[dropcap]A[/dropcap]sk just about any fighter, and they will tell you that the most emotional part of fighting is the weight cut. The constant change of emotions from lack of food, hydration, and even sleep take a huge toll on a fighter’s psyche and that of their family. Shasta “McNasty” McMurry
is no stranger to cutting weight. Although, she rarely has the need due to the lack of amateur Atom-weights (105lbs) available in the southwest. In fact, in her last fight for the World Fighting Federation in Phoenix, AZ, Shasta moved up two classes to Straw-weight (115lbs) for the third time in her amateur career. Her opponent missed weight by almost 4 pounds. McMurry said, “I don’t remember what the weight difference was, but if you choose the weight then make it. She looked just fine; she could have cut down to weight (115lbs). When someone doesn’t make weight and refuses to cut the remainder, to me that shows their lack of dedication.”
Short notice fights are the bread and butter for a lot of fighters. Some do it for money; some step in because they just love to fight. But what most people don’t see is the preparation and the emotional side that comes with a short notice fight. People love and hate fighters for similar reasons. Those reasons polarize fans in the media. Let’s look at two fighters from the same gym, with two very different mindsets, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Jon “Bones” Jones.
The man they call “Cowboy” is one of the most beloved fighters in the UFC, which I think part of it is his willingness to fight absolutely anyone they put in front of him, no matter if he has a full training camp or three days to cut weight. On the other hand you have “Bones.” He is one of the most loathed fighters in the UFC mainly because of the UFC 151 incident in which he refused to fight a now retired Chael Sonnen on short notice (which resulted in the greatest pizza special of all time) because he felt “like a piece of meat.” Obviously, being the current UFC light heavyweight champion and the number one ranked pound-for-pound fighter, Jon Jones is no poser. But what does this say about the mentality that it takes to not only be a fan favorite, but a world champion?
At an amateur level, an opponent missing weight could be just as frustrating as a professional missing weight in a title fight. Thus, causing the title to no longer be up for grabs. Why? Amateurs don’t get paid. For example, when a professional mixed martial artist misses weight, the custom is that said fighter gives up 20% of his agreed upon purse that he was to receive for competing. That 20% is usually enough to soften the blow for most fighters. In Shasta’s case, moving up in weight and already giving up a size advantage is more of an unnecessary emotional ride on weigh-in day. “Originally, two of the three (fights at catch-weights of 112-115lbs) were scheduled to be at 110lbs, but my opponent couldn’t make weight so we negotiated at the last minute. The third was agreed upon at 115lbs and she still couldn’t make it. I believe that if you can’t make the weight you agree upon and you aren’t clearly struggling, you lack the discipline,” says Shasta. “It drives me to push harder (in the fight). In the end, I just stick to my game plan and just do me.”
As popular as the UFC has become, Mixed Martial Arts is still a sport that many see as a violent show of testosterone, an event filled with people jumping off of barstools to beat the hell out of each other in a cage while their drunken buddies hoot and holler. It’s an image that many fighters, promoters, and fans have been trying to repaint for years. Sure, there is the one-off incidents of fighters getting into a scufffle outside of the cage like the infamous Jones/Cormier brawl at the MGM Grand, the entire eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter (thanks Junie), and who can forget the countless incidents of a certain guy currently sitting in prison. People use those incidents to define the sport and they use them as an excuse to condemn what they don’t understand. Not considering all of the hard work that GOOD-hearted athletes put into the sport seems unfair. People don’t understand the emotional roller-coaster fighters have to ride and that it is sometimes filled with more downs than ups. Aside from opponents missing weight, there are cases of training for months in preparation for one opponent, only for it to be switched the day before the big fight. Randy “The Triangle” Steinke is a professional Bantamweight and former King of The Cage champion out of The MMA LAB in Glendale, AZ. He is one of the top 135 pound prospects in the world with a rare mindset in MMA; anyone, anywhere, any time. Before his last KOTC fight, Steinke was riding a four-fight win streak. Those wins included one for the interim championship and he was set to fight for the undisputed Flyweight championship against current UFC Bantamweight Frankie Saenz. The fight never materialized and after a handful of replacements dropped out, Steinke was left without an opponent on weigh-in day. Enter Imani Jackson, a former rival that Steinke had fought once before.
