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How Do MMA Fighters Cut Weight?

Heorhii Rysak

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a sport where precision matters, not just in technique but also in body weight. The process known as ‘cutting weight’ is a meticulous and crucial part of a fighter’s journey leading up to the fight. Here’s a comprehensive guide to understanding the ins and outs of this practice. Also, if perhaps you need to choose Mouthguards for MMA, we have prepared for you a review of Best Mouthguards for MMA, you can see it here

What is Cutting Weight?

The term “cutting weight” often floats around in the world of MMA, hinting at a tactical maneuver fighters employ to gain an upper hand in the cage. But to grasp the essence of weight cutting, one must first delve into the significance of MMA weight classes.

MMA weight classes are meticulously crafted divisions ensuring fighters face opponents of similar stature and weight. This systematic categorization eliminates lopsided advantages that could arise from significant disparities in physical attributes. Imagine a scenario where a 160lbs fighter squares off against an adversary weighing 190lbs. The latter, with a 30lbs advantage, is inherently stronger, likely translating that weight difference into more potent strikes or superior grappling strength. To negate such uneven matchups, weight divisions are critical.

Now, where does weight cutting fit into this matrix? Weight cutting is a deliberate, albeit temporary, reduction of one’s regular body weight, aiming to qualify for a lighter weight class than the fighter’s typical category. The ultimate goal? To be a more formidable contender within that lower division, potentially enjoying a size and strength benefit over naturally lighter opponents.

Weigh-ins, which occur a few days prior to the actual fight, determine a fighter’s eligibility for a specific weight class. It’s during this period that the weight cutting process hits its crescendo. Fighters usually embark on their weight-cutting journey about 5-7 days ahead of these weigh-ins, employing various methods to shed those extra pounds, only to regain most of it before they step into the cage for the actual bout.

How to Weight Cutting MMA?

The weight-cutting phenomenon in combat sports, especially among fighters, largely hinges on rapid dehydration techniques. Given that water constitutes approximately 60% of our body mass, shedding water weight becomes a primary method for fighters aiming for swift and temporary weight loss. To bolster this process, fighters strategically curtail their intake of carbohydrates and salts, both of which promote water retention in the body. It’s not uncommon for fighters to shed a staggering 15-20lbs within a short span leading up to the official weigh-ins.

However, this practice isn’t devoid of risks. Rapid dehydration can disrupt the body’s electrolyte balance, affecting muscle function and even cognitive abilities. Additionally, such abrupt weight changes can strain the cardiovascular system, potentially leading to serious health repercussions.

It’s crucial to note that professional fighters don’t embark on this journey alone. They are typically flanked by a team of nutritionists, medical experts, and trainers who monitor every step of the weight-cutting process, ensuring it’s done with the utmost care and safety. These professionals employ scientifically-backed methods and offer guidance tailored to each fighter’s unique physiology.

For those considering emulating such practices outside of a professional setting, a word of caution is imperative: Engaging in weight-cutting without the guidance of trained professionals can be perilous. It’s paramount to prioritize one’s health and seek expert advice before undertaking such rigorous changes.

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How do fighters cut weight safely?

Cutting weight is not synonymous with self-deprivation or drastic reductions in food and water intake; such tactics can precipitate dire health consequences, including organ failure or even a fatal outcome. Instead, a structured and scientifically-informed approach, prioritizing safety and sustainability, is paramount.

Central to a safe weight-cutting regimen is the measured tapering of water consumption over several days. Starting from a gallon, one might gradually decrease the intake to half a gallon, followed by minimal amounts, such as a cup, closer to the weigh-in day. Concurrently, the MMA dietary focus should pivot towards nutrient-dense, protein-rich foods. Leafy greens like broccoli and spinach are excellent choices, complemented by lean proteins such as chicken and fish. These not only sustain energy levels but also facilitate muscle retention during this taxing period.

It’s essential to remain vigilant about salt intake during this phase. While salt is vital for many bodily functions, in the context of weight cutting MMA, it can exacerbate dehydration. Salt has the propensity to retain water, potentially counteracting the dehydration efforts and, in severe cases, endangering vital organs.

Yet, even with a meticulously planned regime, the weight-cutting journey should never be embarked upon solo. A pre-requisite is a thorough consultation with medical professionals who can provide personalized guidance and monitor one’s health throughout the process. Moreover, regular check-ins and perhaps even a nutritionist’s oversight can prove invaluable in ensuring the process remains within safe boundaries.

What happens when someone doesn’t make weight?

