- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Asia’s largest MMA promotion made a potentially revolutionary change in the sport Wednesday by banning the practice of “weight-cutting” — extreme dehydration for days to make a lower-division’s weight limit just for the hour of the weigh-in — and requiring its athletes to fight at their natural weights.

OneFC announced the new rules on Wednesday, which take effect at the new year and challenged other MMA bodies to adopt them. They also come just a few weeks after a Chinese fighter died while trying to cut weight to make a OneFC card.

The new rules will include submission of daily data, random weight checks, fight-week tests for dehydration, and criteria for how much more a fighter can weigh during a two-month period before a contracted fight.

Most dramatically, a fighter must be within the contracted weight class three weeks before the fight, as well as at the final weigh-in that takes place the day before the card.

“By banning weight cutting by dehydration, we are leading the way globally for enhanced safety standards for professional MMA athletes. We believe that through the implementation of this new weigh-in program, our fighters will enjoy a safer and healthier life inside and outside of the cage,” Victor Cui, CEO of the Singapore-based promotion, whose fights are seen via TV contracts in 70 countries, said in a press release announcing the move.

The move is the latest in a series of safety-motivated practices and rule changes in recent years affecting the most violent of sports. In recent years, for example, the NHL has clamped down on fights, changed the icing criteria, and tightened rules on checking, boarding and targeting opponents’ head. The NFL, which is being threatened by concussion-related lawsuits, has made similar rule changes regarding head contact and has established elaborate concussion protocols that can keep players out of games if they don’t recover adequately even if they’re willing to tough it out.

While Cui’s promotion has a much smaller footprint in the U.S., he called on the biggest American MMA bodies to take similar measures in the interest of safety in a sport where concussions and violent blows are intrinsic.

“I invite the other two major global MMA organizations, Bellator and UFC, to follow in our footsteps to protect athletes and to eliminate the process of weight cutting by dehydration,” he said.

His organization’s vice president, former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin, emphasized in that press release that he knows “first-hand how [weight-cutting] affects an athlete physically. I personally understand the importance of safety and competing at your very best as a professional MMA athlete … this new program does both for our athletes.”

Professional mixed-martial artists, and increasingly boxers also, commonly “walk around” at 30 pounds heavier than the weight limit of the division in which they fight. Dehydration techniques enable fighters to lose as much as 12 or 15 pounds in the last day before the weigh-in, and thus walk into the ring or cage 20 pounds or more heavier than their announced weight.

Though extreme dehydration enables fighters to make weight, and thus fight men as small as possible, it also carries short- and long-term health risks.

Fighters after extreme weight cuts can have difficulty even walking to the scales, and the process so weakens their digestive systems that they must consume water in sips and can only stomach baby food. It can sap a fighter of energy and stamina for the next day’s fight — compounding all the risks inherent in combat sports.

In the longer term, frequent weight-cutting can damage the kidneys and liver and other organs.

And, as happened in the case of Yang Jian Bing, a flyweight fighter trying to make a limit of 125 pounds, the breakdown of muscle tissue can become so extreme as to poison the blood and require immediate hospitalization. Bing died from this process in the Philippines on Dec. 11.

Amateur wrestlers in high school and college “cut weight” also but usually not to the extremes professional MMA fighters do because the structure of weekly tournaments and, increasingly in recent years, rules governing off-season weight.

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