of Extreme Weight-Cutting

It does seem like something of a broken record at this stage, but the controversies that have been surrounding the ugly practice of weight-cutting just seem to be growing in prominence with each passing year.

With the high stakes and brutal consequences that come with a foray into the ring, cage or octagon, gaining even the slightest of advantages can be too tantalising a prospect to pass up on and as a result of that, we have seen fighters literally draining themselves dry in order to compete at the lowest weight possible.

So what is weight-cutting and how exactly do you do it?

Chief Medical Officer for GB Boxing, Dr Mike Loosemore MBE spoke to Betway and outlined exactly what these fighters are doing to themselves every time most of them sign to compete.

“The best way of making weight is to cut down your fat whilst maintaining your lean mass and muscle.

The trouble with starving yourself too hard is that you just lose muscle. Fat is no good to you in a fight. You can usually lose the rest of the weight to make weight through fluid.

“Any rapid weight loss is always going to be fluid loss. If a fighter needs to lose a lot in the last few days before their weigh-in then the only way of doing that is to dehydrate themselves, which is not what we would recommend.

“We would allow a two per cent dehydration – that’s considered safe. We would get people to dry out two per cent of their body weight and then put that back on again once they have made weight.

“But greater percentages than that, we wouldn’t recommend because it’s just dangerous.”

We’ve seen it frequently in the past where you can physically see a difference as they step onto scales in boxing – but in recent times, this has more noticeably become a problem in MMA.

Boxing’s numerous weight-classes and the relatively low gaps in limits between them makes the notion of fighting closer to your natural weight more realistic but when you cross-over to the realm of mixed martial arts, things get considerably different.

With 10lb, 15lb, and even 20lb gaps to be found between some of the sport’s heavier divisions, those who enter the sport with a certain type of frame – be it stocky or lanky – could find themselves between a rock and a hard place when faced with the prospect of moving up in weight. Therefore, these ridiculous cuts continue.

For those who believe that the advantages that come with packing on that extra 15-20lbs in the hours before a fight make the whole process worth it, Dr Loosemore goes on to make it clear that this is not the case.

“You get very dry, lose a lot of electrolytes, put yourself at risk of heart arrhythmia, heart attacks and death, and then when you re-hydrate you disturb your electrolyte balance – that’s the salts that are in your blood that are required for running your heart nice and smoothly.

“Often when you put the weight back on the fluid doesn’t distribute itself normally within the body to start with, and it can go in the wrong places.

“It means you are almost certainly going to under-perform, so then you’ve got the danger of being hit hard and losing the fight.

“So while it may sound attractive to lose 20 pounds before a fight and put it back on again, it just doesn’t make any sense from a safety or performance point of view.

“For none of those reasons would you want to lose 20 pounds before a fight. If you’re doing it you have to be desperate to make the weight and you haven’t planned your weight-making properly.

“You lose a lot of that size advantage because of the weight-making that you have to do. have to be desperate to make the weight and you haven’t planned your weight-making properly.

“You lose a lot of that size advantage because of the weight-making that you have to do.”

One of the more high-profile instances of a botched weight-cut in recent times was, of course, the UFC Liverpool headliner, Darren Till, and his rather ugly attempt to shrink down to the 170lb limit just hours before stepping into the octagon to face Stephen Thompson.

With word coming out from his camp that he even went temporarily blind due to dehydration, the eyes of the combat sporting world will be fixated on his upcoming showdown with divisional champion Tyron Woodley and the battle the Liverpudlian will face outside of the octagon in that fight’s lead.

Fighters will be fighters but according to Dr Loosemore, a responsibility should fall on those closest to them and those who coach them to steer them in the direction that is the best one for their health.

“I think it’s the responsibility of the whole team to make sure the weight cut has been done sensibly and the onus usually falls on the coach, not the medical team.

“It’s the coaches and nutritionists that guide the weight cut, certainly not the medics. Weight cutting is unpleasant and tedious but you are much healthier at the end of the day if you can go into a fight eating a full meal and eating what you like than you are not drinking at all and sucking on ice cubes three days out and eating half a jelly bean once a day.

“If you think that’s a good way of preparing for a major fight then you’re just crackers.”

Certain measures can, of course, be taken to limit the amount of weight a certain fighter can legally cut in the leadup to their matchup without being punished but even though boxing has taken the right approach to a degree, there will always be those who look to exploit the current system.

For a more in-depth insight into the dangers of extreme weight-cutting, the potentially life-threatening consequences are delved into further on the full Betway blog.

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Author: Cillian Cunningham

Lead mixed martial arts writer who can be contacted at cillian@punditarena.com.