Julia Avila and Julija Stoliarenko faced off in a fast paced, but not otherwise remarkable bout on the UFC Vegas 30 undercard. However, the fight did have a bit of backstory to it. Most notably that it was initially booked for UFC Vegas 22, but the promotion scratched the contest from the March fight card after Stoliarenko passed out twice attempting to hit the 135-pound bantamweight limit.
At the official weigh-in, Stoliarenko walked into the room, sat, took off her fight kit shoes and pants. She then stood and hurried to the center of the elevated stage, gave a thumbs up, and stepped on the scale. As Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Bob Bennett attempted to dial in Stoliarenko’s weight, she staggered backward off the scale and fell into the step and repeat UFC backdrop.
UFC officials rushed to Stoliarenko’s aid. The fighter stayed seated on the stage for close to a minute before she got to her feet and walked to a chair, and sat. After another minute, Stoliarenko stood and approached the scale, where she officially checked in at 135.5 pounds.
After Bennett recorded Stoliarenko’s weight, she posed for the obligatory post-weigh in photos. Stoliarenko then stepped off the scale and again crumpled to the stage, falling to her back, where she appeared to lose consciousness and convulse. She then sat up, took in some fluids and paramedics removed her from the stage via stretcher.
Shortly afterward, the UFC announced that the bout had been canceled.
After the event, Stoliarenko attempted to explain why she passed out on weigh-in day.
“The problem wasn’t my weight cut, and actually I want to say it was one of the easiest cuts in my career and weight was dropping too fast,” she said. “The main issue, I think, was that I made weight too early.”
“I just was too long time on weight. As everybody knows, when you cut weight you cannot be on this weight for too long, because you’re already on the limits of your dehydration and so on. That was an issue why it all happened.”
Whether or not that explanation creates a complete picture of what actually happened or not, on Friday, Stoliarenko hit 135.5 for the rescheduled bout opposite Avila. This time around she made weight without incident.
During the UFC Vegas 30 broadcast, the UFC commentary team of former two-division UFC champion Daniel Cormier and ex-UFC lightweight Paul Felder (along with Brendan Fitzgerald) spoke about Stoliarenko’s March weight miss.
“Honestly on the scale, when she fell down, I remember I was doing my show right after (the fight) and I said, ‘oh, it’s not that big a deal,’ and people kind of got on me,” Cormier said. “But she said it herself, right? It wasn’t that big of a deal. She made the weight effectively yesterday.”
Cormier and Paul Felder then described passing out from weight cuts they had gone through.
“We’ve all passed out a time or two,” quipped Cormier. “Get somebody that can catch you, they know when you’re about to go.”
While Fitzgerald tried to explain away the situation by saying Stoliarenko fainting stemmed from standing up too fast after taking off her shoes. Watching the weigh-in video again it still looks like a much more potentially dangerous incident.
That the commentary team, let alone former fighters, would try to make light over another fighter falling down at the scale shows just how normalized MMA’s dangerous weight cut culture really is. That Cormier would play it off as “no big deal,” seems particularly egregious.
The former double-champ suffered himself from a notoriously awful weight cut back in 2008 that prevented him from competing for the U.S. Olympic wrestling team. Cormier was pulled from the games after he was taken to a Beijing hospital for kidney failure.
In 2014 Fox Sports spoke to DC about his 2008 Olympic journey in a piece titled, “Daniel Cormier Remembers The Weight Cut That Almost Killed Him.” It’s remarkable that Cormier could have gone through that kind of horrible event to brushing aside another fighter’s collapse. But, it speaks to a broader combat sports culture that both sees weight cuts as an absolute necessity, and their dangers as an entirely acceptable risk.
It’s a process that has led to multiple deaths in collegiate wrestling, and was linked to the 2015 death of ONE Championship fighter Yang Jian Bing. UFC fighter Brian Melancon was forced to retire from MMA in 2013 due to ongoing kidney issues linked to weight cutting, and Mickey Gall reportedly suffered kidney failure ahead of his bout with Diego Sanchez.
As a longtime professional fighter, there’s no reason Cormier shouldn’t be fully aware of the long list of athletes who have suffered due to severe dehydration.
That Cormier & Felder would openly dismiss what has been one of the biggest problems in MMA since the implementation of weight divisions felt like a clear example that much more work needs to be done to get combat sports away from accepting dangerous weight cuts as a part of the job. If they got any pushback from the UFC to change their rhetoric, it certainly wasn’t made public.
Thankfully the UFC itself has not had a death related to weight cutting, but without a more serious focus on culture change and MMA’s acceptance of weight cutting as a necessary evil, every Friday before fight night seems like a potential for tragedy.