To Cut or Not to Cut, That is the Question
In a sport where fighters search for every advantage they can exploit, cutting weight has always been one way for competitors to try and maximize their measurables and potentially gain an edge in the strength department in the process. Dropping anywhere from fifteen-to-twenty pounds is considered normal, with some fighters shedding in excess of thirty pounds to make their fighting weight.
After watching both Frankie Edgar and Nathan Diaz emerge victorious from their bouts at UFC 118, maybe it’s time to rethink the long-standing logic behind cutting weight in mixed martial arts?
Edgar, who dominated B.J. Penn in a manner never before seen in the 155-pound division, has spent his entire career listening to critics suggest a move to featherweight. Some even managed to question whether he belonged in the lightweight division before Saturday night’s main event, a fight that featured Edgar entering as the reigning and defending divisional champion.
Earlier in the evening, Diaz, who won Season 5 of the Ultimate Fighter and started his career as a lightweight, won his second consecutive bout in the welterweight division. After stumbling to a 1-3 record in his final four contests at 155, Diaz has looked sharp in stopping both Rory Markham and Marcus Davis while cutting less weight to compete in the 170-pound class.
The success of Edgar and Diaz stands out even more when viewed beside the failure of Thiago Alves earlier in the month at UFC 117.
Alves, a physical specimen in the welterweight division who walks around in the neighborhood of 200 pounds, failed to make weight for his rematch with Jon Fitch. The bout was to be a title eliminator affair, with the winner potentially receiving their second crack at the welterweight crown. All that went down the drain for Alves when he stepped on the scales at 171.5 pounds.
Instead of trying to take off the final half-pound that put him over the welterweight limit for non-title affairs, Alves handed over a chunk of change to both the California State Athletic Commission and his opponent. The next evening, it was clear that the weight-cutting process took a toll on the American Top Team product, as the usually aggressive and attacking Alves looked sluggish from the start.
Following the event, UFC President Dana White suggested that Alves seriously consider competing as a middleweight going forward, citing the difficult cut as evidence that a change in addresses is needed.
Many fighters are able to manage their cuts without issues, even those who shed serious pounds in the process.
Anderson Silva hits the middleweight limit of 185 pounds despite also competing as a light heavyweight at times and walking around north of 220 pounds, while former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin supposedly spends his non-training camp times somewhere in the vicinity of 240 pounds.
But there are also fighters like Alves and Anthony Johnson who have failed to make weight on more than one occasion, leaving the door open for examining the true value of their weight-cutting considerations.
Has either man really made that much more of an impact in the welterweight division because of their size?
Alves has found far more success than Johnson, and some of that certainly comes from being bigger than a few of his opponents. But in the second biggest fight of his career, the effects of his cut cost him dearly.
Johnson doesn’t have the same track record of success as Alves can claim to buoy his botched cuts. While he’s an impressive athlete and considerably larger than most welterweight competitors on fight night, Johnson was handled in his first real test in the division last November when he was choked out by Josh Koscheck.
He too has had a move to middleweight recommended to him by Dana White, and considering he cuts somewhere close to forty pounds to make the welterweight limit, Johnson probably wouldn’t sacrifice much in terms of speed and power by fighting at the 185-pound limit.
Ultimately, it all boils down to how you look at the perceived advantages of dropping all kinds of weight prior to a fight.
Evolution is a frequently used term in mixed martial arts and when it comes to cutting weight, the success of Frankie Edgar and Nate Diaz Saturday night at UFC 118 shows that an evolution is underway to prove that bigger isn’t always better inside the cage.
Shout out to Tom Grant at Sprawl ‘n’ Brawl MMA for his terrific piece on the topic and the Sunday morning conversation we had about weight cutting for inspiring me to write this piece. Check out his work and the rest of the SNBMMA team.