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By Zach Arnold | March 20, 2017
Sandwiched in-between wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, ESPN decided to air a video package on Cris Cyborg and her brutal adventures in weight-cutting. It was built upon this video feature Cyborg put online several months ago about her torturous experience of dehydrating herself to the point where blood could not be drawn from her arm:
The video package itself was not entirely new but it was updated by ESPN to contain some interesting responses to its initial airing.
ESPN aired Cyborg’s claim that UFC refused to give her a fight at 145 pounds and that allegedly UFC made a u-turn on 145 pound fights when they found out about the Outside the Lines segment. Whether that is factually accurate or an issue of false light, I cannot say one way or the other. The segment claims that Cyborg rejected the offer of a 145 pound title fight and aired her various comments talking about how insulted she was that someone 0-2 was going to get a UFC 145 pound title shot. This drew an analogous response from Dana White saying that players for the New England Patriots don’t get to pick and choose when they participate in a title game.
Added to the context to the weight cutting issue was Cyborg’s recent USADA back-and-forth over a diuretic and whether she had properly gotten doctor’s permission to use it.
Andy Foster planted his flag in the ground to try to stop bad weight cuts
California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster has made it a mission to try to put a stop to the kind of massive weight cuts in boxing and MMA that have damaged kidney & organ function of fighters who knew better but decided to take the risk no matter what the price was to pay for such destructive, masochistic behavior.
California pushed the idea of early weigh-ins. Instead of making weight at the last minute, weigh-ins are taking place at 10 AM the day before a show and the traditional weigh-in events with fans are ceremonial in nature. The idea, which is entirely logical and reasonable on its face, was to give fighters more time to hydrate so that they wouldn’t be in such bad shape come fight time. Plus, if a fighter fails to make weight at 10 AM, there is always the opportunity for a promoter to negotiate a last minute replacement to save a fight card.
What appeared to be solid policy has backfired in a disastrous manner. More fighters are missing weight. More fighters are turning down last-minute opponents. Promoters are pissed. Fighters are extra pissed, not only at opponents for missing weight but for how much promoters are allegedly paying them (or not) in terms of show money. See: Tony Ferguson.
The carrot didn’t work, so bring out the stick
That’s the best way to summarize the newest policy evolution by Andy Foster and the state of California regarding punishment of fighters who miss weight.
Remember the days of “shower bonuses” under Lorenzo Fertitta? California is now pushing for a new policy on their bout contracts to require, I suspect under penalty of perjury, disclosure regarding potential win bonuses. If a fighter misses weight, they already lose 20% of their purse but they can still fight the next day and win both base money and bonus money. The new California policy would attack not only the base money but would also take a percentage of the win bonus.
I believe this will actually create an adverse impact and make the weight cutting situation even worse in California-regulated combat sports.
First, I expect managers, promoters, and fighters to try to hide any oral or written contractual bonus clauses and dare the Athletic Commission to administratively hound them with the Attorney General’s office for punishment. If the penalty for perjury isn’t criminal in nature, why are people in the fight business going to care?
Second, I would expect bonus agreements to go off the books. It’s hard enough to pry financial information honestly out of event participants. If this becomes too much of a headache for UFC, what’s to stop UFC from blowing their whistle and proclaiming win bonuses to be part of their contractual trade secrets that should be legally sealed?
Third, there isn’t enough money to be made for the majority of fighters to change their behavior by fining them. You can’t half-ass the punishment here. If you’re going to drop the hammer, drop the hammer and start suspending fighters the way you suspend fighters for doping. The threat of fining fighters for weight cutting will likely turn out to be mostly for show. Fighters want to fight. Take away their ability to fight the same way you get an athlete’s attention by telling them to sit down.
There is no easy answer on addressing the incredible dilemma of weight cutting. Changing weight classes in increments of 10 pounds per division is really where everything is heading. Until the fans and promoters agree to acquiesce to those changes, everyone is spinning their wheels and more fighters are going to end up in the hospital due to kidney failure.