Dr. John Gelber Discusses Extreme Weight Cutting

Jonathan Gelber M.D., M.S., is an orthopedic surgeon with fellowship training in sports medicine. He authored The Ultimate Guide to Preventing and Treating MMA Injuries, available now on Amazon. The book delivers on its promise; Dr. Gelber explains the injuries martial artists face, with input from current and former champions, and how to avoid and recover from them.

We sat down with him for some more detail on extreme weight cutting.

Bad Boy: Weight cutting has been a constant in modern MMA and it seems like there’s been an arms race to be the largest fighter in the division. Is there a point where physically there are diminishing returns?

Dr. Gelber: We’ve looked at this with wrestlers, and guys who cut the most weight were winning less often. The NCAA in the 90’s had a couple weight cutting deaths in a short amount of time and moved the weigh ins to the same day to limit how much people were cutting.

That’s something MMA commissions are looking to as well, which is a hard balance between weighing in at the appropriate weight class they’re scheduled for. None of them are fighting at what they weighed in at, some are one or even two weight classes above that. It’s a big risk and not really for the benefit of the fighter.

How it can affect your kidneys and nervous system, we looked at balance and reaction time at the Cleveland clinic. Guys cutting more weight actually have worse balance and reaction time.

BB: You bring up same day weigh ins which we’ve seen work in grappling, but with blows to the head is there a chance for brain injuries to get more severe?

DR. G: It all depends on how much you have to weigh in. If you can’t hydrate enough then you’re at risk. If it’s the same day and you’re dehydrated, that’s a poor cut. It all depends on how much you want to cut and if that’s safe or not.

BB: Do you see the trend continuing to moving away from extreme cuts, and more like Dustin Poirier and Robert Whittaker moving up to find success in a more natural weight?

DR. G: I think so. I think they feel better and I think they perform better. Even when they moved the recent UFC weigh ins earlier fighters were more comfortable, they didn’t have to stay dehydrated for as long. The athletes will see that if they’re not dehydrating themselves and going through extreme weight cuts, a vast majority of them will feel better and therefore perform better.

That’s what a lot of wrestlers figured out a long time ago. Hopefully, with the right education and the right mindset, mixed martial artists will adapt their weigh ins and not put themselves at undue risks. They want to win, and if not cutting as much weight puts that at a higher chance of winning then that’s the route they need to take.

You can find more from Dr. John Gelber at his site FightMedicine.net

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