The weight cut – the process of losing weight in the run-up to a fight – is one of the most important components of pre-fight preparation in modern MMA. In North America, athletes have it down to a science. But in Asia, many fighters still have limited understanding of how to properly manage their weight. In this article, Strikeforce fighter Pat Healy shares the details of how he cuts weight.
In the early days of MMA, weight classes were non-existent, and fighters would often find themselves facing significantly larger opponents. As part of the sanctioning process that occurred in the US, weight classes were introduced to create a safer competitive environment, with this regulation becoming a standard practice internationally, although some tournaments still occasionally hold open-weight or even “David and Goliath” fights.
In MMA, body mass is a competitive advantage, and with most weigh-ins taking place the day before the bout, the process of cutting (and more importantly, regaining) weight has become one of the most important elements of preparing for a fight. During the weeks leading up to a bout, fighters will shed as much weight in the form of fat as possible, while trying to minimize muscle loss. And in the final few days before competition, athletes lose as much water weight as they can, which they then regain via rehydration between the weigh-in and the fight.
The advantage enjoyed by fighters who know how to cut weight against those who don’t can be massive. One of my favorite examples is UFC Fight Night 21 in 2010, where Brazil’s Gleison Tibau fought Japan’s Caol Uno. The day before the fight, both men weighed in at 70 kilograms (155 pounds) – the weight limit for the lightweight class. When they stepped into the cage the following night, Uno had regained two kilograms (four pounds); Tibau had regained almost 13 kilograms (30 pounds). I watched the fight, and it was like observing a man fight a child. Unsurprisingly, Tibau beat Uno by TKO in the first round.
There are a few Asia-Pacific countries – notably South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand – where fighters demonstrate a good working knowledge of the weight-cutting process. But most Asian fighters are still more similar to Caol Uno than to Gleison Tibau – dropping and regaining only a few kilograms as part of their weight cut process. As the level of their competition grows and they begin to fight higher level international opponents, the ability to cut weight will become an increasingly critical success factor.
During his time training Chinese fighters at Xian Physical Education University, Team Quest fighter Pat Healy spent some time teaching them about the importance of properly cutting weight. He shares a summary of his own approach below in the hope that it will be helpful to Asia-Pacific fighters seeking to learn a more efficient, effective weight cut:
Six weeks before my fight, I weigh around 84 kilograms (185 pounds). I drop around nine kilograms (20 pounds) through dieting, and drop the last five kilograms (11 pounds) via water loss. I would not recommend planning to drop more than five kilograms (11 pounds) via water loss because it will greatly affect your performance.
I begin dieting about five weeks out from my fight. My diet is a guideline – you can substitute freely – for example, pasta for rice – but the important thing is to get the right ratios of carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables.
Each day, I always eat my first meal within one hour of waking up, and ideally within the first 30 minutes, because that gets your metabolism going. My first meal is 5 cooked egg whites, 1 cup of cooked oatmeal, and 1 cup of assorted fruits in the oatmeal.
Three hours later, I drink a protein shake.
Two hours after that, I eat 6 ounces of lean meat such as steak or chicken, 1.5 cups of rice, 1.5 cups of vegetables.
Three hours after that, I have a protein shake.
Three hours after that, I eat another 6 ounces of lean meat, 1.5 cups of rice, and 1.5 cups of vegetables.
And for the last meal of day, I have another protein shake – ideally 2.5 hours before sleeping.
If you feel you aren’t losing enough weight, then cut the carbohydrate intake a little. During the final week before the fight, I drop to half a cup of rice, versus the original 1.5. And during the dieting, as I get closer to the fight, I will adjust and maybe take out some of the carbohydrates. If I’m having a really tough time, I might substitute a protein shake for a meal.
Three days before the weigh-ins, I try to drink 5 gallons of water that day. Usually, I won’t eat very much that day since I’m so bloated from the water. This flushes everything out of my system, and I usually lose 2 kilograms (4 pounds) by 3 PM the next day. The first time I did this, I was so freaked out because when I stepped on the scale the night after drinking those 5 gallons of water, I was way overweight and thought “Oh man, what have I done?” But by 2 PM the next day I was down to 73 kilograms (161 pounds).
The night before weigh-ins will be the first night that I do any water-weight cutting. I step into the sauna in a sauna-suit and sweatshirt for just a few minutes (maybe 10 to 15) until I break a solid sweat, then I work out in the sauna-suit and sweatshirt for three rounds (the same duration as a full fight) lightly executing my game plan. Then I finish out with 20 minutes in the sauna, but this time without the sauna-suit and sweater. That night, I drink enough water to sleep comfortably without being extremely dehydrated. And the next morning, I will have a very light all-protein breakfast – like maybe 5 cooked egg whites, or an egg white omelet with vegetables.
I time the last cut for two hours before weigh-ins so that I’m dehydrated for as little time as possible. I do the last cut in a warm (not hot) bath containing 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of Epsom salt and three liters (100 fluid ounces) of rubbing alcohol. You want the rubbing alcohol with the highest alcohol content possible (usually 90%). The Epsom salt is meant to pull out the layer of water in the skin, as opposed to dehydrating your internal organs like a sauna would do. When my internal organs are dehydrated, I might not be able to rehydrate in time for the fight, and it could also have potential health risks. Rehydrating the skin is a lot quicker and also much safer for your body. Just sitting in the tub, I can do 3.5 kilograms (eight pounds) in 45 minutes. When I get out, I put the plastics back on, get comfortable, and lie down and sweat in them for another 15 minutes. And then BOOM – I’m on weight!