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16 SEPTEMBER 2014

 

A Weighty Issue


By Margaret Goodman, MD: Everyone from regulators to commentators sit back year after year trying to rethink solutions surrounding the time of the weigh-in, while countless fighters continually find better and better ways to navigate themselves to the buffet table.

What is the answer?

A former ring physician and mentor of mine (I'll let you guess who that might be), once said, "If a fighter is in shape, it shouldn't matter when the weigh-in is."
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In the mid-nineteenth century, weight classes were created to improve safety and fairness. These classifications helped as long as boxers stayed fit, and remained in a certain weight class their entire career. Early in a fighter's career, he typically fights at a weight class much too low for him. As a result, he soon sequesters and covets an eating disorder. As the years pass, fighters fight less and less often. Maintaining anything close to fighting weight becomes a tortured part of their job, and the reward becomes binge eating, and less activity.

Where did weight problems in boxers really originate?

Not too long ago, I met a former amateur champion who unsuccessfully turned pro for a couple of years until he was discovered to have chronic head injury as a result of boxing at the ripe old age of twenty-four. Most of his problems resulted from being used and abused by a promoter with less conscience than the BTK killer, who hired him to spar round after round, day after day, month after month, often against world champion professionals often twenty to thirty pounds heavier than he.

I don't believe his injuries had anything to do with weight per se, but I did learn that part of his problems revolved around an unrealistic competition weight. This kid walked into a boxing gym at age fourteen. That first day, his coach, sized him up, and said, "Sure you can be successful as you are, but you will be a champion if you lose 10 pounds." By sixteen he had won the Golden Gloves, PAL, and was on his way to the Olympics.

Okay, you want to say, "That's the game you have to play to be a winner." But, what we fail to examine was how he was advised to lose the weight. He was shown the way to using colonics, enemas, diuretics, and given access to an assortment of speed-like drugs to expedite the process. How healthy was this for a fourteen year old kid? Just as he was to qualify for the Olympics, he couldn't maintain the weight, so in a weakened state, he was moved up a weight class. It was at this point he was badly injured and told he was not well enough to compete.

So, what did he do? He turned pro!
When we watch fighters like James Toney ballooning up and up in weight, and fighters like Arturo Gatti and Erik Morales walking around sometimes thirty-forty pounds higher than their fighting weight, you have to wonder where it started. It started when they were young, and in many examples forced to compete at an unnatural weight.

The more I think about it, dehydration, weigh-ins, weight classes, eating disorders, and fighters getting injured are all inter- related. If fighters would stay in shape between bouts, they wouldn't have to spend 75 percent of their training camp losing all the weight they unnecessarily accumulated. And, as they drop the pounds, they restrict fluids, and end up dehydrated which increases their risks. No one person or organization is to blame. However, through the decades, a fighter's weight class is often being manipulated to find a place where the boxer can generate more money, get a title shot, or a TV date. In the end, this has little or nothing to do with what weight a given boxer should compete.

The original premise in moving to day-before-weigh-ins was to save fighters from dehydration. It has been exploited, and is instead being used to showcase weigh-ins on television, and create a false impression that fighters competing at a lower weight class will have an edge. Per a weight study conducted by Dr. Flip Homansky and Nevada a few years back, the fighters that put on large amounts of excess weight after the weigh-in were not at an advantage, and instead at a small disadvantage. California and their Executive Officer Armando Garcia are now conducting a comprehensive study on the issue, and in July, the ABC will closely reexamine the issue of same day weigh-ins.

Somehow I think we all know the answer.......


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