By Tomer Chen | January 20, 2007
By: Tomer Chen
Weight, in many combat sports throughout history, was a secondary consideration. Most combat sports began with the very basics, forming a very fundamental set of rules (such as Broughton’s rules in Boxing, which eventually became the London prize ring rules and was the foundation of the Bare-knuckle era from the 1700s to the late 1800s). Fighters in the sports basically fought one another in open weight competition for years, so seeing a Welterweight face a Heavyweight was not that uncommon years ago. Even in the early UFCs (and other MMA events) you could see significant weight differentials between two parties (such as Royce Gracie vs. Kimo), which was allowed primarily because there was no athletic commission to refuse the bouts. Of course, as the combat sports evolved over the years and sought to become recognized and (more) accepted in the mainstream press, the desire to try and protect the fighters as best as possible through setting up reasonable weight ranges that the fighters would have to fall under as of weigh-in time in order to have the contest proceed.
In the early days of Boxing under the Marquis of Queensbury rules, there were 8 generally recognized weight classes (Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, Welterweight, Lightweight, Featherweight, Bantamweight & Flyweight) formed in order to allow for reasonable competition between the fighters. The lower weight classes tended to have smaller weight ranges than the higher as many believe that a pound will change the balance of fight when there is less bulk on the individual than when they carry more weight. However, even with the delineation of fighters of varying weight, there were a number of fighters who would offer enter the fights even below the minimum weight for the class (such as Bob Fitzsimmons, who fought for the Heavyweight championship as a Middleweight; as a side note, he did win the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight championships in his Hall of Fame career as well). Over the years, however, there has been a massive expansion of weight classes from the classic 8 to 17 as of today. The truncation of the weight classes has led to massive debate on whether Boxing has watered down the classes too much or they are simply protecting the fighter’s interests by making the weight gap in a class much smaller than years past.
Critics of the expansion of weight classes typically argue that the original 8 weight classes both made the listing of champions less extensive and also increased the talent pool available in each weight’s range. The first argument is obvious given that not only are there twice as many weight classes you have to list off nowadays (with many fighters in a number of these relatively new weight classes simply receiving blank stares from many casual fans of the sport). There aren’t simply 17 universal champions, but a few universally recognized champions (although they may have been stripped of their belts from the sanctioning bodies) and a group of belt holders who pay sanctioning fees to gain recognition from a body. Just looking at the four major bodies (IBF, WBA, WBC & WBO), that leads to 68 potential champions (not counting Interim champions, which seem to increase by the day) in today’s world of Boxing. The second point of contention is the fact that by expanding the number of weight classes, you potentially drain most weight classes of serious talent and competition. Logically, there should be more fighters in an original Flyweight weight class range than in the current Flyweight weight class as the weight gap has decreased and what was once the Flyweight weight limit now is Minimumweight, Junior Flyweight & Flyweight. In addition, doubling the number of weight classes gives the opportunity for a fighter to claim a number of ‘lesser’ weight class belts and call himself a multiple time division champion even if he didn’t even try to partial unify the claim in those classes. Whereas Henry Armstrong was the universally recognized champion in 3 weight classes (Featherweight, Lightweight & Welterweight), Arturo Gatti was merely a titlist in 2 weight classes (Junior Lightweight & Junior Welterweight), not even close to being call ‘the man’ at either weight class. Some also argue that very good to great fighters that have appeared during the expansion of weight classes such as Minimumweight champion Ricardo Lopez would not have maintained as good a record (and reputation/legacy) as they did if the weight classes were consolidated and they had to the face the top guys in the higher weight classes that were formed by the schism (such as Michael Carbajal & Humberto Gonzalez in Lopezs’ case).
