Photo credit: Ryan Heckert/Hex Linc Photography
For the most part, a fighter has three major steps to achieve, or you could call it three jobs. Step one is fight camp, preparing for the fight. Step two is making weight, being on the agreed upon weight for the fight. Step three, the fight itself. Most will tell you that it is step two that is the hardest, especially if you walk around quite a bit over the agreed upon weight. However it is also a step that more and more seems to not be achieved. Maybe it isn’t increasing, maybe it is just a case of social media becoming more and more prevalent, and more and more attention paid to even the smallest of promotions, and therefor more examples of missed weight being reported.
Let’s look at some potential causes for missing weight. A number of people weighed in with potential reasons. For females, one reason that was mentioned multiple times was their menstrual cycle. Livestrong.com posted an article on August 16th,2013 stating that “Women who have PMS experience stronger than average hormonal changes, and those changes can lead to a variety of symptoms such as bloating, food cravings, increased appetite, stress, fatigue, irritability and anxiety. Some of these changes can lead to weight gain.” Then they talk about water retention and bloating and state “Two types of temporary weight gain occur during PMS: bloating and water retention. The hormonal changes in your body cause your flesh to retain more water than average. Even if you haven’t consumed extra calories or added fat to your body, you may weigh a few more pounds than normal. Some people call this water-weight gain bloating, but the University of Maryland Medical Center notes that bloating also involves swelling in the stomach area caused by extra gas in your digestive system, which is yet another effect of hormonal changes.” It would be safe to say that this is a situation that is hard to avoid and is therefor a somewhat accepted, but with that being the most acceptable excuse, who is to say that it is not just that, an excuse? Do we really have any way to know when it is really the case or reason one may have missed weight?
Could it simply be a case of what amateur prospect Gina Begley calls “poor planning”? Begley says it can be this poor planning and “taking the necessary steps to cut.” Jessica Zomcik echoes that statement adding that “You need a plan, and you need to work your plan. If you can’t hit daily or weekly weight goals you need to reevaluate your dedication, decisions, coaches, and gym”. Wombat Sports Marq Piocos adds “not having the right nutritionist or a coach who doesn’t know how to help cut/monitor weight”. Not everyone can afford a nutritionist, and therefor that option is not for everyone, but that shouldn’t stop fighters from at least searching out help should it? Alyssa Vasquez says “that not everyone knows the science behind it”, so in such a case, wouldn’t logic dictate to seek out someone who does?
The other often named reason was given in a variety of differently worded responses, was the attempt to fight at a lower class than they should. Could it be as Jen Aniano says, that they want to fight at a lower weight but then don’t want to be “weak” and are willing to take the fine for missing weight? Or could it be as Katie Casimir says, that they are trying to hard to manipulate their weight and fighting in the wrong weight class? Invicta FC President Shannon Knapp seems to believe it is often a case of fighters fighting in the wrong weight class. She says “it gravitates back to an athlete not competing in the right weight class. If you can’t make the weight after a couple attempts, you are definitely competing in the wrong weight class”. When I asked her about fighters potentially seeing openings at the smaller classes and her opinion on doing test cuts she said “Absolutely! You need to know where you are at and how to get there.” Jessica Zomcik says to”Practice the weight cuts when you are not training for a specific fight. All you can do is prepare and be diligent about your process.” Often these fighters who miss weight do so in their first attempt fighting at a lower weight. So if you are going to fight at a lower weight class, before you accept such a fight, do a test cut, see if you can make that weight, see how your body reacts, see what does and doesn’t need done.
What about the penalties for missing weight? Most commonly you will see a twenty to twenty-five percent fine that goes to your opponent. Is this they way it should be? Cassie Robb, a victim of opponents missing weight herself agrees with the penalty but also feels that “depending on the amount of weight they are over, that it should determine their position in the company.” Jen Aniano also says that she thinks twenty to thirty percent is fair. A pro fighter who asked to remain anonymous agreed but added that it should be fifty percent for a title fight. Allison Haynes agrees with the fifty percent saying that “If you are only getting paid seven hundred to show up, twenty percent is crap.” One anonymous fighter who herself has missed weight said twenty to twenty five percent is good, adding that the set amount lets you know exactly what your penalty is going to be. NAAFS matchmaker Nichole Castillo takes it further when she says “Amateurs don’t receive purses so they get a three month suspension in Ohio. However this seems nice a full camp is usually that amt of time. For first time offense that is fine but if second offense I believe six month and a fine should be imposed and third offense that a nine month and higher fine and fourth offense twelve months and higher fine. After that every offense should b a year from all combat sports.” Does this sound drastic? Perhaps, but being drastic would surely have an impact and cut back on fighters missing weight. Jessica Philippus said something that was echoed by several that I talked to when she said she would like to see a sliding scale of the fine based on how much you miss by, Alyssa Vasquez suggested starting at twenty percent and then adding and additional two and a half percent for every pound. Marq Piocos likes the penalty but has added he would also like to see an automatic point deduction. I myself like the idea of a point deduction, with the only drawback being that if a fighter misses by a large amount of weight, the size advantage can give her a greater chance of finishing her opponent and the point deduction is rendered pointless. There are a wide variety of different and acceptable opinions on this, but in my own opinion, the typical twenty percent by itself is not enough because it hasn’t seemed to be enough to prevent multiple cases of fighters missing weight. I like Allison Haynes suggestion that if you miss twice, then you automatically are forced to fight in a higher weight class.
That brings us to the two different kinds of weight misses. Or at least the two different reactions to it. There are those who get off the scale and go attempt to cut more and there are those who simply accept their penalty. Those who go back and attempt to cut the weight seem to get more forgiveness. Some quotes given to me on those who don’t go back and make that attempt included “disrespectful”, “not being professional” and more. Gina Begley says she views those who attempt to go back and cut differently because “it tells me they may have honestly miscalculated or misjudged scale differences.” Alyssa Vasquez bluntly says ” The ones that miss but refuse to attempt are a**holes. That is a big “Fu*k you” to their opponent, and the promotion.”. When I asked Invicta FC boss Shannon Knapp if she views those who go back and make the effort differently she said “Yes, Absolutely! If you step on my scale and don’t make weight you are fined immediately” and adds “but if you don’t even try, of course I take note of that. You are contracted to do a job. Respectfully you should always try.” Ashley Hawkins says point blank, if the fight doesn’t go through, the fighter should be suspended. One fighter who did miss weight once and did go back and make the effort said ” If you miss the first time you have to try again. You just have to. Whether it’s 1/2 a lb or 5 lbs. you may not make it but it’s not right not to at least try. You owe it to your opponent and to the promotion.” So the general consensus is that if you do go back and make that attempt to cut more, you will still be penalized but will be viewed much less harshly than those who don’t even attempt to go back and cut more.
Now that we have focused on some causes and potential penalties, let’s talk about the side effects of a fighter missing weight. First, their is your opponent. Amateur fighter Ashley Hawkins has had opponents miss weight more than once, once by approximately seven pounds. When I asked her what she thinks about an opponent missing weight, she responded “That’s the most annoying thing ever!! I’ve always made weight no matter what things were going on in my camp. I feel there should be no excuses, make weight. Shows you didn’t work as hard as the fighters who made weight.” Cassie Robb has had two of her three pro opponents miss weight. Her response was “I feel like it’s extremely disrespectful, not only to your opponent, but to the promotion as well.” The promotion, let’s talk about the promotion. Nichole Castillo, who as the matchmaker for NAAFS, deals with every fighter who misses weight on an NAAFS card says “Most times it ends a fight, especially if amateur. It really is horrific because it not only effects the promotion and the fans from having a fight but more so really screws the opponent who did his job.” The fan mentioned in her statement is someone I think is not talked about enough in this scenario. Tickets to an MMA event, especially if you are buying for a family of four, are not cheap. Someone buys a ticket expecting to see a certain number of bouts. Granted there is the “card subject to change” warning, but none the less, when bouts are scrapped, they are getting less than they expected and less than they deserve. Shannon Knapp says she finds it “very disrespectful when you step on my scale and do not make your agreed upon weight.” Jessica Philippus says she herself used to feel that way, but now is a little more understanding as in one bout, due to coming off child birth and not knowing her body reaction, knew she was going to miss weight. We will delve more into that in a moment, but she says now “she is a little more understanding. There are some things that no matter how hard you try, can mess with your body.” The word “disrespect” seemed to be a reoccurring word throughout my conversations on this.
As a fighter, backing out of a fight may be a hit in the pocket book short term, but if you know you will miss, is it upon the fighter to warn the promotion? Perhaps if done early enough the promotion can set up a catch weight bout with the opponent. Jessica Philippus as earlier mentioned knew she was going to miss weight and she called the promotion, let them know and allowed them time to find a replacement. ” I tried everything I could but there came a point where we knew it wasn’t going to happen” said Philippus. She added “it was the right thing to do, show respect to the promotion and let them know it wasn’t going to happen.” That respect from Jessica to the promotion paid off as while pulling out of that Invicta fight, with the promotion knowing she did all she could, she was brought back. While Shannon Knapp says each circumstance is taken case by case, that seems to indicate that some of those who did miss weight and didn’t attempt to go back and cut may be waiting awhile before they step into the Invicta cage again. A lot of female fighters are desperate to get into that Invicta cage and another theme several fighters brought up is that those missing weight and not even attempting to cut more are insulting and/or disrespecting them as well. Surely those running promotions want to have fighters that they know they can count on to make weight. Those more experienced pros who have a history of making weight and on one night for some reason don’t make it, they seem to also understandably get a bit of a pass from people, as in my opinion they should. When you routinely make weight, it is easier to accept that something just went wrong, something prevented you from making weight. But younger or newer pros who miss weight, especially in the major promotions are doing themselves a great disservice, a disservice that could be avoided by doing what Philippus did.
Are we ever going to fully eradicate the issue of fighters missing weight? Absolutely not. As long as their are combat sports there will be competitors in those sports missing weight. But it seems that there are steps to lesson it from happening. Some listed in this article and surely more that were not addressed. Let’s hope that we see more people like Jessica Philippus who will do what’s right, right for the promotion, the opponent and the fans, and in the end, it will probably end up being the right thing for you.