International Handler’s Curse : It’s Scary Cutting Weight in Japan

Recently we saw the weigh-ins for Pancrase 290. For the most part, it was business as usual for the promotion. However, there was one disturbing image that has shaken up the MMA world and is currently on fire on Social Media. That is the image of Brazilian fighter, Daniel Lima De Carvalho, unable to stand on the scales without assistance from his coach. He was so dehydrated and drained of energy that he required two men to help him up the stairs and to balance him on the scales.

We recall needless deaths of fighters from other promotions such as 21 year old, One FC fighter Yang Jian Bing, who passed away 11 December 2015 at 12.06 PM due to cardiopulmonary failure. He was cutting weight at the time to make it on the End of Year show for the One FC Promotion back in 2015. He died at a young age, and for what? Should fighters be allowed to cut down so many kilos just to fight in a lower weight division? Should the powers that be say you can not cut more than X% of your walk around weight? Who is to blame? In most cases, the family of the fighter is left with little or no recourse. They have to live with the pain of losing a family member at such a young age.

This is not a single incident, back in March 2017 Scottish Muay Thai fighter, Jordan Donald, known by the ring name of Jordan Lamnammoon Muay Thai, was found dead while wearing a heavy sweat suit. Police speculate his death was brought on by a heat stroke.  It was said that he was trying to cut weight for his upcoming fight and was jogging in the hot Thailand sun to achieve his fighting weight.  Recently the UFC was in Japan to put on their annual Japan show. Once again, one of the fighters Mizuto Hirota misses weight and can barely stand on the scale.

(Video courtesy of MMAJunkie)

Expertly UFC brass sees the potential problem and pulls the fighter from the card. They acted in the best interest of the fighter. A simple search of your favorite search engine for the term “MMA Fighter Dies”, will show you just how dangerous it can be for a fighter in good condition to fight in an MMA match. In these cases of the extreme weight cut, it is even more dangerous. You have to understand what is really happening inside the body of these fighters. When a fighter wants to cut weight for a match, the easiest weight to cut is the water weight. Your body retains a certain amount of water inside to keep your body hydrated. This is used to cool the body and to keep the vital organs functioning. You also have a liquid barrier in your head around your gray matter of your brain. When a fighter wants to cut weight they dehydrate. This water reserve in the body is diminished. It puts the vital organs and the brain at a severe injury risk. Usually, the fighter has only one day to recover before they are in the cage in a life and death struggle. Get it? One day after your body, organs, and the brain has been severely dehydrated, you are in a cage getting punched, kicked, elbowed, and kneed in your head and body.

 

Until recently most organizations allowed the fighters to rehydrate their bodies using intra-veinous drips. These were administered by a team doctor and it helped the fighter to recover in a more sound way by letting their body absorb liquids quickly through the bloodstream. Now, IVs are not used in promotions like the UFC because PED testing companies like USADA say that and IV can be used to mask PED use in a fighter. That means that the fighters have to drink electrolytes and try to get their hydration back up to the natural level through their stomach and gastrointestinal systems. That takes much longer and means that there is some danger for the fighters when they go into the cage the following day.

So what is happening in Japan? Why was Daniel Lima allowed to fight? Who is to blame? How many fighters miss weight when they travel to Japan and why? These are all good questions. A little search on your favorite search engine and you may find some horror stories about coming to Japan and trying to make weight. There are a lot of factors and some factors that in common.

For most fighters, coming to Japan to compete in a famous promotion like the legendary Pancrase Promotion is a once in a lifetime opportunity. As you may know, Pancrase is the oldest and longest running MMA promotion in the world. It started in September of 1993 and has kept on promoting fights all through the years. Recently the management of the Promotion has changed and great strides to improve quality and production values have been taken. Pancrase was among one of the first Japanese promotions to sign with UFC Fightpass and offer their back library for customer consumption. Old fights and classic fights with amazing gods of MMA are now available to online users of the site.  FIghts in the library are from back in the classic days when MMA and Pro Wrestling were just slightly separated by a few rules. Since 2012/2013 Pancrase has adopted the Universal MMA Rules and looks more modern. They use the cage and it is nearly the same as the UFC fights. There are some slight differences. For example, here in Japan, it is still ok for a fighter to use an IV to rehydrate.

All that being said, one has to ask what is the issue with making weight? It has to do with a few factors. The fighters coming to Japan from Brazil or Europe face long flight times to get to Japan. During this flight, they have to try to consider their weight cut. but being aboard a flight means that they can not move around and get that weight off. Next, some fighters come in too heavy. Some fighters think that in their country they can cut Kgs with little or no effort. However being in a new country, with a different climate, different water, different food, the weight cut becomes that much more difficult.

Now here is the major issue, when a fighter arrives in Japan they are expecting the local promotion, regardless of which promotion, to supply them a local guy who can help them find what they need for a safe and effective weight cut. They need to know where they can get foods that are good for cutting weight, They need to know what local foods to avoid. Maybe they are high in carbs or just empty calories. THey need to know where to go to get over the counter meds for joint pain, or muscle pain and they need to know what kind of local liquids are ok for cutting weight. Unfortunately, some of the guys that are put in charge of this are put in charge because they can “kind of” speak English. When in fact they do not understand anything about MMA, fighting, or weight cutting. Then there is the promotion guy in charge of international fighters. He also doesn’t know much about fighting or MMA. Furthermore, he is a Japanese businessman that is more concerned with losing face than he is about the safety of the fighters.

In the case about the UFC, they have been dealing with international fighters for decades. They know the ins and outs of bringing foreigners over to fight for their promotion. Ultimately they have the fighters best interest in mind when they invite them over to fight and they take care of the fighter. In Japan, there have been foreigners coming over to fight for a long time. They come over on their own and learn the ins and outs of living and training in Japan. They learn the culture and what they need to do to get ready for their fights. Bringing fighters over via the promotion is a relatively new thing in Japan. It was done before, but now it is done in mass. The promotion is assigning an “International handler” whose only goal is to get this fight to happen smoothly. He is not concerned about the fighter or the weight cut. Instead, you will always see this “International Handler” start blaming the coaches and the fighters for missing weight when ultimately, as a handler, it is their fault. Fighters, who’ve fought in Japan in the past and are now bringing their students over to fight are not running into the same issues. They make their weight and do really well over here. It’s my opinion that when you see a fighter come to Japan and just get smoked, this is because he or she has fallen prey to the promotion’s “International Handler” curse.

 

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About the Author

Jeremy Deschner

Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do from the Texas Karate Institute, and Host of Pancrase Radio Podcast. Commentator for Pancrase MMA on UFC FIghtPass. Now training in Brazilian Jiujitsu in Japan.
Pancrase Radio Podcast is available on Stitcher and ITunes.
Twitter: @mmajpn1 @jiujitsu_Jedi @PancraseRadio