How UFC fighters aggressively lose weight

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The UFC weigh-in is a big deal, something Charles Oliveira found out the hard way at UFC 274 when he failed to make weight and consequently lost his lightweight title.

If you’re a fan of fight sports you’ll know the scene – fighters walking out nervously on a Friday evening to face the dreaded scales.

Often the only time all weekend these elite warriors will look nervous is when they step on the scales, disqualification only ever a few decimal places away.

Weight divisions are there to ensure that each fighter is roughly the same size in order to make the fight as fair as possible, but it is the only time the organisers of the fight will check the weights of the competitors and so in theory the need to actually be the right weight needs to only last a minute or two.

UFC sees more dramatic cuts than other fight sports – making weight is vital to qualify for the division you intend to fight in, something Oliveira missed out on but the process is complicated and comes attached with risks.

How do UFC fighters make weight?

Rose Namajunas poses on the scale during the UFC 274
Rose Namajunas poses on the scale during the UFC 274

Making weight is something of a science. Writing in the Conversation, Christopher Kirk, a lecturer in sport and exercise physiology at Sheffield Hallam University, gave some insight into just how far fighters need to go.

Generally, cutting weight happens in two stages.

Fighters eat less and train more for several weeks ahead of their fight. This is known as chronic weight loss.

Charles Oliveira missed his weight at UFC 274

This is then followed by rapid weight loss in the hours preceding the fight, where the athlete will take extreme measures to drop the pounds. This rapid stage can include things such as dehydration or eating less than they normally would.

Most MMA fighters will use saunas to get rid of excess weight, this is to sweat out as much as possible with the aim of dehydrating themselves to the extreme.

Paddy Pimblett has become a remarkable example of making weight for a fight
Paddy Pimblett has become a remarkable example of making weight for a fight

According to Kirk, some fighters will eat as few as 300-750 calories a day in order to step onto the scales as light as possible.

Once the weigh-in is done, fighters will try and pack on as many of the lost pounds as possible through energy-rich foods like easily digestible carbohydrates.

Is making weight for a fight dangerous?

The weigh-in can be a tense time
The weigh-in can be a tense time. Pictured: Francis Ngannou during the UFC 270 official weigh-in in January 2022

According to Kirk, the dramatic restriction of energy and liquid in the body can cause the nervous system and brain to function less effectively.

It will also hold back muscles’ ability to function properly, making it harder to do physical tasks.

Dramatic weight losses can come with other dangers. Severe dehydration can prevent testosterone production, and the body is unable to carry out normal hormone functions, which can lead to breakdowns in muscle tissue.

It has also led to signs of kidney malfunction.

At an MMA event in 2017, 43% of fighters were found to be severely dehydrated, indicating they hadn’t built their fluids back up again in time for the fight.

By Lois C