In UFC, fighters fight in designated weight classes. And for a good reason. Imagine a 145 lbs featherweight fighting a 265 lbs Heavyweight. Not a great idea for the safety of fighters.
Some fighters fight as a Lightweight but walk around outside the cage as a Welterweight. The question is, how do UFC fighters cut weight?
The UFC weight cut involves different steps to make it happen. Step one, fighters need to know how much they need to cut. Second, they strategize before they dehydrate and control food intake. Lastly, the fighter loses the remaining weight by sweating it out.
Why is weight cutting necessary? How is it correctly done? Below are all the things you need to understand UFC weight cutting fully. Dive in.
How UFC fighters cut weight
Cutting weight is not a one-day thing that’s done before the weigh-ins. It’s a step-by-step procedure to ensure the fighter’s physical well-being is not compromised before and during the fight.
Step 1: Measure the fighter’s current weight
Fighters have a fighting weight and a walking weight. Walking weight is their weight when outside the octagon. This may vary depending on the fighter’s diet outside the camp and how long the last fight was.
Before starting the weight cut, it is crucial to know the exact weight. This is for the fighter and their team to distinguish how easy or complicated the upcoming weight cut can be.
This helps the fighter prepare himself mentally before undergoing the physical challenges of cutting weight.
Aside from that, knowing how big or small the weight that needs to be cut helps the whole fight team strategizes a plan on where they can do the cutting more effectively and as much as possible safer for the fighter.
What if the fighter is already in their desired weight?
The fighter is lucky if they are already at the desired weight. All they need to do is maintain weight with a proper diet and a specified workout regime. This leaves the fighter and their team more time to formulate a good game plan for the upcoming fight.
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However, the chances of the fighter already being at the desired weight are rare. At best, fighters could have a carry-around weight within 5-10 lbs of their match weight.
When the fighter isn’t in their camp, it can be challenging to maintain a fight-ready weight.
Step 2: Strategize
After knowing the amount of weight that needs to be cut, a proper strategy needs to be made by the whole team or by the fighter’s nutritionist. This strategy will help them sort out what must be done first and last.
Strategizing includes choosing the primary medium of weight cutting. This can be gradual dieting and fasting, body fluid reduction, and the use of laxatives.
Laxatives are substances that treat constipation. This will help you lose extra weight by disposing of excess fluid and solid bowels inside your body. It will make your stool easier to come out, and it will also make you urinate more often than usual.
Strategizing for a fight is not only about how you can inflict more damage on your opponent to win your match. Strategizing starts as early as the weight cut period.
What are the illegal things to do during weight cuts?
Taking performance-enhancing drugs to help the fighters work more to lose weight is illegal in the UFC. The most common example of these is Stimulants. Stimulants relieve the feeling of pain and tiredness, allowing you to work out more and burn more.
These drugs have a massive chance of inflicting long-term side effects on the athlete’s body. For example, loss of appetite, increased heart rate, an increased heart rate that may lead to cardiac arrest, and more.
Stimulants are not the only drug that’s illegal in the UFC. If a fighter is proven to break the rule, they may face long-term suspension or even being removed from the roster. There are also various other prohibited drugs in UFC.
Step 3: Dehydrate
An average human body is made up of 60% water. This can be reduced by gradually dehydrating for 5 days. You might see fighters going up to the scale with their cheekbones nearly exposed and eyes deep into their eye sockets. That’s the result of dehydration.
An average fighter loses about 10 to15 lbs of body water during each weight cut. This amount might be too much for some fighters, which might cause them to pass out and not make it to the fight.
After the vigorous dehydration, the fighters rehydrate by drinking electrolyte-filled water; if not, ordinary cold water is enough to do the job. After being hydrated, the fighters will now regain their average body appearance.
Step 4: Food Control
During the dehydration process, fighters also need to pick what they eat. If not, all the dehydration will be pointless because there’s still gaining weight because of the type of food the fighter is eating.
Usually, fighters with a large budget will hire a professional nutritionist to help them prepare and formulate a healthy meal plan throughout the fight camp. One famous fighter that does this is Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje.
During the “Food Control” stage, fighters tend to eat less food with high carbs, salt, and saturated fats. Just foods that are healthy and organic seal the deal.
Since planning and preparing meals take time, busy fighters can choose among different home-delivery options like Factor 75, Freshly, or Hello Fresh.
They can even order multiple meals in one day and freeze the leftovers for another day. These delivery services can save a ton of time and reduce food waste.