Jackson stepped up to face Steinke for the second time after catching word that he also had no opponent for the event. Steinke went on to win that fight with a forty-six second submission in the first round. That win on Steinke’s record would not be there today had Jackson not stepped in to face the former champ. Normally, a last minute switch up would be a factor that could potentially cost a fighter the bout but Steinke’s take on the situation is a little different than most. “At the amateur level it can be a little worrisome, but as a professional I’m not really concerned with what he can do, because I already know what I’m capable of,” he says. What sets Randy Steinke apart from a lot of fighters that would’ve taken the situation as an out, leaving fans and the promoter without a fight? “I think it comes down to knowing that I train with high level guys, plus knowing I put every ounce of everything into a camp. I know I am prepared for anyone, no matter their style,” says Steinke.
From a promoter’s standpoint; missing weight, last minute changes, and no-shows can be especially frustrating. When it comes to Mixed Martial Arts shows, you cannot mention the southwest without Rage In The Cage. The show has been around since MMA was barely even a real thing and it just promoted its 174th event in seventeen years at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, Arizona. The event was headlined by former UFC vet Edwin Dewees. Arguably, nothing has promoted more fighters to the top of the Mixed Martial Arts game than RITC’s famous crimson canvas. That accolade does not come without its fair share of speed bumps.
The new co-owner/promoter of the show, Nathan Hyland, is only two events into his tenure since purchasing RITC from its former owner some months ago; however, Hyland is already experiencing some of the frustrations that come from matchmaking. “The biggest challenge we’ve encountered thus far is the matter of fighters showing up late and overweight at weigh-ins,” says Hyland. “We go out of our way to provide the RITC fighters and coaches with a professional organization that they can be proud of. Our Rage in the Cage team is dedicated to delivering the best in Southwest MMA and so we expect the same level or commitment and professionalism in return,” says Hyland. When asked how he feels about fighters that miss weight, and how he plans to handle it moving forward, Hyland responds with a sense of hope to improve the level of professionalism among the fighters.
“It’s disrespectful to the sport, to the organization, and to the fighter’s opponent to show up heavy and/or late. To ensure there is proper penalty and incentive, in addition to pros losing out on up to twenty percent of their fight purse, champions will also be stripped of their titles if they show up heavy two times consecutively, both amateur and professional. We are also considering ways to penalize amateurs financially as well. The opponent of the offender will always receive financial benefit, not us as the promoter.” -Nathan Hyland, RITC Owner
It’s rare to see a promoter so at ease about a topic like fighters missing weight or no-showing an event, but Hyland is supremely confident in his new family friendly product. “Not to dwell on the negative; the new era RITC has churned out two successful shows via 173 and 174. The fighters, coaches and RITC staff are thrilled about what the future holds. Now that the kinks are worked out of the first two shows under new ownership, those involved can expect even bigger things with each event.” The next RITC event will be held on December 27th, 2014 in Phoenix.
Now you can’t have an article about missing weight without mentioning Bellator 129, which took place on October 17th, 2014 in Iowa. 7 out of 11 fights on the card had to be changed to catch-weights because of fighters showing up overweight. Granted, some were late notice fights, but the most notable mishap in a fight that was not short notice was the fight between Jozette Cotton and Holly Lawson. In a fight that was originally scheduled to take place at a 152 pound catch-weight, Cotton came in at 167.7 pounds. Although, Lawson came in at 163.1lbs, there was no confirmation as to whether Lawson stopped her weight cut due to Cotton not being near the agreed weight or if she was going to come in heavy as well. In the fight, the weight cut (or lack thereof) showed, in what many have called one of the most embarrassing fights in history, not only for women’s MMA but for mixed martial arts as a whole. The fight showed three rounds of very little action, unnecessary showboating (including the infamous pogo stick), and a roar of boos from the crowd.
The question is, how should fighters like that be handled? Is a twenty percent purse cut enough? Should a fighter that misses weight by sixteen plus pounds be suspended for a year, at the very least? Should the promoter cut a contracted fighter for missing weight, or not showing at an event? Some might keep those fighters around because of ticket sales, while some might scrap them immediately for being unreliable. Whatever the case, making weight will always be an issue with Mixed Martial Arts. The sport, as a whole, must decide to take a stand and really send a message to those that prove unreliable when it is time to step into the cage. To me, it is a no-brainer.