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CSAC’s Andy Foster: It’s not our aim to eliminate weight cutting

The California State Athletic Commission has been on the forefront of combating MMA’s weight-cutting epidemic. CSAC Executive Officer Andy Foster and Bloody Elbow’s Iain Kidd discussed how the commission’s research and policies to reduce extreme weight cuts are going.

Bellator 154 - Andy Foster Debrief

Weight-cutting is one of the biggest problems in mixed martial arts today, with most fighters engaged in a battle to drain their body of huge amounts of water in an effort to make an arbitrary weight limit, only to face the daunting challenge of rehydrating their body and brain in a very short period of time before going through a grueling fight. Extreme cuts not only hurt performance, they could potentially have long-term effects on fighters’ health, with some fighters in smaller promotions having died while trying to make weight.

A previous article looking at how much weight fighters cut in California found around half of fighters were cutting 10% of their body weight for fights. This 10% mark has been chosen as the amount the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) would like to limit weight cuts to. This makes sense, as being dehydrated by 10% of body weight is described as “severe” dehydration that requires medical intervention in medical literature.

The most recent data gathered by California indicates that the average amount of weight being cut in the UFC and Bellator isn’t changing much under these regulations, but closer inspection of what’s going on suggests that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

One of the primary aims of the program is to ensure fighters who are cutting too much weight simply aren’t allowed to compete in a weight class they can’t reach without an extreme weight cut. To that end, the CSAC has refused to sanction fights which would involve these kind of cuts and has also mandated that fighters should move up a weight class after their fight where relevant.

The commission recently refused to sanction a fight between Carls John de Tomas and Alex Perez at Flyweight, due to de Tomas being “significantly” in excess of 10% above the 125 lbs limit. The fight went ahead at 135 lbs and it subsequently emerged that de Tomas failed a USADA administered drug test for the diuretic furosemide. Fighters have died cutting large amounts of weight while taking diuretics in the past and the commission catching and preventing this cut may well have prevented a tragedy.

The program seems to be eliminating the very largest weight cuts without substantially affecting the behavior of the majority of fighters who are making weight cuts at or below the 10% of body weight mark.

Here’s what CSAC Executive Officer Andy Foster had to say about the current status and goals of the program:

“I’m pleased with [how the program has been performing]. It hasn’t done everything wanted; we still have people cutting crazy amounts of weight,but the biggest thing is catching it on the front end before it happens and having the promotion change the weight class the fight takes place at.”

“It’s a noble goal to eliminate weight-cutting entirely, but that’s not the aim. I’m not going to be able to stop weight cutting, but what I think I can do is cut some of this extreme cutting, through a variety of methods, the 10 point plan being one.”“The average cut is below 10%, and for the moment the target is to get every fighter to that point or somewhere around that point. I’m more focused on the guys doing 15% cuts.”

“We can track fighters weights, skype them to weight them and have them do physicals, and if they’re consistently heavy and would have to make a large cut around, say, 15%, I call the matchmaker up and tell them, ‘You can move it up or take it somewhere else, but we are not going to regulate it.’”

Under California’s 10-point plan to address extreme weight-cutting, there is a provision allowing doctors to recommend fighters move up a weight class if they regain more than 10% of their body weight between weigh-ins and fight night and the commission has made use of this ability 18 times since the plan was adopted.

The 10% limit isn’t a hard and fast rule. Fighters who aren’t much over it likely won’t be asked to move up, especially if they can demonstrate to commission doctors that they have proper supervision for their cuts and that they are physiologically healthy relative to other fighters making smaller cuts.

A hard and fast rule could easily lead to fighters failing to fully rehydrate prior to their fight to avoid a punishment or have other, unintended, negative effects on fighter health and safety. The current approach more or less removes that incentive, while also protecting the fighters who are at the highest amount of risk and cutting the most weight.

Foster had this to say about why the current approach was chosen:

“It’s important that you can’t have iron-fisted numbers, and you can’t have mandatory suspensions either. Each case has details that are a little bit different, and each body processes and reacts to things a little bit different. What every doctor can agree on is that cutting more than 10% of your body weight in a short amount of time is not good for you. Everyone agrees for that. If you go up near 15% every person on the planet says that’s really not good for you.”

A number of other commissions have adopted or are in the process of adopting California’s weight-cutting rules, including the Mohegan Sun Tribe, the head of which—ABC President Mike Mazzulli—also regulates Bellator’s overseas events, and CABMMA, the commission for MMA events in Brazil.

The truth is, until most or all commissions adopt the CSAC regulations, promotions can and will simply allow fighters who want to make large cuts to fight in other jurisdictions which won’t look at their weight so closely. The recommendation for a fighter to move up a weight class won’t necessarily be honored by other commissions at the moment, either, as many commissions will generally let the promotion dictate which weight class a fight takes place in.

The issue of weight-cutting has come to the fore recently, and is now rightly being recognized as potentially being one of—if not the—most dangerous aspect of mixed martial arts in particular. The CSAC under Andy Foster is the first commission to enact comprehensive reforms to the practice, but it remains to be seen whether or not there is enough political will to have all commissions adopt the rules.