21-year-old fighter Jianbing Yang died yesterday following the ONE Championship 35 weigh-ins.
ONE issued a statement earlier today, confirming that Yang's death was the result of "severe dehydration" and a possible heat stroke, following an extremely intense weight cut.
A Chinese native, Yang was a promising up-and-coming flyweight on the Asian circuit, accruing a 5-1-1 record over his two-and-a-half year career. His scheduled bout yesterday would have been his third consecutive fight in ONE.
ONE Championship CEO Victor Cui issued a statement, saying:
There is nothing more profoundly tragic and sad than when a member of the ONE Championship family, current or past, passes away. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and loved ones of Yang Jian Bing. We will work closely with the family and offer all the support they need in any way we can during this very difficult time.
ONE Championship is currently Asia's largest sports media property, even eclipsing the UFC in popularity in that region.
Yang's passing highlights one of the sport's most controversial issues. Fighters routinely drop significant amounts of weight ahead of their weigh-ins in order to enter the fight heavier and stronger.
To do so, it's not atypical for them to spend hours in saunas and heat suits to lose water weight, practices that leave them dangerously dehydrated. Combined with crash dieting, exercise, and elevated stress levels from their upcoming fight, many doctors believe that weight cutting is as dangerous, if not more so, than actually being in the Octagon.
"The top-3 problems in combat sports are PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs), concussions and weight cutting," surgeon Jon Gelber told USA Today Sports. "Weight cutting hasn’t gotten the attention it needs."
Jianbing Yang is not even the first fighter to have had complications from excessive weight cutting. In 2013, Brazilian fighter Leandro Souza died after taking diuretics in an attempt to drop weight quickly, and just months ago, former UFC champion Johnny Hendricks was hospitalized with an intestinal blockage after weight cutting issues.
Many in the sport have called for an end to incentivizing weight cutting by scheduling weigh-ins for the day of the fight, instead of several days prior. This would make it impractical to cut weight, as your body would not have time to rehydrate before the event.
However, this presents a financial risk to organizations like ONE and the UFC, as fighters would be more likely to miss weight, making them ineligible for their scheduled match-ups.