As you already know, UFC fighters have to go through hell and high water to drop weight in the week before their fight to meet the targeted weight for the match.
Fighters use many tactics to drop weight rapidly before the weigh-in and then immediately start putting weight on again in the short time (usually about 24 hours) before their fight.
But what happens if a UFC fighter misses weight? Here’s the short answer:
Typically, when a UFC fighter misses the agreed weight for the matchup, they will be forced to give up to 30% of their fight purse, given to their opponent. The fighters often go ahead with the match under a “catchweight” weight class.
But this just skims the surface of the process of weight cutting, how or why a fighter could miss weight, and what happens when they do. If you’re ready to find out the answers to those questions, keep reading!
How UFC Fighters Cut Weight Before A Fight
UFC fighters will typically spend the last week before their fight training while wearing extra layers that increase their body heat and force them to sweat out excess water from their body. They also spend more time inside saunas and sauna bags and drink very little water.
I’ve covered in detail how UFC fighters cut weight in another article to get the full step-by-step breakdown. But I’ll also describe some of the key need-to-knows here as they relate to missing weight.
All this extra heat and lack of hydration cause their bodies to drain any electrolytes and water they can get from around the fat tissues and muscles in the body.
As you often hear, up to 60% of your body weight is made up of water alone. When you can get rid of excess water, you lose weight quickly.
By doing this, fighters can hope to grow in strength and muscle in the months leading up to their fight. Then they use the week before the fight to remove as much water as possible while striving to maintain their strength and ability during training.
Not only does their water consumption change, but they can even massively reduce their caloric intake by restricting what they eat. Foods like carbohydrates and salts will be avoided because they include electrolytes or increase water weight.
Fighters can cut anywhere between 15-30 lbs before a fight. This cut can be between 10-20% of a fighter’s total weight.
This entire process can be challenging to handle. Behind the scenes, fighters often cry out in pain and show signs of being delirious.
Removing water weight as this works, but it isn’t exactly healthy to do it repeatedly or for a long time. It can even be lethal, as some fighters have died trying to cut weight for a fight.
More intelligent fighters stay close to their target weight so that the weight cut is more natural and less complex.
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UFC fighters will usually receive different tests in this final preparation week, including hydration tests, to ensure they aren’t putting themselves in danger.
Rehydrating Before The UFC Fight
UFC fighters can regain as much as 10% of their body weight back in rapid rehydration within just a day between the official weigh-in and the actual matchup. They’ll fuel the body with water, electrolytes, and carbohydrates to give their body all the energy it needs for a fight.
The weight cutting and rehydration process are often debated in the MMA community. Mainly because whatever the weight class is and how the fighters come in at weigh-ins, they will inevitably be a completely different weight by the time the fight actually happens.
Each fighter will be a different weight, and only the fighters themselves, their team, and the UFC will know when the fight takes place.
Fighters get extra checks on weight before the fight (but after the “official” weigh-ins) to ensure they haven’t increased weight by more than 10%.
UFC Official Weigh-Ins Before The Fight
The fighters will participate in the official weigh-ins a day before a UFC event. This is the final and public opportunity for fighters to show that they have reached the agreed weight for their weight class.
Each UFC weight class has about a 10 lbs range, but it’s agreed upon when the fighters sign the contract. For example, a Lightweight fight could be between 145 to 155 lbs.
Behind the scenes, UFC officials will be checking in with fighters in the final week before the official weigh-ins to make sure they are on track.
There can be a couple of private weigh-ins if fighters are currently missing weight before the official one. During these precious few hours, the fighters are encouraged to do whatever they can to make the weight.
It all depends on how their body holds water and fat. But when a fighter is trying to lose a final lb or half lb, they can already be at a low body fat percentage and have very little water weight to shed. It can be easier for some fighters than others.
UFC Rules For Missing Weight
If a fighter misses weight for a UFC official weigh-in, they can be forced to lose between 20-30% of their earnings for the fight night. The wages they lose can go to the opposition fighter, regardless of who wins or loses.
When one fighter misses weight, the other has the opportunity to decide if they want to continue with the fight or not.
Fighters will typically always continue with the fight because they will likely give up most of their earnings if they don’t fight.
This inevitably puts their health at risk for the money. Fighters are often vocally frustrated when their opponents miss the weight because of this additional risk that is forced onto them.
Whichever fighter has the greater weight often has a bigger advantage. There’s a good reason why fighters are divided up into so many weight classes. Their weight affects their ability to take a punch and the force they can give behind a punch, ultimately having an effect on their scoring with the judges.
What Happens If A UFC Champion Misses Weight?
If a UFC Champion misses weight, they are forced to vacate the belt. The opponent will keep the opportunity to earn the vacant belt. Still, the former UFC Champion won’t be able to win or maintain the belt from the fight.
In regular matchups, fighters must not be more than 1 lbs above the maximum. But for championship fights, they can’t be more than 0.5 lbs. So it’s even more difficult restrictions for a belt.
The fight will become a “catchweight” fight when both fighters’ weights are different and not on the previously agreed weight class.
The former UFC Champion would have to earn their spot to rechallenge the belt. They will most likely drop only to the #2 spot if they were beaten from their missed weight matchup and able to challenge for the belt again.
Charles Oliveira Misses Weight For UFC 274 Main Event
For UFC 274, Charles Oliveira infamously missed weight for the main event between UFC Lightweight Champion Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje.
At that time, Charles Oliveria was the UFC Lightweight Champion. A day before the main event, Oliveira struggled to bring his weight to the agreed weight of 155 lbs.
He was weighed a few hours before the official weigh-ins and was coming in overweight. He was then given a little extra time to drop the water weight but was unsuccessful.
Because Oliveira missed weight for a championship belt matchup, the Lightweight belt was made vacant for the fight.
Whenever a fighter misses weight leading up to the main event fight with a belt on the line, they lose the opportunity to earn the belt. And in this case, with Oliveira already holding the belt, the chance to keep it was also removed.
Charles Oliveira was walking into that fight against Justin Gaethje as the favorite. Especially since it seemed he might be holding extra weight against Gaethje, which can make a big difference with the weight behind punches.
There was plenty of controversy around this event as several fighters complained that the scales seemed to be inaccurate with their independent weight checks on digital scales.
It’s generated a buzz and call from fighters for the UFC to adopt digital scales which potentially has greater consistency in accuracy and less opportunity for tampering.
To summarize, UFC fighters will lose up to 30% of their fight purse if they miss weight. If they are a belt holder, they vacate the title before the fight and have to earn the ability to challenge for it again.
Make sure to check out our dedicated article on how do UFC fighters cut weight to learn the full process of weight cutting.
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.