Girth Certificates

By Ben Duffy Aug 3, 2018
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Quick: Think of a current or former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder with a history of missing weight. Think of as many as you can, in fact. Hold your answers; we’ll compare notes later.

It’s no secret that weight cutting has become an increasingly severe problem in mixed martial arts. When Travis Lutter missed weight for his 2007 fight with Anderson Silva, rendering it a non-title affair, the mixed martial arts world reeled. UFC President Dana White flipped his lid, and for once, just about everyone agreed with him. It was simply mind-boggling, the first time a UFC title challenger had failed to make weight without good reason, and Lutter was dogged by it for the rest of his career. In 2018, that kind of screw-up would be old news in a week. This year alone, weight issues have been responsible for scrapping or altering numerous high-profile fights, including several main events and at least one title fight. It has also been behind several truly horrific health scares, such as the ones reported by Uriah Hall and Max Holloway. I dedicated an entire column to it in May.

Just this week, Efrain Escudero was scratched from the Professional Fighters League 5 card on June 2 after weighing in at 163 pounds for a lightweight bout. This came after he weighed in at 162 pounds for his June matchup with Jason High, though at least that one was on short notice. Just like that, any shot at the Professional Fighters League playoffs was gone, along with any thought of a career resurgence for “The Ultimate Fighter 8” winner, who is still only 32. Last week, the well-traveled Melvin Guillard missed weight by three pounds for his fight with Takanori Gomi at Rizin Fighting Federation 11. In isolation, three pounds over doesn’t sound outlandish, but that marks the sixth time Guillard has missed weight in his last 10 fights, and it would be seven if “The Young Assassin” had not been granted a 179-pound catchweight in one of the others. Yes, you do remember correctly that Guillard was a lightweight during his UFC heyday.

At every level of the sport, fighters continue to torpedo fights -- and themselves -- on the scale, missing weight with sometimes breathtaking severity and frequency, as depicted in this very scientific chart.





MMA fans, by and large, savage these fighters. At best we poke fun at them -- your columnist is guilty as charged, obviously -- while at worst we call for measures far more extreme than the customary 10-, 20- or 30-percent purse penalties. We are quicker to condemn and slower to forgive fighters who severely or repeatedly miss weight than any other professional or personal failing, including performance-enhancing drugs. After all, there are some fans who don’t care if fighters are on the juice at all, and there are plenty more who believe they should receive the benefit of the doubt in some situations. I don’t know many fans who don’t care if both fighters make their contractually agreed-upon weight. Fighters who assault their domestic partners? Forgivable, regardless of how sorry they may or may not be. Fighters who use ethnic, sexist or homophobic slurs? Not even close; they seem to have nearly as many defenders as detractors. No, missing weight is the “farting in an elevator” of MMA gaffes: Everyone agrees it’s inexcusable, and the only argument is over who can devise the most creative punishment.

I’m torn. If you’ve read me before, you may have noticed that seeing both sides is my superpower -- or my kryptonite, depending on your point of view. On one hand, making weight is part of the fighters’ jobs. It’s written directly into the agreements they sign, and it is the least ambiguous thing in that agreement. Far simpler and more straightforward than publicity obligations, and that says nothing of winning the fight itself. Weighing in is a simple pass-fail exam that the fighters know is coming, and they know exactly when it’s coming. From this point of view, I roll my eyes at fighters’ excuses for missing weight. They always want to tell us their side of the story, don’t they? News flash: The number on that scale is your side of the story. It tells us everything we need to know.

On the other hand, it’s hard for me to be that cold and exacting in judging these men and women. Prizefighters face pressure, and high-stakes moments, of a kind that most of us can’t relate to in our professions. I am not speaking of the punching and kicking elements, either; ask Stipe Miocic which of his jobs has higher stakes. I’m referring to the way that all of a fighter’s preparation and planning goes towards a series of pass-fail, all-or-nothing tests that occur two or three times a year. Most of us can’t relate. We may have deadlines and deliverables, but they pass by on a daily or weekly basis and are rarely so absolute. A single subpar article for Sherdog would be unlikely to endanger my continued employment, and in fact, I would probably be offered the opportunity to rewrite the piece in question. Meanwhile, if a fighter loses, that makes a failure out of two or three months of work in some ways, including financially. They don’t get to fix and resubmit their work the next day; everything builds towards a crucial 15- or 25-minute juncture. It’s what makes big fights exciting for us, but it’s also a harsh reality for the fighters. The weigh-ins are in many ways similar, a battle before the battle, with similar stakes.

What tempers my sympathy is the fact that this system, harsh and cold as it may be, can be mastered. It has been mastered. Who masters it? The very best do. Let’s cut back to the question with which I opened this column: Who are or were the champs who had weight issues? Did you think of Johny Hendricks? Perhaps you thought of Holloway’s scary recent episode -- failure to make it to the scale in the first place, like Renan Barao at UFC 177, certainly qualifies as a blown weight cut.

There are a few others, but they are very few. In fact, an undisputed UFC champion has never failed to make weight for a title defense. How about the true best of the best, the longtime champions, the ones in the discussion for the greatest of all-time in their divisions? They made weight. They did the professional thing in spite of representing almost the entire spectrum of personality types and fighting styles. Of course, Demetrious Johnson has never missed weight. Matt Hughes never missed weight, nor did Georges St. Pierre. No surprise there; they are three consummate professionals, not known for cutting extreme amounts of weight.

There are fighters who were not noted for their strict discipline who still managed to toe the line. Even during B.J. Penn’s glory days, he was always thought of as lax in training, a source of “underwater rock running” strangeness and “my diet is like Atkins but with carbs” sound bites. Yet Penn never missed weight once, whether at lightweight, as a doughy welterweight or even during his bizarre late-career featherweight experiment. Quinton Jackson is nobody’s idea of a model of professional conduct outside of the cage, and in fact, he has always proclaimed his hatred of training and openly admitted to putting on huge amounts of weight between fights, even in the early 2000s. Yet “Rampage” missed weight for only one UFC bout, and it was at UFC 174 in 2011, long after his competitive prime or much appearance of caring. Hendricks is one of the fighters most synonymous with weight problems this decade, a man who actually covered his eyes and appeared to weep with relief at making weight at UFC 217, as surprised as any of us. He never missed weight for a title fight.

Making weight consistently is doable. Demonstrably so, because there are fighters who do it consistently and quietly with no fanfare. Perhaps not coincidentally, some of those who think of it as just part of the job happen to be the best ever at that job.

A hearty hat tip to Sherdog’s resident statistics maven Jay Pettry for information, fact-checking and assistance with this column as well as the graphic.

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