Defenders of the increase in weight classes argue, however, that the expansion in classes has reduced the potential damage dealt from a fighter who is significantly larger in weight since the cap and floor of the classes become closer and so the damage dealt will be comparable to the fighter himself rather than being from a man nearly 10 pounds heavier than him (more if the fighter bloats up overnight with the day before weigh-in rule). In addition, some people believe that by having more weight classes, there may be some level of encouragement for fighters to stick with one or two weight classes and fight safely rather than cut massive amounts of weight to become bigger fighters at a lower weight class (or blow up in weight to reach a bigger weight class). Of course, given the goal of innumerable fighters, past and present, to win as many divisional titles as possible, it is unlikely that this point is truly that reasonable. After all, men like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya today keep on trying to break the records set by the legends before them (such as ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Pernell Whitaker) of the amount of weight class belts earned. However, in the process of trying to become 5 division, 6 division, etc. champions, the significance of each division win may become clouded as (i) the amount of weight classes to win a belt in increases, thus lowering the actual dominance in all weight classes (IE: 5/17 weight classes is only 29.4% of the total class structure today whereas 3/8 was 37.5%) and (ii) many of these multi-division champions do not necessarily establish themselves as ‘the man’ in each of those weight classes, but just a titlist before hopping up in weight. While Oscar De La Hoya is regarded as an impressive 6 division champion, for example, he was only regarded as ‘the man’ in 3 divisions (Junior Welterweight, Welterweight & Junior Middleweight) by most people who studied the lineal (original lineage) title claimants. While being the true champion in 3 weight classes is certainly impressive, it shows that just because a fighter wins a title or two in a few weight classes that he has achieved the same thing as Bob Fitzsimmons, Henry Armstrong, ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and so forth and should be spoken in the same breath as them.
A shoot off of the weight class argument is the argument on whether same day or day before weigh ins should be implemented. Same day weigh ins, as legend goes, resulted from Eddie Mustafa Muhammad-Michael Spinks where Spinks refused to face Muhammad who was above the weight class limit. The fact that it was a big money fight and the promoters, sanctioning bodies and athletic commissions wanted it to continue apparently encouraged them to change the weigh in date so that there could be time to make sure the fighter was able to reach the weight limit. There are two big arguments generally presented: (i) the risk that a fighter will enter a fight severally drained if a weigh in is done on the same day and (ii) the opportunity for a fighter to get down in weight and then blow up in weight an unbelievable amount during the day following the weigh in, which could lead to a serious risk of injury (and possibly death) for the opponent.
The first point can be examined by looking at the tragic story of Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini and Duk Koo Kim. Kim, who had serious trouble getting to the proper weight for the fight, weighed in and look like he was in bad shape and should not have been allowed that night. The fight went on, however, and Kim, while competitive early, took a horrendous beating towards the end of the fight before being stopped in the fourteenth round. Shortly afterwards, Kim fell into a coma and died from the beating he took. Many physicians and fight officials argued that two factors were at play: (i) his dehydrated state and (ii) the fight had a 15 round distance (which was argued based on a study taken that apparently showed that a majority of the serious injuries and deaths in Boxing happened in the championship rounds). As a result, the 15 round distance was essentially banned from Boxing, with a 12 round limit as the new maximum. There is heavy argumentation (some of it legitimate), however, that the primary motivation for the round limit cut by the sanctioning bodies was to allow more time for commercials since 15 rounds is 45 minutes plus 14 one minute rest periods (or 59 minutes total), whereas 12 rounds is 36 minutes plus 11 one minute rest periods (or 47 minutes total). As such, there is about 24 minutes of commercial time in a 12 rounder versus 15 minutes for a 15 rounder. In addition, there was concern at the apparent life threatening practices a fighter was willing to go for in order to cut weight and be in a class that he felt he could properly fight at (since the vast majority of fighters cut weight to lower classes, so if one stays at their natural class they would risk facing huge monsters and risk both injury and a good amount of “L”s on their record). The death essentially confirmed, in the mind of many, that giving a fighter the chance to properly rehydrate (to an extent) would minimize the damage that could be dealt to them as much as possible. Opponents of day before weigh ins argue, however, that the dehydration problems would not occur if (i) the fighters had proper weight cutting practices and (ii) picked a weight class they could reasonably cut down to rather than try to get to as low a weight class as possible. Of course, on the other hand, if two fighters do make the limit on the same day and one still bloats up a good deal, there are serious risks involved.
