Over the last few years––particulary the last year or so––it seems standard fare for UFC fighters to miss weight yet still be allowed to fight on the card. Yes, the fighter gives up a percentage of their purse, but they are still allowed to fight. This includes fighters missing weight by as much as 3.5 pounds or more. The list of fighters who have missed weight and were still allowed to fight is very long, so I won’t list them all, but just to name some: Darren Till, McKenzie Dern, Yoel Romero, Kelvin Gastelum, Johnny Hendricks, Aspen Ladd, Kevin Lee, Anthony Pettis, Sjara Eubanks, and the list goes on.
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It is not hard to grasp the reasons why this phenomenon continues to occur: The UFC is a business that values profits more than it does any sort of code of ethics or principles of sport. So, what happens going forward? Well, if the main goal is for fighters to not miss weight, then it’s quite simple, fighters can not be allowed to fight if they miss weight––even by a very small amount. If fighters missing weight is not of major concern to the UFC, commissions, and other fighters, this phenomenon will persist, to the disadvantage of the fighters who did the work to make the weight. This is basic behaviorism. By being allowed to fight after a weight miss, fighters are being conditioned to do so, and other fighters observe this behavior and it’s reinforcement, thereby making it more likely for this behavior to occur in the future. Look at how many fighters have missed weight multiple times. If fighters are denied the ability to fight after missing weight, and subsequently don’t get any income as a result, you can be certain that fighters will be much less likely to miss weight.
Missing weight will continue to be a recurrent problem as long as fighters are allowed to fight after doing so. If a no tolerance policy is implemented by the UFC, yes there will be an adjustment period, but I believe the problem of fighters missing weight so frequently will be greatly diminished. It is the entertainment––and therefore business––side of MMA fighting that allows for fighters to miss weight and still fight on that card, and this mechanism is not going to change any time soon without some intervention. I believe that the frequency of missed weights and subsequent fight-card complications can be reduced if a zero tolerance policy on missed weight is undertaken.
Part of what allows for this problem to persist, is that the business world tends to be short-sighted in their pursuit of profits, such that basic human nature is ignored. Don’t reward fighters for missing weight, or at least don’t reinforce the behavior by only punishing them monetarily. In many situations being allowed to fight without cutting the full amount of weight is giving fighters an advantage over their opponents who did cut the full amount and make-weight. A boost in the rankings and subsequent potential increases in future earnings will take precedence over the short-term loss of income, and so fighters have no motivation to push through a tough weight cut when the punishment of doing so is only of short-term, monetary consequence. In these cases the fighters who were more professional and made the weight, actually were penalized for doing so.
These patterns of fighters missing weight and still being allowed to fight need to cease in order for MMA to continue to flourish and for some level of sport to be maintained. If not and rules are not adhered to, then what is the point of weight classes and weigh ins?
What’s next, staged fights? I know I’m being dramatic here, but it is a slippery slope when rules are flouted for the sake of profits. When considering the recent UFC 232 debacle, the UFC seems to be unconcerned with equitable arrangements for fighters and loyalty to fans, and only profits are the business of the day. The fans will ultimately be the driving force, whereas when they buy the pay-per-view events––despite unsavory practices by the UFC––they are conditioning the UFC to continue doing what it does.
I am hoping that the UFC experiences backlash for some of their recent actions, so that the sport of MMA does not become a dog and pony show, of the likes of the WWE. Going forward, it is most likely that the casual fans will be the driving force behind the actions of the UFC and other MMA organizations, and that for a while the short-sightedness of the UFC will continue. In the long run I feel that this practice of allowing fighters who miss weight to fight will delegitimize the sport of MMA. This may be the ultimate direction that MMA is heading, but I am hoping for better. I think the fighters who bust their backs to make weight should not be disrespected and put at a marked disadvantage simply for the UFC’s benefit. Some form of collective bargaining would go a long way in preventing this trend from continuing, however, until then, the UFC will continue to look out for their own best interests: in the area of fighters making weight and the many other scenarios where fighter inequities are concerned.