Weight classes are featured in a multitude of sports, but they are arguably most important in combat sports. They ensure that fighters are of similar size, speed and strength; making the competition truly about who has more skill in whatever martial art they practice. However, it is common practice nowadays for bigger, stronger fighters to initiate rapid weight loss leading up to a fight, so they can fight with individuals in a lower weight class then their typical weight. Most fighters do have to participate in weight cutting. Some fighters only need to drop a few pounds; others drop 20-30 pounds in a matter of days. These cuts seem to be more drastic in MMA than in other combat sports.
This article explains how cutting weight is done; by fasting and dehydration techniques, therefore it is mostly water weight lost not fat. Some of the dehydration techniques involve rubber body suits and very hot saunas. In other words they sweat an outrageous amount and, since sweat is not just water, there is a loss valuable nutrients needed for the body to perform optimally. This lack of water may lead to kidney impairment, an inability to sweat leading to heat stroke and has even been linked to an increased possibility in brain injury. After the weigh-in fighters attempt to re-hydrate themselves, but it is much harder to do this in time, leading to some fighters entering the ring dehydrated.
According to this scholarly article, rapid weight loss does affect the psychological and physiological health of competitors. Some psychological affects are decreased memory, vigor, concentration and increased rage, fatigue, confusion and depression. Physiologically, it makes sense that a serious lack of fluids and nutrients leads to impairment of both aerobic and anaerobic performance.
The question remains, why would anyone put their body through that much torture just to go through even more pain in he ring? Well, my guess would be that their want to win is very high. It’s the same idea as if someone is playing badminton. They may normally play in a higher division but as soon there is a competition they go into a lower division and beat everybody. Someone who is normally 190 lbs drops to 165 lbs to fight, they are physically larger then their opponent giving them a distinct advantage.
Once one person figured out this loop hole, everyone else followed. Then it became the social norm to do this. Leading to the formation of in-groups and out-groups or those who cut a lot and those who don’t. This article explains that for successful groups, perceived group performance is the most important factor leading to group identification. And bigger fighters do have a distinct advantage in the ring, having longer reach and more strength. With that being said, a significant performance boost within one group will lead to others quickly joining them. Especially at the professional level, winning equals more money.
Everyone has experienced hunger and a lack of fluids at one point or another. I personally get irritable and am unable to focus on anything until I’m satiated. I couldn’t imagine having to go into a ring and cope with all the associated stress of fighting plus being physically and psychologically drained. Weight cutting remains a controversial topic in combat sports because unlike other sports, if you are not physically and mentally prepared, you can and most likely will get severely injured (more so than usual).