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Click Debate: Will the UFC really adopt new weight classes?

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Dana White was asked his thoughts after UFC 214 about the addition of new weight classes in mixed martial arts. Would the UFC be open to adopting them?

The promotion’s president was pretty succinct in his answer.

“Nope,” White said at the post-fight press conference in Anaheim, Calif., on July 29.

That pretty much sums up White’s attitude toward more divisions in the UFC. And he has been consistent on that topic since he and the Fertitta brothers took over MMA’s industry leader 16 years ago.

The sport has changed, though, and continues to evolve. More knowledge and data have been gathered over the last two years on weight cutting and severe dehydration than the previous 14 years combined. Last year, almost overnight, one of the time-held traditions in MMA was completely altered — weigh-ins went from the evening on the day before the fight to the morning to give athletes more time to rehydrate.

Just a few days before White gave his one-word answer about additional divisions, the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC), the group that overseas commissions in North America, approved the adoption of four new weight classes at 165 pounds, 175 pounds, 195 pounds and 225 pounds at its annual conference. Promotions do not have to add any of these new weight classes; there are current divisions that exist that the UFC and Bellator choose not to use and these are no different.

So will we one day see one, two or more of these classes in the UFC or Bellator? Andy Foster, the man who has championed the battle against extreme weight cutting, believes it’ll happen eventually.

“I don’t expect the UFC or Bellator to adopt these weight divisions tomorrow,” Foster, the executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), told MMA Fighting. “But when California club shows and Texas club shows and others have 165- and 175-pound divisions and fighters are locked into those, then I think we’ll see a change. It could take four or five years, maybe shorter than that.”

CSAC passed Foster’s 10-point weight-cutting package of regulations in May and they went into effect in June. The new rules include having doctors clear fighters for their specific weight class; recommending fighters move up if they weigh more than 10 percent above the division on fight day; recommending repeat weight miss offenders go up to the next class; and 30-day and 10-day weight checks for high-profile fights.

Some fighters have taken to cutting a dangerous amount of weight — 20 or 30 pounds during fight week, sometimes more — to reach a division and Foster is hoping to put an end to what he feels is the biggest problem facing mixed martial arts today.

The four new weight classes were part of the 10-point plan, too. Foster presented the entire package at the ABC Conference in Connecticut. The additional weight classes were the only things voted on and approved by the entire ABC body. For now.

“I want to come back next year after we have a little over a year of data worth from this thing, show it to people and say, ‘Look, this works,’” Foster said. “That’s only for the skeptics. I want people to adopt it right away, because it’s gonna save lives. But if they’re skeptical, I’ll come back with hard data, not just what I think and what I believe. Thoughts and beliefs don’t do a lot. Hard data shows.”

When Foster presented the 10-point plan to his own commission in May, he got letters of support from promotions like UFC, Bellator and Invicta. UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky wrote in his letter that the UFC is even in support of new weight classes.

“UFC recently unveiled the implementation of two new female weight classes at 125 and 145 pounds, respectively, as the global brand now offers competition at four 10-pound increment weight classes,” Novitzky wrote. “By adding these additional divisions, UFC believes it is providing more weight-specific options for UFC athletes to promote safer weight management goals.

“UFC also anticipates that regional talent, who are regularly scouted and imported to UFC’s roster, will soon be robust enough to support these additional weight classes with world-class talent that will eventually be promoted by the global brand. Further positive steps will include financial deterrents and physician sign-offs on weight class decisions for missing weight on more than one occasion.”

Novitzky once again endorsed the package of rules at the ABC Conference last month.

“We went over all 10 points with Andy and we like all of them,” Novitzky said. “We would encourage all commissions to adopt this plan.”

Bellator’s letter to CSAC, written by vice president of business and legal affairs Tracy Lesetar-Smith, emphasized a “slow roll out” for new weight classes. That seems to be a bit of the UFC’s position, too.

UFC general counsel Hunter Campbell addressed the ABC body during the conference and he explained that when White and the Fertittas took over the UFC it was important for them to not have a glut of weight classes, like boxing, which Campbell said would contribute to “consumer confusion.” In other words, too many weight classes might be bad for business.

“One of the things that has now come to the forefront is a discussion about how many weight classes are gonna be in mixed martial arts,” Campbell said at the conference. “And Andy has led kind of the charge on increasing the weight-class requirements and the weight-class divisions. While I think it’s important to provide that opportunity, one of the things that I just wanted to discuss is doing so meaningfully, so that we don’t run the risk of ultimately just continuing to create confusion in the sport.”

Fighters seem to be very much on board with new weight classes, especially at 165 and 175 pounds. The UFC’s 155- and 170-pound divisions are the most loaded in the game and a pair of new divisions would still be deep, in addition to allowing athletes to compete closer to their natural weight. Demian Maia, the top welterweight contender and former middleweight title challenger, spoke with hope about a 175-pound division after UFC 214.

But as far as the UFC goes, while the promotion supports the intentions behind these new provisions, bringing in more weight classes seems like too big of a commitment, at least at this juncture. Matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard surely have their hands full with the 12 current divisions and more than 500 fighters on the robust roster.

In other words, the UFC’s position on new weight classes probably falls under the category of another favorite White saying.

“We’ll see what happens.”

Source:: mma fighting