The life-threatening dangers of weight-cutting in boxing

Boiling down in weight is common practice in boxing and MMA but remains a controversial topic when outlining the dangers it brings.

Fighters who walk around at 180 pounds regularly cut weight down to 160 or 168 pounds to pass on the scales before rehydrating to compete just 24 hours later.

As Dr Mike Loosemore MBE explains (and detailed in this article), the regular boxing occurrence is a potentially life-threatening one.

Sweating out excess water to drop poundage is first said to have begun in wrestling before combat sports followed suit and it’s since been widespread.

Loosemore MBE, a chief medical officer for GB Boxing, had this warning for fighters using the method.

“First, there’s the danger of actually losing the weight,” says Dr Loosemore. “Sweat isn’t pure water – the salts that are in your blood are required for running your heart nice and smoothly.

“When you get very dry, you lose a lot of electrolytes.

“Those electrolytes are very important for the nerves that make your heart beat regularly. If they start misfiring you put yourself at risk of heart arrhythmia, heart attacks and death.”

With fighers often dropping 10 percent of their body weight, Loosemore recommends no more than a two percent loss.

“Greater percentages than that, we wouldn’t recommend,” says Dr Loosemore, “because it’s just dangerous. It’s Russian roulette.”

Making weight FINALv3

There are plenty of cases which made the headlines, Amir Khan for one when he fought Canelo Alvarez in 2016.

Alvarez is rumored to have weighed 185 pounds on fight night for a contracted 155 pound fight, whilst Khan struggled to hit the 160 mark.

In UFC, it’s reported Darren Till briefly lost his sight when struggling to make weight in May, whilst back in boxing, Danny O’Connor could barely make the scales for his world super-lightweight title fight with Jose Ramirez before being taken for treatment in hospital after collapsing.

“Often when you rehydrate the fluid doesn’t distribute itself normally within the body, and it can go in the wrong places,” Loosemore says.

“When you’re dry your body secretes anti-diuretic hormone, so you retain the fluids you take in when you rehydrate because you don’t pee them out.

“You have a rebound where you end up heavier than before.

“People may think that’s great. But it’s just fluid, it’s not muscle. What actually happens is the fighter feels really poor because they’re over-hydrated.

“It means you are almost certainly going to under-perform, so you’ve also got the danger of being hit hard and losing the fight.

“So while it may sound attractive to lose 20lbs before a fight and then put it back on again, it just doesn’t make any sense from a safety or performance point of view.

“I understand that people want to get their fights on but you have got to think about the fighters at the end of the day. They’ll do anything to fight.

“You’ve got to protect them from themselves. You can’t just allow anything to go, otherwise we will start seeing terrible injuries and deaths in the ring, and the sport will get banned because the public will be revolted by it.

“The rule should be that if you miss the weight you don’t fight, and you get a fine.

“As a doctor who cares about the fight game passionately and cares about the fighters, I don’t want to see these brave, talented young men dying because of a mad strategy to make weight.”

Dr. Mike Loosemore is a director at The Centre for Health & Human Performance (CHHP) www.chhp.com