Step 5: Sweat
After all the steps above are done, it’s up to the fighter to make the extra effort to sweat out all the remaining weight. Sweating is an excellent way to eliminate the excess water left in the fighter’s body.
They might do conventional things, such as spend time in a steaming sauna or jog while wearing a sauna suit. If the fighter has energy left, they can do several rounds of mitts. In this way, the body will be forced to sweat.
What if the fighter doesn’t make weight after sweating?
Fighters get weighed leading up to the fight and before the official weigh-in. If the fighter fails to make weight, they will be given an hour or more to burn it by working out or staying in a sauna room. If the fighter still fails, the match could be canceled.
When it comes to a championship fight. If the champion fails to make weight, they’ll be forced to relinquish the belt. The bout will continue to take place. However, only the challenger can come out the champion; if the champ wins the match, he will still vacate the belt.
Some ways to reduce weight during the weigh-ins
Fighters sometimes remove all their clothes to lose some extra grams on their weight. Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kelvin Gastelum, and Daniel Cormier are famous fighters who did this.
Fighters can also shave their head with extraordinarily long and thick hair. Removing it may help the fighter reduce some weight.
Meeting the weight requirement is a critical piece of the matchup. If a UFC fighter misses weight, they could lose part of their income and be forced to give it to their opponents.
UFC Fighters with the craziest weight cuts
All UFC fighters cut weight, but some do it in a way that shocks people when the way-in day comes.
Paddy, “The Baddy” Pimblett, fights at 155 lbs (Lightweight). It shocked the UFC fans when they saw him walk around outside the octagon with approximately 200 lbs of body weight. He does this transition by eating a lot until he gets fat after the fight.
His weight-cut routine includes diet, dehydration, and a lot of sweating. During the process, he will repeatedly lay down on the floor and be covered with thick towels for him to sweat a ton. Paddy also does hot bathtub sessions in between the weight-cutting journey.
Despite the massive weight cut and all the health risks that come with cutting that much in just a few weeks, Paddy still manages to turn Paddy “The Fatty” into Paddy “The Baddy” every time he enters the octagon.
Conor McGregor walks as a Welterweight but has fought in Featherweight and Lightweight. His Featherweight weight cuts made him look like another person, especially during his Jose Aldo unification fight and Siver match-up.
With this big downstep in weight class, Conor’s speed and cardio improved. However, when he fought in welterweight, his actual cardio had shown when he got gassed out, causing him to be submitted by Nate Diaz.
Conor’s weight cut includes a well-planned diet from his professional nutritionist and a lot of dehydration. There’s even one scenario where he almost passed out due to dehydration. Despite that, McGregor didn’t let the brutal weight cut stop him reach his goal of being the Featherweight champion.
Max “Blessed” Halloway is one of the most famous weight cutters in the UFC. He mostly walks around at 170-190 pounds but still fights in the Featherweight division (145 lbs).
One of his most ridiculous weight cuts is during his canceled fight against Khabib.
Holloway took the fight on a 6-day notice. He was chilling, playing games, and weighing about 170lbs. He immediately went to lose weight mode and was succeeding. The committee stopped Holoway from cutting more weight.
He was stopped because he looked too dehydrated, and the committee said he didn’t look good to fight anymore. It gets so unhealthy that the cut can become dangerous at a certain point.
Despite that, Max reiterated that he felt perfectly fine and wanted to continue the fight; the committee was stern about their decision and immediately canceled the fight.
The former Bantamweight champ, Cody “No Love” Garbrandt, walks around at 140 to 145 lbs on a typical day. During his Bantamweight days, his weight cut is an easy job to accomplish. However, after a series of losses, he decided to go down to Flyweight in exchange for a more challenging weight cut.
Cody claims the weight cut is easy for him. He even said that he only needed to cut some of the water, and it was done. However, it seemed to affect his performance drastically in Flyweight as he proceeded to lose against a natural Flyweight, Kai Kara-France.
Cody’s weight cut routine is more on the diet and nutrition aspect of the game combined with some dehydration to cut off the excess water left in his body.
One of the scariest female MMA fighters in the world also suffers from one of the scariest weight cuts that an athlete could endure. Cris Cyborg usually walks as a 175-pounder machine but is forced to fight at 145 lbs because there’s no women’s division at her ideal weight.
Cris’ weight cut involves a lot of dehydration to remove all the unwanted water in her body. During this process, she can help herself but cry due to the pain and tiredness she’s feeling. She can’t even walk by herself after the weight cut session.
