Diet and training only get fighters so far when it comes to making their weight on weigh-in day. The key for most fighters hitting their intended mark though, is controlling their water weight.
The average male's body is comprised of 50%-65% water, for women it's 45%-60%. That leaves a lot of room for the body to lose water weight, a feat that can be done quickly, but that can also be very dangerous.
For example, in episode 12 of The Ultimate Fighter 18, Anthony Gutierrez (Team Rousey) mismanaged his diet and failed to make weight for his fight and was booted from the show. Gutierrez gave up trying to shed the extra pounds, unable to mentally keep going with what needed to be done.
To prove that it's possible, his coach, Ronda Rousey, shed 17 pounds in one day. She did it by spending FIVE hours in a sauna, doing the show's rock climbing challenge and then going back to the sauna to cut a few more pounds. At the start of the day, she was 152 pounds and by the end of the day she was at 135 pounds on the nose.
She did it by shedding water weight, or simply, by dehydrating herself for weigh-in, only to rehydrate herself afterwards. It's practices like this that the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) wants to put a stop to. Extreme dehydration is dangerous and can lead to death and that's not just being hyperbolic, it really does happen.
In December 2015, ONE Championship fighter, Yang Jian Bing passed away due to complications stemming from extreme weight cutting practices. Later that month, the CSAC held an emergency meeting to discuss how to bring an end to these practices and make things safer for fighters.
The first step was to ban "IV Rehydration," a practice that has already been banned by the UFC when they partnered with the USADA on their new anti-doping policy. The practice of IV Rehydration is where a fighter goes through extreme dehydration before a fight (see example above) only to rehydrate themselves through an IV (see picture below). In other words, they put the water back into the body, straight through their veins.
The second step was to ban extreme dehydration practices all together. As of March 1, extreme dehydration leading up to a fight will no longer be allowed and the CSAC has a way to test if fighters are using such practices to cut weight.
According to the new rules, the CSAC will collect urine samples from fighters and have the ability to run those samples through "specific gravity tests." These gravity tests will be able to detect proper levels of hydration in the body. If a fighter fails the test, they will have up to three hours to rehydrate properly. After their time is up, if they fail the gravity test again, the fight will be cancelled.
If doctor verifies that the fight is suffering from severe dehydration, the CSAC will now be able to stop a fighter from being approved to fight in whatever weight class they compete in for subsequent fights.
Even still, fighters have their ways to manipulate the gravity tests. According to Uriah Faber, who will be challenging Dominick Cruz for the UFC bantamweight title at UFC 199, he knows what to do when tested:
I understand the science of the body. I understand how to manipulate that a little bit. Will I ever be hydrated at the weigh-in? Absolutely not. Could I have a bladder full of water? Yes.
UFC 199, which takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, is the first UFC event to take place in California under these new guidelines. Fighters prepping for the event were asked at media day on Wednesday about the new regulations. Cruz was a little taken aback by the restrictions:
I kind of had a little heart-attack moment. Like, wait a second, you need me to be hydrated in California to fight? You guys are playing around, because you know I'm not hydrated up on that scale. Ever. And you know Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold are not hydrated up on that scale in a million years. It's not gonna happen.
Fighters will now have the option to weigh-in earlier in the morning for commission officials on the day of the event, which is a big change compared to how things have been done previously. This option will essentially make the afternoon "weigh-ins" purely a theatrical farce for the cameras and fans.
It will also give the fighters more time to hydrate before the fight. Fighters will also have the opportunity to wait and weigh themselves at the weigh-in show like normal. Although it seems as if most fighters will pass on waiting, according to Rockhold, who will defending his middleweight title against Weidman:
You sit there dehydrated just waiting for that stage to be built. Being able to go in there and just weigh-in, make weight, get it done with -- with nobody around -- it's a great thing for the fighters. Health-wise, it's a lot better. We're not gonna sit there drained of the fluid and it's sucked away from your body and brain. You can put that back in. Dehydrating for the least amount of time as possible, I think, is key.
Although it should be said that none of the fighters that were interviewed about the new procedures, felt weight cutting was that big of a problem in the sport. But science doesn't lie. Studies have shown that weight cutting on such an extreme level can make fighters more susceptible to knockouts, concussions or even dramatic brain injuries. This is mainly due to the fact that there's just not enough time to return the proper amount of fluid to the brain before a fight. Never mind the long term effect that extreme weight cutting can have on a person's kidney's.
Luckily, most fighters have well-trained and knowledgable nutritionists who treat the practice like a science. Weidman had to cut 32 pounds in 10 days to fight Demian Maia in 2012 and he said it was awful, fortunately for him, he doesn't fight as often as most.
I'm fighting twice a year and I really try to do it the right way. It's not like I'm cutting weight every weekend like a wrestling tournament. I think your body can handle it.
There's a proper way to cut weight and then there's the, "hurry up and cut because I didn't do it right way." Weidman warns to make sure safety is always the first concern of every fighter.
People should know a safe amount of weight to drop. You shouldn't try to kill yourself. If you use your brain, and do it right, it really shouldn't be a problem.
If you want to read more about what it's like for a fighter to cut weight before a fight, I highly suggest reading Ross Edgley's article of what it was like when he put himself through the same rigorous practice (under supervision of a doctor) that a fighter goes through to cut weight. You can check it out his experiment here.