Weight cutting in combat sports, including mixed martial arts (MMA), is a huge issue of debate due to the health risks to the athletes undergoing this practice. In 2016 the California state athletic commission changed their weigh-in process to allow athletes to weigh in 30 hours prior to their bout, rather than the customary 24 hours. This was termed the Early Weigh-in Policy (EWIP). Other measures included banning the use of intravenous rehydration, and allowing physicians to assess the athletes for signs of dehydration. The aim of these changes were to decrease the use of severe hydration techniques, ensure healthy rehydration, and penalise athletes for engaging in extreme weight-cutting. 

This study investigated athletes from UFC and Bellator events, who were overweight at the time of weigh-in, over a 2-year period before (120 events) and after (127 events) the adoption of the EWIP. The definition of “overweight” was being greater than 1lbs (0.45kg) over the limit for their weight category.   

5.7% of athletes in the period prior to the rule change, and 8.4% of athletes in the period after, were considered overweight. This increase was predominantly in female athletes. The average excess was 2.9lbs in the pre-EWIP and 3.9lbs in the post-EWIP. There was a significant increase in the number of athletes competing after missing weight (240 vs 153), bouts cancelled due to missed weight (14 vs 9), winning overweight athletes (120 vs 66), and “repeat offenders” (24 vs 13).

Although the study did not seek to investigate causes for data observed, it is thought that the longer window of recovery actually encouraged athletes to attempt to lose greater amounts of weight prior to the weigh-in.

The results of this study suggest that the early weigh-in policy did not have the desired effect, and that other interventions should be trialled. Some suggestions by the authors included:

  • Doing the opposite and shortening the time between weigh-in and bouts
  • Introducing additional weight classes
  • Not allowing athletes a second chance at weighing in
  • Longer-term monitoring of athlete’s weight
  • Hydration testing
  • Increased education

#thescienceofstriking #weightcutting #mma #ufc #bellator

Curran-Sills, G., Levitan, M., & Yeasmin, F. (2021). Evaluation of the early weigh-in policy for mixed martial arts events adopted by North American athletic commissions. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 1-7.


About the author

Sam Gilbert

Sam Gilbert is a registered physiotherapist with the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from Latrobe university (Melbourne, Australia) and a master’s degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) from Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia).

A 3rd Dan black belt in Shinkyokushinkai Karate under the World Karate Organisation (WKO), Sam participated for over 20 years in full contact competition, winning multiple state and national titles, and culminating in a 4th place in the heavyweight division of the Shinkyokushinkai World Cup in 2009.

As the co-founder and clinical director of Club 360, the premier multi-disciplinary health and fitness center in Tokyo, Japan, Sam has combined his practical experience with an in-depth study of sports performance in relation to combat sports, and strives to help other combat athletes reach their full competitive potential, whilst at the same time decreasing injury risk and increasing competition and training potential.

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