After watching Israel Adesanya take on Alex Pereira twice in a row and noticing the huge weight cut that Pereira did both times, the term “weight bully” kept coming up in the MMA community.
So I dove in on this subject to understand it and find examples of offending fighters.
If you want a short answer about this subject, here you go:
A weight bully is a fighter with a natural weight much higher than the division they are competing in. They cut considerable weight for the weigh-in and regain most of their natural weight within the day before their fight. Allowing them to “bully” their opponent with a bigger frame or weight advantage.
Keep reading to learn about different fighters who have earned the title of “weight bully”.
Table of Contents
Weight bullying origins
First, let’s point out that weight bullies are not a new thing, but something that has a history in boxing as it is the older sport.
It’s been going on for decades, as well as the debate about weight bullying.
It’s an aggressive weight cut to allow a fighter to get down to a designated weight for the fight, which for some boxers could be several weight classes.
For the most part, boxers will look to drop below their natural weight to meet the requirement for a lighter weight class.
This is so they can meet the weight for just a few hours at the official weigh-in, then immediately rehydrate to become 10 lbs or heavier just a day later for their fight.
Rehydration method and rules
Boxers lose weight by using several dehydration techniques to remove all excess water from their body. MMA fighters cut weight via similar methods, too.
A huge amount of weight in the body is just stored water. Our body needs water to hydrate us, fuel our muscles and organs, and keep us healthy.
But fighters across boxing and mixed martial arts will use dehydration to cut down to skin, muscle, and bone for their official weigh-in.
They potentially use supplements that help them to maintain the health of their organs and muscles while exposing themselves to severe dehydration.
And fighters cut down more often because it’s “easier” to drop significant weight in a short amount of time to make weight with dehydration techniques (and then rehydrate for the fight).Latest MMA Shorts from the Hive...
Gaining significant muscle and weight to move up a weight class while preparing in a fight camp is much more difficult. It’s hard to keep weight on when you’re burning fuel every day with training.
There can be rehydration clauses in place that limit the amount of weight a boxer can cut, to protect their health, and also how much weight they can put back on after weigh-ins but before the fight (10 lbs).
These clauses are put in place by the regulating body for the fight, like the IBF.
Some say weight bullying isn’t real
Some boxing superfans say that the term “weight bully” isn’t real, but something only “casual fans” would say when their favorite fighter gets beaten.
Those same superfans would also say that if a fighter is able to make the weight requirement at the weigh-in, then that fighter is in that weight class, and there isn’t any more debate to be had.
Cutting weight like this is commonplace in fighting, which has been around for decades and is just one more part of the competitive aspect.
Some fighters are better at weight-cutting than others, either due to their physical gifts or by sheer determination.
There can be advantages to the fighter who can cut weight and rehydrate well, but the opposition also has this same chance. It’s still a fair fight, regardless of natural weight.
But is it actually fair?
Clearly, some fighters (in both boxing and MMA) have much more natural abilities to lose weight extremely fast and regain it.
The way UFC fighters cut weight often seems completely insane!
Some fighters don’t have that luxury, and seeing athletes faint during their weigh-in isn’t uncommon.
Although it seems to be more visible in MMA, that might be because the weight classes in the UFC are wider weights.
There are nine weight classes in the UFC for men, but by comparison, there are seventeen commonly used weight classes for men in professional boxing.
Day before vs Day of fight debate
There has been a long-standing debate in boxing circles for about as long as there have been combat sports.
The weigh-in a day before the fight has been the standard since it was introduced to boxing.
It exists to minimize the extent of dehydration and give the fighter enough time to rehydrate and replenish their body before the fight.
The main benefit of this method is ensuring that fighters are not walking into their official fight extremely dehydrated.
This would risk fights being entirely canceled last minute and potentially put the fighter’s health at significant risk.
But this is still from the perspective of fighters cutting significant weight for a fight.
If fighters weren’t actually cutting such significant weight for the weigh-in, then they’d likely need to rehydrate less and be healthier walking into a fight.
This is where the alternative comes in to enforce weigh-ins on the day of the fight.
It’s not like we don’t have any evidence of this working, either, as the State of Pennsylvania already practices a version of this for boxing.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission enforces two weigh-ins for boxing matches, the first a day before the fight and a second the day of the fight. Fighters aren’t allowed to gain more than 10 lbs between both weigh-ins.
The only time they don’t enforce this requirement is for title fights.
