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Fighters Missing Weight in the UFC: A failure or a tactic?

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Renjith Ravindranhttp://www.mmaindia.com
An engineer by luck and a sports writer by passion, Renjith has been covering various sports for almost half a decade. He has received praise from the likes of WWE superstars Paul Heyman and Natalya for his work and has also interviewed some notable names from the business. He is constantly looking out for creative challenges that excite him and finds beauty in the art of Combat Sports.
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It was chaotic.

The humble beginnings of Mixed Martial Arts saw the sport thrive on mismatches. For something that had violence, blood and gore as it’s selling points, that wasn’t a major problem in the start.

Fighters Missing Weight in the UFC: A failure or a tactic? - UFC
Darren Till missed weight last week ahead of his fight against Stephen Thompson (PC: UFC.COM)

But to grow as a mainstream attraction, restrictions became a necessity. And this is when the weight classes came in. Block by block, the UFC built a system which seemed bulletproof and perfect.

Strict enforcement of weightclasses was followed by uniform attiring and drug testing. And the UFC was well on its way to become a legitimate sport on ESPN’s roster, rather than the sideshow circus attraction that it started as.

Fast forward to 2018 –  just like how humans evolved over the years on this earth, fighters have evolved within this weight class system. They have found new ways to survive in the system and some have even found ways to use the system in their favour.

The weight cut is now as important as the fight itself. If one misses weight, he or she is instantly tagged as an unprofessional who has failed even before stepping into the cage.

This ‘failure’, however, is heavily dependent on perspective. It’s, essentially, a Utopian concept that the fans created. From the fighter’s perspective, the extra weight that he has on his opponent is more of an advantage than a ‘failure’ when it all actually boils down.

And this advantage has developed a nasty habit of translating into wins as well.

The stats

Fighters who missed weight hold a collective record of 7-1 in the UFC this year. The exceptional case was Molly McCann who was a pound over the Flyweight limit for her fight against Gillian Robertson at UFC Liverpool.

McCann suffered second-round submission loss at the event but still, 7-1 is a landslide statistic that underlines the true story here quite evidently.

In 2017, it was a different story. From the 21 fighters that missed weight in the UFC, 11 fighters managed to pick up wins while the remaining 10 were not able to put their advantage to good use. It was a similar case in 2016 as well when the record of fighters who missed weight stood at 9-10.

We are only halfway through 2018 and the 7-1 record might drastically change as well but isn’t missing weight turning into a major problem?

A new tactic?

Statistically, one has a better chance of winning if he/she has a few pounds over their opponent. Names like Darren Till, Kevin Lee, Mackenzie Dern, and Yoel Romero among others are the prime examples of this in 2018.

Fighters Missing Weight in the UFC: A failure or a tactic? - UFC
Mackenzie Dern missed weight by seven pounds in her last fight (PC: Mackenzie Dern via Twitter)

More than a failure or an accident, are the fighters using the loopholes in the system to shift the result in their favour?

It is debatable.

But it’s no secret that the current system is flawed. For instance, if a fighter misses weight, 30% from his/her purse is given to the opponent and the opponent also has an option of not taking the fight. There are some major issues with this:

  1. Winning or 30% of your purse? Which would you rather take?
  2. Winning comes with win bonus which kind of covers for the 30% that you lose anyway
  3. Would you give up 30% extra pay and potentially your show money and refuse to fight an opponent who missed weight?

The answers aren’t simple, but most of the time; everything works in favour of the fighter that missed the weight.

What is the solution?

There is no perfect answer to this question as well.

Being a promotion, UFC simply cannot afford to cancel their main event just because one of their fighters is a few pounds heavier. And if they do, the same fans that debate about fighters missing weight would throw stones at everyone involved because, at the end of the day, we barely care about the weight, we just want to see the fight.

We might make cases before and after such a fight, but if the fight does not happen, we bring out our true selfishness as fans.

So cancelling a fight is completely out of question. Another alternative UFC could employ is bringing in a backup fighter for all the major events.

For instance, if it’s a fight between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, UFC could have Tony Ferguson as a backup just in case one of the fighters missed weight. Then again, this solely depends on how willing the backup fighter is. Not everyone would take such a short-notice risk and spend the money to run a full camp and organize a weight cut that happens from weeks out before the fight for most fighters – only to be a potential replacement for one of two possible fighters.

And that too, without pay.

This is why, at the beginning of the section, I said that there is no perfect answer to this question. To an extent, what the fighters do is just cunning gameplaninng. On the flip side, it’s quite deplorable.

Amidst the confusion, we are sure of one thing: There are flaws in the system. And the lopsided numbers that suggest that weight cutting has developed into a tactical advantage in 2018 only seem to highlight that.

 

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