Despite this torture of a weight cut she needs to accomplish, Cyborg still manages to win fights and wow the MMA community. Today, she still continues to fight in 145, but in Bellator.
Jared, “The Killa Gorilla” Cannonier, entered the UFC as a Heavyweight. He was big and bulky, weighing over 240 lbs. Despite the excellent run in Heavyweight, Jared decided to go down to the Middleweight division (185 lbs).
Unlike other fighters, Jared took his time to cut over 50 lbs before making his debut in the Middleweight. He shocked everyone when he first faced the public as a 185-er. He looked like a different animal, leaner and much smaller than before.
The 2 class step-down didn’t affect his performance; instead, it made him a better fighter than when he was in the Heavyweight division. He then proceeded to win multiple matches that earned him a title shot against Israel Adesanya.
Common questions about weight cutting in the UFC
Once you understand what weight cutting is, it’s expected that you formulate some questions for a deeper understanding.
Why do UFC fighters cut weight?
UFC fighters need to cut their weight because most have heavier walking weight than their fighting weight. For example, Paddy Pimblett fights as a 155-pounder but walks outside the cage with more than 200 lbs.
If UFC fighters don’t cut weight, weight divisions will be useless. Imagine a Heavyweight deciding to fight in Flyweight without the requirement of cutting weight. Francis Ngannou might take all the weight class belts!
Does a slightly heavier fighter have an advantage?
It is usual for a fighter to be a decimal point heavier than his opponent in a fight. This is allowed in the UFC; however, the myth that tells people that this decimal difference gives the fighter an advantage is entirely false.
A study by Harry Li at Berkeley stated that only 20% of all fights are won by the ‘heavier’ opponent. The remaining 80% are won by the slightly lighter fighter.
Bear in mind that weight differences in a weight class only ever range by up to a couple of pounds. And having a couple of pounds difference from your opponent most likely equates to being less fit and more sluggish.
Other statistics support the fitter fighter will win more often. The younger fighter in each fight is also more likely to win.
How do UFC fighters cut weight so fast?
Cutting weight is not actually a fast process. It takes more than a week of bodily torture, including dehydration, self-discipline, and sometimes food deprivation.
It isn’t a magic trick where a fighter suddenly loses weight after one to two days of working out. It’s a step-by-step process that a fighter needs to go through for every single fight.
How do female UFC fighters cut weight?
Female fighters don’t have any notable exceptions when cutting weight. The girls also follow the same steps that the male fighters follow. The intensity of the weight cut depends on how large the weight needed to be burnt, not on the gender.
As a matter of fact, some female UFC fighters experience more gruesome weight cuts compared to others. A good example is Cris Cyborg; she usually walks around 175 lbs, but she’s forced to go down to 145 lbs because of the lack of female fighters in 175.
Do all UFC fighters cut weight?
All UFC fighters cut weight right before an upcoming fight. Even the fighters that stay fit after a match need to cut a bit of weight. It’s unavoidable to gain some extra pounds after a fight when normal lifestyle factors come back into play.
Even some Heavyweights need to cut some of their extra weight to not surpass the UFC Heavyweight limit, which is 265 lbs.
The techniques used for a weight cut are similar to how boxers lose weight quickly to be ready for their fight.
Why don’t fighters fight in their natural weight class?
Many fighters fight in a much lower weight class to gain a speed and cardio advantage against their opponents. If you walked as a 155 and fought at 145, your cardio will improve because you’re significantly lighter. The speed of your punches and kicks will also increase due to your decreased weight.
Some fighters fight in a higher weight class. In this scenario, you will be heavier, causing your cardio and speed to fall.
An excellent example of moving up a weight class that wasn’t successful is when Israel Adesanya moved up to Light Heavyweight to challenge for the belt. He was unsuccessful, most likely because he increased weight which removed some of his unique speed abilities. He also wasn’t heavy enough to compete with an experienced grappler.
What are the harmful effects of weight cutting?
Suppose a high amount of water is removed from the human body. In that case, one fighter might suffer from severe dehydration that affects dry skin, fast heartbeat, sunken eyes, fainting, and more. If prolonged, it may cause the fighter to die.
Aside from severe dehydration, fighters also risk suffering from a liver shutdown that can be highly fatal once it occurs. Fast weight loss can cause hepatic liver inflammation and other complications that may lead to a shutdown.
Cutting weight has been an issue for several years, not just in the UFC but also in multiple combat sports. Experts say that it poses long-term medical effects on the fighter’s body; however, that doesn’t stop the fighter from doing it in exchange for enjoyment and, of course, money.
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Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.