Weight Class Standards, Weight Cutting a Step in the Right Direction for Japanese MMA

Michihiro Omigawa controls L.C. Davis in a featherweight tilt at Sengoku VII back in March, 2009. Omigawa is one of the few Japanese fighters to find success in weight cutting. Photo by Daniel Herbertson, Sherdog.com

Weight cutting has long been synonymous with combative sports as a way in which competitors could squeeze out extra pounds before a match in order to make a required weight limit. In North America, it has been popularized by collegiate and high school wrestling, but it's also used heavily in the equestrian sports. While jockeys cut weight in order to make a specific weight limit, their goal is to weigh as light as possible during a competition. In combative sports, however, the goal is to gain a competitive advantage from cutting weight.

It can also act as a great equalizer for smaller fighters who have the skill and talent to compete at higher weight classes, but have a hard time dealing with their opponents' physical traits and their own shortcomings in height, reach, and size. Japanese fighters have evaded this line of thinking for almost an entire era, and they have only recently began to progress in the knowledge of how weight cutting can be beneficial to their success in the ring.

DREAM.15 featured one such change in reasoning as Mitsuhiro Ishida moved from lightweight to featherweight to battle Daiki "DJ" Hata in one of the earlier fights of the evening. As a lightweight, Ishida always had a major disadvantage in terms of reach and size, but his relentless wrestling style overcame those physical obstacles and put him on the winning side more times than not. At one point, he was considered one of the best lightweights in the world, but he's fallen on harder times in recent bouts. An absolute drubbing at the hands of Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez in his last fight probably hastened the thought that he should cut weight, and as we saw on Saturday morning -- Ishida's debut was a success.

Very few fighters in Japan cut weight, but there is some interesting evidence to support it's use. Michihiro Omigawa is currently 7-1 in his last 8 fights as a featherweight, and while we can make an argument that some of those bouts were gift decisions -- it's obvious that Omigawa is a far better fighter at featherweight than he ever was a lightweight. Kazuyuki Miyata is 3-0 in the weight class, defeating one of the better Japanese lightweight-to-featherweight converts in Takafumi Otsuka in his last bout. Strength is one of the huge pluses for Japanese fighters finally dropping in weight, and in Omigawa's case -- his overall strength has been a crushing advantage against almost all of his opponents.

Interestingly enough, Daniel Herbertson at MMAFighting.com confirmed with DREAM Executive Producer Keiichi Sasahara that DREAM would standardize their featherweight division while also building in a bantamweight division:

The official limits have not been decided yet but the bantamweight division will probably be contested at 60 kg (132 lb) or 61 kg (134.5) and the featherweight division should be raised to 65 kg (143 lb).

The decision to change the weight limits will have quite a few implications within DREAM and FEG. 63 kg featherweight champion Bibiano Fernandes has not yet been spoken to regarding the changes and Sasahara admitted that it is quite likely that he will be angry about it. Fernandes will need to decide what weight limit he will be moving to and a decision will be made regarding his title then.

Since DREAM.13, the promotion's "featherweight" bouts had been contested at catchweights between 60-65 kg (132 lb - 143 lb) and at DREAM.15 Michihiro Omigawa very publicly refused fighting at the strange official 63 kg (138.9 lb) weight limit.

While there will be some short-term impacts, as Herbertson mentions, this is a step in the right direction for Japanese MMA. The fact of the matter is that Japanese MMA can't have a featherweight division, a division that is one of the more prominent divisions in their region, that uses a ten-pound weight range that is basically decided upon when a fight is contracted. New standards should bring a bit more attention to the idea of weight cutting as some fighters will need to cut weight in order to make the new standard while others may think about cutting to get down to the bantamweight limit.

The changes will affect crossover bouts with K-1 as well since they currently have a 63kg weight class, but once fighters in Japan become more acclimated with weight cutting and re-hydrating -- it shouldn't be a significant problem. In the end, these changes should bring better fights and fighters to the landscape of Japanese MMA. It's only a small step as it helps out only the smallest fighters, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.

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