Extreme weight cutting in mixed martial arts reached a new level of irrationality at UFC 228 last weekend. Darren Till failed to make weight for his #1 contender fight, his second miss in four fights, but still got the title shot. Instead of moving Till up a division and protecting his health, as he plans to do anyway, the UFC paid another fighter, Kamaru Usman, to suffer through a weight cut to step in if Till failed. Welterweight champ Tyron Woodley said rightly he would refuse to take a new fight on a day’s notice, but the UFC had Usman cut anyway.
ESPN senior writer Arash Markazi was given exclusive access to Usman as he made the dangerous, worthless cut.
“This is going to be a tough weight cut,” explained Usman on Thursday night in his hotel room. “They’re all tough but this one is going to suck.”
“It’s tough dealing with that mentally because making weight is one of the biggest battles for fighters and the reason I do it is because I have a fight where I get to showcase everything I’m working on. So for me not to have that guarantee, it sucks but I’m a professional and this is part of the job.”
Usman steps on the scale and is 183.
“F*** me,” Usman exclaims. “Mother f***er. I’m not leaving until I’m 170.”
Usman’s cut is pretty old school. He rubs his body with Sweet Sweat, to promote sweating. Then he puts on a sauna suit. Then he puts on workout apparel.
Next he warmed up with 20 minutes of basketball, and got on an elliptical. When he stepped off, he can barely walk. Finally he lay in a sauna, then exited and wais swaddled in towels. He repeatsed the process three times, at time appearing to slip in and out of consciousness.
“This is dehydration,” explains Usman. “You’re dehydrating the body and dehydrating the organs. It’s not the healthiest thing for you but over the years I’ve figured out the human body is capable of that. Someone off the street can’t do that. You’re going to feel like you’re going to die and you might just die. There have been people who have died from this but over the years, I know the limits I can push my body that normal people can’t. I knew this was going to be tough but it’s part of the job.”
At 11:00 p.m. the gym is closing and Usman stepped back on the scale.
“Please Lord, be 170,” said Usman. “Please Lord. … Whatever it is, we’ll cut a leg off if we have to. We’re going to make it.”
After three hours, Usman had cut 13 pounds.
Then of course he had to sleep. But in his current state, it’s not possible.
“There’s no sleep,” explains Usman. “It’s the worst feeling in the world that I’ve experienced. You can’t function. They say the body is 70 percent water and you need that water for a reason. Your eyes need liquid, your mouth needs liquid, your organs need liquid for them to function and you’ve just taken 13 pounds of water out of your body. So you can’t sleep. You can’t close your eyes. I have double vision, I can’t talk, my throat and everything is shutting down. I’m just going to be in pain until the morning.”
At 8:00 a.m. Friday, he weighed in at 169. Woodley and Till both made weight, too, and Usman was happy for them to have their time.
If Till had missed, the plan was for Usman, after all that, to fight for the world title. The fans would have gotten a depleted athlete. Usman is undoubtedly doing damage to his organs. Woodley would have refused, causing the UFC another weight-cutting problem. And it’s all for nothing – the next day everyone would be about the same size.
The culture of extreme weight cutting is the most dangerous regulatory issue in mixed martial arts. Andy Foster, executive director of the California State Athletic Commission has created a 10 Point Plan to fix the deadly problem. It works. The ABC medical committee supports it. The ABC has adopted it. The UFC supports it and will continue to adopt further parts of it.
Unfortunately, most athletic commissions are apparently waiting for a high profile death, unconvinced by the lesser known deaths, and the endless series of hospitalizations and other major health problems.