This week I built on my proud history of needling world-famous sports writers by exchanging tweets with Nigel Collins, former editor of The Ring magazine and all-around good guy, who recently wrote a typically scholarly yet entertaining article on the topic of making weight. This subject has been in the news a lot lately, as there have been several occasions where a fighter, usually but not invariably the “A”-side, has failed to achieve his target weight by the time of weigh-in. Floyd Mayweather, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Julio Cesár Chavez, Jr. have all been guilty of this. In each case the culpable celebrity fatty has paid his opponent cash from his share of the purse: Floyd, for example, paid $600,000 to Juan Manuel Marquez in return for being allowed to weigh in two pounds over the limit.
Of course, in a fight the odd pound doesn’t matter. The issue is the impact on the body of making weight in the first place. Fighters struggle and sweat hard to lose the weight, mainly by dehydration, and the last couple of pounds are inevitably much the hardest. So if one fighter makes the effort and the other doesn’t the latter will likely recover from the effort much more quickly, giving him a physical advantage. He will also have got away with it, potentially giving him a psychological advantage. Theoretically his opponent could refuse to fight and have the whole thing called off: but after months of training, and possibly a lifetime of preparation for a unique opportunity (e.g., to fight Mayweather), at the risk of being called a ducker, and under pressure from all the interested parties (promoters, broadcasters, managers, fighters on the undercard, and so on) who is going to do that? Big-name fighters like Mayweather and Chavez know this perfectly well, and are clearly taking unfair advantage.
So, bad things happen before the weigh-in. But equally bad things happen thereafter. Some fighters add enormous amounts of weight, 15lb or more, in the 24 hours between the weigh-in and the actual fight. (Some fighters specialize in it: Chavez reputedly comes in at as much as 180lbs for the fight despite fighting in the 160lb middleweight division.) Size isn’t everything, but this amount, much more than “the odd pound”, potentially can give a fighter a big advantage in the ring.
And some combine the offences. In a case already discussed on this blog Orlando Salido weighed in for his recent featherweight fight with Vasyl Lomachenko more than two pounds over the contracted 126lbs, then gained an amazing nineteen further pounds by the time of the fight, making him in reality a welterweight, four whole weight classes higher, and meaning that by the time he entered the ring his bodyweight was one-sixth higher than the featherweight “limit” at which he had agreed to fight.
This sort of carry-on undermines the whole point of weight limits, which is to ensure that fighters are physically fairly matched, and that the fight is decided by performance rather than poundage. More importantly, dehydrating then rehydrating the body – the principal means of losing then gaining weight rapidly – is dangerous at the best of times, never mind the day before volunteering to get repeatedly punched in the head. As with most of the safety aspects of boxing, objective scientific evidence is dismayingly hard to come by, but it seems possible that such drastic weight loss and gain may contribute materially to the risk of brain injury. Certainly, it is noteworthy that heavyweights, who punch (and so receive punches) hardest, but who do not have to make weight, appear to suffer fewer serious injuries or deaths in the ring than lighter fighters (though anecdotally they do seem to be particularly prone to longer-term issues like Parkinson’s, dementia pugilistica, frontal lobe syndrome and so on).
So what is to be done? Part of the problem lies in the decision to move the weigh-in to the day before the fight. This was intended to make things safer, but as usual with boxing, this doesn’t seem to have been thought through all that carefully. After all, the longer you have to recover, the more you are going to try to “boil down” to a weight that doesn’t really suit your physique.
Nigel Collins suggests we go back to the old way of doing things, namely, weigh-ins on the day of the fight. This might stop fighters adding back quite so much weight between weigh-in and fight, but it doesn’t seem to me to address the safety problem: we’ll still have people sweating hard to get the last pounds off. Here’s the conversation:
Nigel Collins @ESPNFNF Mar 13
@DabberMatt Less is more. Make weight on the day of the fight. It’s simple and honors the concept of weight classes.
Matthew Bailey @DabberMatt Mar 13
@ESPNFNF But the aim is to match fighters by weight, not lead to a dangerous weight-loss & gain contest. Regular weighing is simple & fair.
Nigel Collins @ESPNFNF Mar 13
@DabberMatt We disagree.
We certainly do, though in the most civil of terms.
Enough namedropping: here’s what I think. With the greatest of respect to Nigel Collins, here less is not more. To me, the problem lies with the very idea of “the” weigh-in, that is, with only having one. Instead, for a contracted period before the fight, say four to six weeks, the fighters should be weighed regularly – for big fights, maybe even daily. Over this period they have to stay within some reasonable margin over the contracted weight for the fight (somewhere around five per cent of bodyweight is probably about right). Then they are weighed on the day of the fight, when they actually do have to make weight. This would ensure that the guys fighting at the given weight are, normally, round about that weight – which, to me, “honours the concept of weight classes” much better than a once-and-for-all last-minute check. It would mean no more massive dehydration and rehydration (and consequent weight loss and gain) before a fight. And if a fighter is clearly not going to make the weight, he can be warned, sanctioned and even disqualified well in advance, helping to avoid the dilemmas of a possible last-minute cancellation.
Secondly – and I know this will be unpopular – it is clearly time to consider changing the weight classes. People are generally significantly bigger and heavier now than they were a century and a half ago, when the original classification was introduced. The average adult male in the UK now weighs about 85kg, making him a cruiserweight. His counterpart from 1870 was 70kg, just barely a middleweight (as one might intuitively expect for the average or “middling” man). And there are precedents: Olympic weightlifting has changed its weight classes numerous times to reflect exactly this phenomenon, with the heaviest class having changed from over 82.5kg between 1920-48 to over 105kg today.
Finally, it seems to me that this is yet another reason to lament boxing’s complete and utter lack of a central governing body with a responsibility for fighter safety. This isn’t just a technical debate, nor can it satisfactorily be solved with money. Most importantly, for the fighters, there is a lot more at stake than “honouring a concept”.
 Lomachenko gained weight before fighting too, but was still about 12lbs lighter than his opponent on entering the ring.
 David Walsh could learn a thing or two from this exchange.