When a fighter fails to hit their target weight during the crucial weigh-in, they’re said to have “missed weight.” This means they no longer align with the designated weight bracket they were set to compete in. Such a lapse is not merely an oversight; it has tangible repercussions, both within and outside the octagon.

A fighter who doesn’t meet their weight class’s criteria is typically given a grace period, often 1 to 2 hours, for a re-weigh. This window provides a second chance, albeit slim, for fighters to course-correct, possibly through last-minute sweat sessions or other rapid weight loss measures. Should they falter on this second attempt, the onus then shifts to the MMA event organizers and the opposing fighter.

One possible solution is proposing a “catchweight” bout. This refers to a middle ground, a mutually agreed upon weight limit that both fighters can realistically achieve. While this compromise ensures the match proceeds, it doesn’t absolve the fighter who missed weight from penalties.

In fact, the financial ramifications can be steep. A fighter who misses weight is usually mandated to forfeit a significant portion, typically 20-30%, of their fight purse to their adversary. This penalty applies regardless of the fight’s outcome, making it a substantial loss even if they secure a win. Additionally, many MMA bouts feature enticing post-match bonuses for exceptional performance, often hovering around the $50,000 mark. A fighter who has missed their weight becomes ineligible for such bonuses, a potential financial blow that further underscores the importance of meticulous weight management.

What is the best way to cut weight for MMA fighters?

Dietary Adjustments

  • Carbohydrate Cycling: Fighters reduce their carb intake as the fight approaches. Since carbohydrates retain water, lowering intake can help shed water weight.
  • Sodium Manipulation: Sodium can cause water retention. Fighters often reduce salt intake leading up to the weight cut and then completely eliminate it a few days before the weigh-in.
  • Water Loading Weight Cut: This involves drinking significant amounts of water several days out from the weigh-in and then drastically reducing water intake as the weigh-in gets closer. This process can trick the body into expelling more water than it takes in.


  • Sauna: Fighters use saunas to sweat out excess water.
  • Steam Rooms: Similar to saunas but uses steam to induce sweating.
  • Hot Baths: Submerging in hot water can cause a fighter to sweat out significant amounts of water.
  • Sweat Suits: Wearing heavy clothing or specialized suits during workouts to promote sweating.


  • Cardiovascular Exercise: Running, cycling, and other cardio workouts can help burn off last-minute calories and shed water weight.
  • Strength Training: While not a primary method for weight loss just before a fight, maintaining muscle mass can help increase metabolism and assist in weight management in the longer term.

Supplements and Medications

  • Diuretics: Some fighters might be tempted to use diuretics to increase urine production and lose water weight. However, these substances are banned in many organizations due to the health risks they pose.

Rehydration and Refeeding

After the weigh-in, fighters need to recover their strength and energy for the actual fight.

  • Electrolyte Drinks: To replenish lost electrolytes and avoid cramps or other physical issues.
  • Carb-heavy Foods: To restore glycogen levels in the muscles.
  • Water: It’s crucial to rehydrate carefully after the weigh-in to avoid overloading the body and causing potential health issues.

Professional Guidance

  • Nutritionists and Dieticians: Fighters often consult professionals to ensure they’re cutting weight safely and effectively.
  • Medical Supervision: Regular check-ups and monitoring can ensure that a fighter’s health isn’t compromised during the weight-cutting process.

It’s crucial to understand that weight cutting in MMA can be hazardous. While the strategies mentioned can be effective, they carry inherent risks. Over-aggressive weight cutting can lead to dehydration, reduced performance, impaired cognitive function, and in severe cases, damage or failure of organs. Therefore, it’s always recommended that fighters undertake such processes under professional guidance and with utmost care for their health.

What occurs if a MMA champion fails to meet the required weight for a fight?

When an MMA champion fails to make the required weight for a title bout, it sets off a chain of professional, financial, and reputational repercussions. The process and consequences that follow are not only significant for the fighter but also for the promotion, fans, and the sport as a whole.

Professional Ramifications

  • Loss of Title Opportunity: If a reigning champion misses weight, they risk being stripped of their title. On the other hand, if a challenger in a title fight doesn’t make weight, the fight could proceed, but if the overweight challenger wins, they won’t be awarded the title. Essentially, the belt would either remain with the existing champion or become vacant, depending on the circumstances.
  • Altered Bout Status: Often, the bout will be changed from a title fight to a non-title or “catchweight” bout, especially if both fighters and the promotion agree to proceed. A “catchweight” fight means the contest takes place at an agreed-upon weight that isn’t a standard divisional limit.

