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Weight Cutting: The Phantom Menace of MMA

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Dangerous weight cuts are the phantom menace threatening MMA.

Strikeforce star Daniel Cormier had to pull out of the 2010 Beijing Olympics with kidney failure after a disastrous weight cut.
Strikeforce star Daniel Cormier had to pull out of the 2010 Beijing Olympics with kidney failure after a disastrous weight cut.

The dangers of Mixed Martial Arts are pretty obvious. Two men enter, one man leaves and all that. But MMA fans have become habituated to the dangers of unpadded strikes to the head and the cuts and bleeding that result. 

But the dangers of fighters cutting 10, 15, even 25 pounds in the days before a fight are often overlooked. They caught up with T.J. Cook after his undercard win over Lional Lanham on the Strikeforce Challengers 17 undercard. Cook had no sooner TKO'd Lanham than he collapsed in his corner from kidney failure.

"I told (my coach) my body felt like it was shutting down. Then, I blacked out. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see," Cook told

Coming in as a last-minute substitute, Cook had to lose 11 pounds in a matter of days to make the contracted 205lb limit for the bout. He spent the weekend following the fight in a Las Vegas hospital recovering from kidney failure and is now serving a medical suspension and awaiting news of his next bout.

Cook's not alone. Strikeforce heavyweight Daniel Cormier, who just snuck into the SF Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament as an alternate replacing Alistair Overeem, had to miss his shot at Olympic gold in 2010 when his kidneys failed in Beijing. Cormier was cutting weight to compete at 211lbs.

Now he's a permanently undersized heavyweight who doesn't dare try to make 205lbs because he doesn't dare push his kidneys again.

Cormier is no doubt familiar with the symptoms of Acute Renal Failure (ARF) like dry mouth, lack of urine, headache, lower back pain, nausea, and drowsiness.  ARF can be treated with fluids and a quick rehydration, but it can also become Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) if the fighter's kidneys give out from the strain. 

It's not just the kidneys that don't do well when the body is drained of fluids. Dehydrated brains are an even bigger threat to fighter health. Boxing fans old enough to remember Duk Koo Kim know why same day weigh ins are a thing of the past. Kim took a 14 round beating from Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini the same day he made a brutal cut down to 135lbs. 

Without sufficient time to rehydrate before the fight, Kim's dried up brain slammed against his skull every time Mancini's gloves made contact and after 14 rounds it was too much. Kim died 4 days after the bout.

MMA fighters need to be aware of the dangers of weight cutting when they sign those contracts and hit those scales. As long as fighters think they can get an advantage by fighting in a smaller weight class and coming in heavier than their opponent these risks will be with the sport.