Bloody Elbow's Iain Kidd is currently in Las Vegas for UFC: Fight Week helping George Lockhart and the Fitness VT team with fighter weight cuts, reloads and is also serving as a documentarian of their work. In sad, unfortunate news from the other side of the globe, a young fighter from the ONE Championship promotion died earlier today from complications related to his weight cut. In this installment of Iain's fight week diary, George discusses the trials and tribulations of weight cutting.
Every week a couple of dozen guys arrive for a UFC fight weighing 10-15% over their contracted weight. Over the course of 3-4 days they lose that weight, sometimes up to 20% of their total weight. That's 20% in a few days. Because we see fighters make weight constantly we get a distorted view of just how difficult cutting weight is, even when everything goes perfectly. Below is George Lockhart explaining just what a fighter has to go through to make weight.
One of the primary ways to cut weight is to decrease the amount of glycogen in the muscles. Each gram of glycogen holds onto 3 grams of water. A lot of you will have actually experienced some of the symptoms of glycogen depletion. If you have ever performed high intensity exercise and felt weak and shaky afterwards, that's at least partially due to glycogen depletion. For the day leading up to the weigh-ins, fighters tend to have a very similar feeling.
Although I have fighters eating and drinking right up until weigh-in day, that day is still pretty brutal. Imagine being incredibly thirsty. Now imagine being that thirsty and feeling weak and shaky. Now imagine you're also hungry and uncomfortable and probably a little tired. That's how basically every fighter feels every time they have to make weight.
The body isn't designed to do this. In fact, the body is designed to stop this happening via production of aldosterone and vasopressin. The entire idea of cutting weight is unnatural, and even when it's easy, it isn't easy.
A fighter competing this week had to make 145lbs, and came in around 156lbs three days before weigh-ins. That is an absolutely tiny cut, extremely easy by professional standards, but if any average person on the street had to lose 11lbs in 3 days they would probably feel sick and sleep deprived.
Another fighter competing this weekend came in at 157lbs or so, but was due to compete a weight class down, at 135lbs. That's a tougher cut, about 22lbs, or 14% of total body weight, but still pretty normal for elite level athletes. If the average person tried to go through that, there's no way they could even complete the workouts required to drop the weight, let alone make weight.
There's this idea that fighters just show up, throw on some plastics and sit in a sauna until they make weight. That's not the case at all. Making weight tends to be a long process of carefully controlling water intake, using natural diuretics like dandelion root, having regular workouts in which pounds of sweat are lost, and time spent in extremely hot baths with sweet sweat all over their body.
Every one of those workouts, when they're so depleted, is a battle. Every minute spent in their hotel rooms being hungry and tired and uncomfortable is a struggle. Cutting doesn't become easier as a fighter improves and gets better. In fact, often the opposite happens, as fighters strive for the tiniest advantage as they get closer to the top.
I take steps to make the process as easy as possible for the fighters. I have them eating right up until weigh-in day, and they can also usually drink as much as they need to in order to not feel thirsty up until weigh-in day, I provide melatonin to help them sleep, and natural diuretics to help them pee. I even give them sweet sweat to help them sweat.
Even so, they have to put in the work. Nothing I do, from the food and water schedule I have them on, to the supplements they have, will get them to make weight without tremendous effort on their part. They have to work out, sometimes extremely hard, while they're tired and depleted. They have to spend time in hot baths being uncomfortable when they're feeling weak. They have to fight their thirst and their hunger, and ignore their cravings. Every cut is an internal conflict between the part of them that wants those feelings to stop, and the willpower to keep going.
Your favorite fighter has already fought a dozen battles just to get into the cage and compete. They do such a good job of making weight that it has become routine to fans. This crazy process of depleting vital nutrients and minerals from the body, and deliberately sabotaging systems designed to keep you healthy and functioning, has somehow become something people don't even care about unless someone fails. For a lot of fighters, though, that internal mental battle during the cut is the hardest fight they'll have this week.
Here are some links to previous entries in Iain's fantastic Fight Week Diary: