Recent neurological studies have shown a direct correlation between the sort of drastic weight cutting found in combat sports such as boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts, with severe brain trauma and death. In the past, wrestling has borne the brunt of the weight cutting issue as stories of spitting into cups, wearing plastic and refusing to eat circulate amongst the population.
However, with the increased popularity of mixed martial arts, particular its preeminent organization the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the focus has shifted to the large weight gaps between weight divisions.
Currently, professional boxing recognizes 17 weight classes ranging from under 105 pounds to over 205 pounds, with weight classes divided by three to twenty-five pound increments.
Previously, mixed martial arts recognized eight weight classes, ranging from 125 pounds up to 265 pounds. With the exception of the 60 pound gap between light heavyweight and heavyweight, all weight classes were divided by ten to twenty pound increments.
Detractors of weight cutting suggest that due to the massive gaps in weight classes and the fighters’ fear of being unable to compete in previous weight classes, these large gaps are cause of severe and dangerous weight cuts.
“Fighters want to win,” said Sheila Sherman, a researcher in the field of sports nutrition. “If you are a 205 pound fighter and you can’t quite make it to a title match, being relegated as a solid ‘stepping stone’ or ‘gate keeper,’ you think about dropping down to 185. And with the growing number of wrestlers in MMA, these weight cuts sometimes look easy, but the toll on the body is severe.”
To stave off the potential risks of these huge weight drops, and perhaps to one up their combat sports competitor, the UFC recently announced they would be adding 17 weight classes to their roster.
These additional weight classes will have no more than five pounds between them, with the Slim-Fast and Body Dysmorphic Divisions will be separated by just .5 pounds.
“I don’t know what else we can do,” Sherman told reporters, “I mean, if we keep weight classes like they are, more fighters are going to have to accept that they aren’t as good as their friends tell them they are and will have to get real jobs to be productive members of society instead of little boys getting paid to shave their chests and fight on the metaphorical playground.”
One of the more experimental divisions suggested is the “Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson division” which should be 205 pounds, but sometimes will be 217 and other times will inexplicably be 185.
At the time of publication, rumors of additional weight divisions, for fighters who are completely unprofessional or who don’t know a thing about weight cutting, have been suggested as a sort of ‘sliding scale,’ with no real fixed weight, just kind of a ballpark guess. So far, they haven’t made that specific weight class official.