mma / Columns

UFC 206: The Myth of Weight Cutting

December 17, 2016 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

UFC 206 was undoubtedly one of the best cards of the year. It exemplified no matter what, you shouldn’t really trash a fight card until you watch it. The whole nonsense with a useless interim title fight notwithstanding, when did it suddenly become taboo to hate PPV cards without title fights. Basically, the main event was a legit title eliminator, but when did it suddenly become bad to have title eliminator main events? Even before there were more PPV cards and weekly shows than ever before, there would be quite a few PPVs that would have featured fights that weren’t really title eliminators or title fights at all. Maybe there has been a bit of an over-saturation, but I think there is also a prejudice among fans, and people who analyze the sport as well, toward the lighter weight classes. Unless it’s someone like Conor McGregor, more and more do people want to trash a card featuring more of the lighter weight classes in the top spots. I think UFC 206 proved yet again why that mindset is trash and how outright spoiled fans can be at times. The action at UFC 206 on some levels was better than cards that are considered must-buy and featuring tons of big names. But that aside, I noticed something else at UFC 206. It showed yet again the idea of cutting so much weight isn’t always going to give you a major advantage in a fight.

Specifically, in the main event, former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis lost his fight to Max Holloway. The day before, Pettis was off weight by three pounds. Pettis had flirted with the idea of going to featherweight before. In 2013, it looked like he could jump the line to fight Jose Aldo for the title. Pettis was the former WEC champion, but a UFC title shot was starting to elude him. At the time, Aldo was short on big-name contenders, and a surging start like Pettis could’ve given Aldo a high-profile dance partner. Instead, circumstances enabled Pettis to ultimately fight for the lightweight title, which he wrested from his old rival, Benson Henderson. However, after losing his title and going through a slump at lightweight, Pettis and his team thought it was time for him to reinvent his career as a featherweight fighter. Unfortunately, Pettis has failed to truly reinvent himself at all.

Weight cutting has long been ingrained in combat sports. But now, the dangers are more prevalent. While weight cutting isn’t going away anytime soon, we can certainly re-examine how flawed the process of cutting weight is and if it truly helps an opponent in the cage. The basic idea is that a fighter wants to be big for their weight class. The bigger the size advantage you have in the cage, the better. It’s not uncommon to see a fighter go on a losing streak and opt for a drop in weight to try and get a size advantage over smaller opponents. However, the higher the amount of weight that’s cut, the more a fighter is putting themselves at greater risk. Pettis failed to make weight for UFC 206 because he physically couldn’t. He had made featherweight before, but he looked absolutely terrible doing so. He looked terrible cutting weight for this fight as well. Recently, the UFC and other commissions have adopted earlier weigh ins, so fighters can weigh in at the start of the day instead of waiting until 3-4PM in the afternoon or later in the evening. Unfortunately, this didn’t help Pettis or Valerie Letourneau at the end of the day. The problem isn’t the time of day fighters have to make weight. The problem is fighters are trying to cut an unhealthy amount of weight the body was not mean to lose.

Let me ask, has moving down to featherweight improved Pettis’ performance at all? Does he look faster, stronger or sharper? The answer is not at all. The same goes for Valerie Letourneau. Pettis may not have been a behemoth for lightweight, but he was hardly a small welterweight either. He gained no extra edge against his opponents by cutting an extra 10 pounds.

I am not saying the flaw of weight cutting is absolute. For someone like Frankie Edgar, it makes sense. Why? Edgar was generally underweight at 155 pounds and routinely came in lighter. In fact, 145 pounds is barely even a weight cut for him at all because he basically cuts no weight at all to fight 155 pounds. For Edgar, it’s definitely helped him because while he was competitive at lightweight and a champion, he was always taking a lot of hard shots from much bigger guys. At 145 pounds, he’s generally been even more dominant.

But then look at Kelvin Gastelum. After failing to make weight three times and then beating a top middleweight at UFC 206, Gastelum maintains that 170 pounds is his optimal weight. How the hell does he figure that? It’s obviously not optimal if he can’t even make that mark. He’s had more than enough time to “change his lifestyle” and get it figured out. The fact is he can’t. Anthony Johnson believed for a long time he was a welterweight as well. It was to the detriment of his career. In fact, his weight cutting got so bad that even when he moved up in weight, his body shut down. It’s another sign of how dangerous and risky weight cutting in. When fighters already put so much on the line when they step in the cage, killing themselves to make weight is something they shouldn’t be doing.

I feel another UFC fighter who has suffered by cutting too much weight is Cole Miller. Miller is a fighter who has been in the UFC a long time, but he decided featherweight was his weight class. He’s never failed to make weight, but he looks awful as a featherweight. His recent performances have been abysmal. He claims he has to be big and strong for his weight class, yet he never looks strong against his opponents. Despite having a notable size and reach advantage, smaller opponents routinely outstrike him. He looks slow and tired when he fights at featherweight. It’s a problem he didn’t have as a lightweight. Since he dropped down to featherweight, his record has been 3-5, 1NC. Where’s the edge there? If he’s better match for fighters at featherweight, why isn’t he stronger than these smaller opponents? Comparatively, his UFC record at lightweight is much stronger at 7-3. That’s arguably in a much larger and more competitive division. If Miller went down in weight to get a better edge, why has he failed to excel?

By comparison, look at a fighter like Donald Cerrone. Cerrone really was never small for his weight class. He was a top contender at lightweight. At one point, he foolishly proclaimed he’d fight at featherweight against guys who were beating up his friend Leonard Garcia or fight Jose Aldo. For someone like Cerrone, it’s unrealistic. Instead of moving down, Cerrone is now fighting up a weight class at welterweight. He’s been more than competitive, but actually, he’s been downright dominant. Cerrone now has the potential to become a contender at welterweight as well. He’s not really small for his weight class either. At 6’1″, he’s taller than former welterweight king Georges St-Pierre. If anyone shatters this notion that you have to cut a ton of weight to be dominant, it’s Donald Cerrone.

I hope Anthony Pettis can rebound from these setbacks. However, he also has to come to the realization that killing himself on fight week to make 145 pounds isn’t feasible. He thought he would be a two-weight class champion. Those dreams are dead now. BJ Penn? Becoming featherweight champion isn’t happening either.

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