One of the most famous examples in recent years of two fighters who weighed in the day before a fight and ended up being extremely dangerous would be Arturo Gatti-Joey Gamache. Gatti, who was facing Gamache in a non-title Junior Welterweight contest, weighed in at 140.5 lbs, but apparently entered the ring at about 160 lbs (Middleweight class weight limit), going up 3 weight classes in one day. Gamache, smaller than Gatti by a significant amount, was brutally KOd in 2 rounds, went into a coma and his career ended. After the fight, an investigation started regarding how Gatti was allowed to jump up so many weight classes, essentially making the bout a ‘catch weight’ bout by being a Middleweight against probably a small Welterweight. Many contend that a fight is a contest between two fighters who are supposed to be fighting in the ring right around (if not exactly at) the contracted weight class and that the weigh in itself is merely the formal process of ensuring that they have gone down (or up) to the right weight range. If a fighter can somehow weigh in at Junior Welterweight and suddenly bulk up to Middleweight, how can anyone say that the contest is scheduled for the Junior Welterweight class, after all?
A discussion about weight classes can’t be complete without discussing the Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo II & III weigh ins (and even the Diego Corrales-Joel Casamayor III weigh in). In the second fight, Castillo walked onto the scales and even with assistance from one of his camp doctors (who lifted the scale with his foot until he was caught and banned from the weigh in), he was over the weight limit. Corrales did not have his Lightweight title on the line as a result, but he decided to fight a catch weight bout with Castillo nonetheless and was KOd in round four. After his loss, there was a terrible outcry and Castillo’s ’sneaky’ tactic of failing to make weight (some argued intentionally) in order to face a more dehydrated Corrales. However, Castillo’s camp pointed out that Corrales himself entered the round at around 151 lbs (Junior Middleweight), so he did not exactly go into the ring terribly smaller than Castillo. Others, however, state that Castillo shirked cutting the weight while Corrales did so he was feeling the effects even if he bloated back up. Nonetheless, in what was supposed to be the rubber match, Castillo failed to make weight again, Corrales refused to face him again and he was suspended for the rest of 2006. And while Corrales claimed that he was a ‘real’ champion for making weight both times, he would ironically be unable to make weight for his rubber match with Joel Casamayor, losing a decision in a bout where the belt was only on the line for Casamayor. The moral of this saga? Even those who purport that they are victims of heavy cutters may be heavily cutting themselves. The fight game (Boxing, MMA, K-1, etc.) is just one big cutting game for many, who want to win as many belts as possible before the comparable size of their opponents is either the same or too big for them to continue winning.
What can be done to try and be as equitable as possible when it comes to ensuring that the weigh in is done smoothly? Not too much, really. Sure, you can make the weigh ins the same day or have a second weigh in the same day right before walking to ringside and that a fighter can’t weigh more than a certain percentage or amount of pounds over the weight class limit entering the ring. You can also have weigh ins during training camps. However, all of this solutions offered have flaws in their own ways. For example, a weigh in before walking to ringside would create a problem in that fight fans may be told a fight is not continuing long after they have been sitting at the card and therefore will have serious trouble getting refunds for their tickets. Another issue is determining what a reasonable weigh in schedule is for multi-part weigh ins leading to a fight (a practice which is currently being tested in New Jersey). While New Jersey feels being 10% above the contract weight limit at 30 days and 5% at 7 days may allow for a safe cut down, not ever fighter’s body may be able to handle the shift in weight cutting. This may lead to fighters deciding to stick to more natural weight classes or get a better dietary plan, but it is more likely that the fighter may place themselves into serious trouble to cutting their weight at the last minute, several times. There really is no solution that will keep both the fighters and the commissions/promoters/fans happy, in the end. After all, the fighters want to get the most wins and money possible and strictly limiting weight cutting may cause the fighters to take crazier risks than normal rather than curb their (usually) unhealthy weight cutting practices.