Boxers in Pennsylvania are simply more adapted to this method, which is what any fighter would have to do if it was more widely used, too.
But this method is not exactly a same-day weigh-in only — it’s two weigh-ins.
The first is to check you have made the agreed weight class (e.g. Flyweight at 112 lbs) and the second is to check that you haven’t gained more than 10 lbs of weight above that.
This method restricts boxers from attempting to cut way below their natural weight (only to blow weight back up again) because they are limited by how much they can regain, thus removing more of the typical advantage of weight bullying.
Usually, boxers could be naturally 20 lbs heavier than the weight class they aim to fight in, like going from a Lightweight down to a Flyweight.
They’ll cut all that weight in the week leading up to the weigh-in, get on the scales, face off, then spend the next 24 hours trying to put back on as much of that weight as possible.
Some regulators will limit that behavior, but there are many boxing associations and state athletic commissions, all of which can have uniquely different rules for this kind of thing.
In MMA, particularly the UFC, there don’t seem to be any limitations to regaining weight.
That’s how we’ve seen fighters like Alex Pereira cut to 185 lbs at the weigh-in, only to be 34 lbs heavier on fight day. Now that sounds like a definite weight bully!
So which method is better? It’s still a heavy debate, and no one way seems to be the perfect solution.
The likelihood is that the weigh-ins a day before a fight will continue to dominate both sports for the foreseeable. Rules infrequently change in combat sports.
ONE Championship hydration testing
ONE Championship is one MMA promotion which does weight cut rules a little differently with the aim of protecting fighter’s health.
But even with these rules being in place, there have been several examples of the hydration rules causing fights to get canceled — probably the worst possible outcome for everyone.
Fighters’ weights are measured during their training days to understand their “walking weight”.
The fighter is then assigned an acceptable weight class based on that “walking weight”.
At the start of fight week, each fighter gets weighed to make sure they are within their limit for the competing weight class.
During the fight week, fighters will then get a hydration (urine) test whereby they must meet a urine-specific gravity value of 1.025 or below. If they pass it, they can get weighed for their fight.
On the day of the fight, a fighter who has already passed the hydration test and weigh in correctly, they don’t need to weigh again. But fighters who didn’t pass it will have to try again on fight day.
If a fighter doesn’t pass the hydration test on the weigh-in day, they will not be able to compete.
This unique method of hydration testing and weigh-ins has its issues. Previously it has even caused nine fighters to lose a fighting opportunity due to failing the hydration test or missing weight.
While this method might have the best intentions to encourage fighters to have a balanced weight difference between their “walking weight” and their fight-day weight, it risks too many possibilities of failing tests and not being able to compete.
It potentially encourages fighters that fail their first tests to be rushed to hydrate and make weight (all within an allowable weight range), which itself could present unhealthy tactics to meet it.
If one fighter passes their first test, they potentially get more time than their opponent (who might fail the first test) to train, hydrate, and put on weight that gives them a “weight bully” advantage.
ONE is trying to push fighters into holding a healthy walking weight comparable to their fight weight while staying hydrated, but it’s clearly not the best set of rules to have consistency.
Boxing weight bullies
I’ve researched and found some of the most famous examples of weight bullies in boxing for you to better understand it.
One very famous example is Manny Pacquiao, who, during his career, had fought over eight separate weight classes:
- Flyweight (108-112 lbs)
- Super bantamweight (118-122 lbs)
- Featherweight (122-126 lbs)
- Super featherweight (126-130 lbs)
- Lightweight (130-135 lbs)
- Light welterweight (135-140 lbs)
- Welterweight (140-147 lbs)
- Light middleweight (147-154 lbs)
It becomes more obvious how much a fighter has drained or gained weight to be able to hit this many weight classes.
And a great boxer like this will do it because they can challenge for as many titles as possible, bringing in money and more trophies.
So it’s reasonable to predict that a fighter like Pacquiao, who has a natural walkaround weight around 144 lbs, has played his fair share of being a weight bully in some divisions.
Gilberto Ramírez Sánchez
Gilberto is a boxer who has fought across Middleweight, Light Heavyweight, and Heavyweight divisions.
Some boxing fans have claimed that he’s also a weight bully because he can be fighting at the Light Heavyweight division (175 lbs) but coming into a fight some 30 lbs heavier and weighing more like a Cruiserweight (200 lbs).