Financial Implications

  • Monetary Penalties: Fighters who miss weight typically face a financial penalty, often forfeiting a percentage of their purse (sometimes as high as 20-30%) to their opponent. This can mean a substantial financial hit, especially for champions, who usually earn higher purses than other fighters on the card.
  • Loss of Bonus Earnings: Most promotions offer bonuses for “Fight of the Night”, “Performance of the Night”, and other accolades. A fighter who fails to make weight could be deemed ineligible for these bonuses, representing a significant lost earning opportunity.

Reputational Consequences

  • Damage to Professional Credibility: Champions are viewed as the pinnacle of their respective weight classes. Failing to make weight can tarnish a champion’s reputation, casting doubts on their discipline, professionalism, and dedication. In a sport where respect and honor play vital roles, this can have long-term implications for how a fighter is perceived.
  • Fan Disappointment: Fans often look forward to title fights with great anticipation. A champion missing weight can lead to fan disillusionment, affecting the fighter’s popularity and marketability.
  • Promotional Impacts: Promotions invest significant resources in marketing and hyping title fights. A champion’s failure to make weight can undermine these promotional efforts, affecting ticket sales, pay-per-view buys, and overall fan engagement. It could also strain the relationship between the fighter and the promotion.

Health Concerns

  • Physical Toll: If a champion (or any fighter) fails to make weight, it’s often a sign of an extreme MMA weight cut, which can have significant health repercussions. Extreme dehydration, kidney failure, electrolyte imbalances, and even death are potential consequences of severe weight cuts.
  • Performance Impact: Apart from the health concerns, there’s the matter of performance inside the cage. An extreme weight cut can lead to diminished strength, stamina, and cognitive function, potentially affecting the outcome of the fight.

Potential Future Impacts

  • Stricter Oversight: Repeated instances of fighters, especially champions, missing weight might prompt athletic commissions and governing bodies to implement stricter guidelines and closer monitoring of the weight-cutting process.
  • Career Progression: Depending on the reasons behind the missed weight and the fighter’s relationship with the promotion, it could affect their future booking opportunities and career trajectory.

Which MMA fighter has achieved the greatest weight loss prior to their fight?

MMA Weight cutting is a prevalent practice in MMA, with fighters often shedding significant pounds to compete in a particular weight class. While many fighters have undergone impressive weight cuts, it’s hard to definitively pinpoint one as the “greatest” in terms of sheer numbers. Different fighters might drop significant weight for their bouts, but the context of their weight loss, the duration over which they cut, and their personal health implications can vary greatly.

One notable example, however, is Gleison Tibau. Throughout his UFC career, the Brazilian lightweight was known for undergoing one of the most drastic weight cuts in the sport. Tibau, who walked around at over 180 pounds, often cut to make the lightweight limit of 155 pounds. This means he routinely cut over 25 pounds to make weight, only to rehydrate and regain much of it back before the fight.

Another fighter worth mentioning is Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. Johnson, who started his career at 170 pounds (welterweight) and eventually fought at 205 pounds (light heavyweight), is known to have cut massive amounts of weight. Johnson has often been cited as looking much bigger than many of his opponents, even at light heavyweight.

However, while these weight cuts are undeniably impressive, they come with significant health risks. Rapidly losing and then regaining weight can have both short-term and long-term health consequences, and there’s an ongoing debate about the safety of such practices.

It’s also essential to note that various fighters might have personal anecdotes or lesser-known instances of dramatic weight loss, so pinpointing a single “greatest” weight loss might not encompass all such notable efforts in the sport.


How much weight can an MMA fighter cut safely? 

A fighter’s safe weight-cutting limit varies based on factors like body composition, metabolism, and experience. However, it’s generally advised that fighters not lose more than 5-10% of their body weight.

Why do fighters cut the weight instead of fighting at their natural weight? 

Cutting weight for wrestling gives fighters a size and strength advantage. By weighing in at a lower weight class and then rehydrating, fighters can be significantly heavier on the fight day, potentially overpowering their opponents.

Is weight cutting banned in MMA? 

No, weight cutting is not banned. However, certain promotions and commissions have implemented measures to ensure the process is done safely.

How do fighters rehydrate after weighing in? 

Fighters typically consume electrolyte drinks, water, and carb-rich foods. Some may also use IV drips, though this method is controversial and banned in some organizations.

Can extreme weight cutting affect a fighter’s performance? 

Absolutely. If done improperly, extreme weight cutting can lead to fatigue, cognitive impairments, and reduced physical capabilities.