At those weight classes, the weight difference can be lethal. The extra weight behind your hands can add up to dealing significant damage to the opponent.
So it’s no wonder that fans have been arguing about Sánchez’s weight cuts due to the safety risks for his opponents.
The undefeated young talent that is Devin Haney continues to come under scrutiny from boxing fans because he has a huge frame like a Welterweight, yet competes exclusively at Lightweight.
It’s often said that he competes against opponents much smaller than him, cutting down some 10-15 lbs and rehydrating extremely well to often be the heavier fighter on the night.
He’s continued to be the undisputed Lightweight champion, but he’s not getting the respect he wants and clearly has a chip on his shoulder because of it.
In his recent faceoff with Lomachenko, Devin is visibly much bigger than his opponent, which confirms a lot about the size of his frame and why fans continue to call him a “weight bully”.
MMA weight bullies
Let’s look at a few of the most famous examples of weight bullies in mixed martial arts.
Khabib is often regarded as a weight bully for the simple fact that his common walk-around weight is anywhere around 190 lbs, but he would always cut down to compete at Lightweight (155 lbs) — a 35 lbs weight drop!
This debate didn’t really start until Conor McGregor called Khabib a weight bully for his weight drops, which was around the same time their rivalry began.
Tony Ferguson was one fighter that called out Khabib for this issue several times and even pointed the finger at the whole AKA Team.
He would often refer to Khabib and his team as bullies while calling Khabib fat.
One of the main reasons that Khabib always fought at Lightweight was because, although he could clearly hold a lot of weight, his height of 5’10” would put him at a disadvantage at Welterweight.
But there are several Lightweight fighters who also cut weight in a similar way.
Some in the MMA community can easily place the weight bully phrase on McGregor due to his weight cuts for competing in Featherweight (145 lbs), where he always looked like Skeletor at the weigh-ins.
It’s surprising to know that Conor fought at Featherweight for several years between 2008-2015 during his career at Cage Warriors and then his early UFC fights.
But he was very successful there, beating fighters like Dustin Poirier, Dennis Siver, Chad Mendes, and of course, Jose Aldo for the belt.
You might say that Conor was at his athletic best when competing in Featherweight.
He was somehow able to cut weight significantly to meet 145 lbs and then rehydrate well to have an advantage over his opponents.
But since Conor moved up to 170 lbs to have two fights with Nate Diaz and then on to Lightweight, it doesn’t seem likely that he’d be able to cut so far again as his body has more muscle, and his age makes it more difficult.
Alex has constantly been in discussion in the MMA community recently due to his significant body size and ability to cut weight to compete at Middleweight (185 lbs).
Pereira’s natural size and walk-around weight (230 lbs) put him more reasonably within a cut to compete in the Light Heavyweight (205 lbs) or Heavyweight (265 lbs) divisions.
Pereira will drop up to 45 lbs leading up to his weigh-ins for Middleweight and then rehydrate within 24 hours to weigh closer to 220 lbs.
He’s done this twice against Israel Adesanya, winning one for the belt and losing in the rematch. My guess is the weight cut was horrific for his body.
In the post-fight press conference for UFC 287, Dana White was even referencing Pereira’s difficulty in dropping the last few pounds before the weigh-in and thinks it’s likely he’ll move up to 205 lbs (Light Heavyweight) after.
It’s for sure one of the most obscene weight cuts we’ve seen in the UFC, and yet this “sanctioned cheating” still goes on.
Final word on weight bullies
I think weight-bullying is a clear issue in both boxing and MMA.
It’s easy for some fans to cry “weight bully” when their favorite fighter loses, but there is some genuine problems in combat sports to continue allowing these weight-cutting strategies.
Weight cuts have been called “sanctioned cheating” by ex-professionals for a good reason.
The current rules continue to allow huge weight cuts that put the health of fighters at risk, all for putting on a show and making money.
The fighter putting their body under a big weight cut is adding many risks to their long-term health, and also the health of their opponent if they are rehydrating to such a significant degree that they are much heavier.
My feeling is that the rules do need to change, but as it isn’t clear what the best outcome will be, it should probably tweak slowly over time to put the health of fighters at the center focus.
ONE Championship has tried to do things differently for the safety of fighters, but even that has had problems, such as canceling entire fights due to its strictness.
There is no simple answer to this problem, but I hope that big promotions like the UFC will tweak it in time to encourage the whole MMA sport to follow.
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