What’s the Weight? Now is the time to act. Before it’s too late

By Christian Giudice on June 19, 2015
What’s the Weight? Now is the time to act. Before it’s too late
Does the sport need another fighter to get seriously injured before someone speaks out?

Boxing has undergone a lot of changes in the last year that have benefited the sport; however, why isn’t the safety of a fighter the first priority?

In the late-1980s, in an unprecedented move to ensure the safety of fighters and to avoid cancellations of lucrative bouts, the same day weigh-in process was replaced and a new policy was instituted where all fighters must weigh in the day before the bout. Since then fighters have taken advantage of the rule and adapted their training regimen accordingly; however, it has been only in the last year that the problem with the weigh-in system has turned into an epidemic. It’s time for the people who deserve the blame to be held accountable; but more importantly, it’s time for significant collaboration among the various commissions to address these concerns with real dialogue about the dangers that each fighter faces.

Last weekend, Nicholas Walters, a legitimate 147-pounder masquerading in a 126-pound body, stepped up to the scale and weighed in at 127.4, 1.4 pounds over the 126-pound weight limit. After two hours of attempting to lose the excess weight, Walters had surprisingly lost only a quarter of a pound and still weighed 127 pounds on his second attempt. Walters was not fined but his camp negotiated a $40,000 payment with Miguel Marriaga’s camp, and he was stripped of his current WBA featherweight title. Conversely, Marriaga had an opportunity to win the title and collect the $40,000. For many it appeared that Marriaga was in a win-win situation as he pocketed the extra cash for just showing up. What else could a fighter ask for? 

When the fight started, Walters weighed 145 pounds, 19 pounds above the weight class. The weight issue that had garnered so much attention quickly became a nonentity. There was no call for change; no scream for reform. It was just business as usual. The “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality has become commonplace. And maybe that’s where the current weigh-in system fails the fighters it is supposed to be protecting. 

“The process is in place and it has been in place for a long time. It is both efficient and effective,” said Bob Bennett, Executive Director of the Nevada Athletic Commission. “But there is a possible concern when a fighter gains weight after the weigh-in and has a distinct advantage. That could be a distinct concern. But if a fighter gains 10-15 pounds, it could also work as a disadvantage against him.”

Bennett continued: “I think of a number of conversations both medically and operationally that are currently being discussed. It remains to be seen where we are in those discussions. We always have the health and safety of a fighter as our first priority. As we speak, we are in the process of looking at weight studies and plan to discuss the issue at our next meeting in August.”

So much goes on behind the scenes when a fighter weighs in overweight that it is hard to decipher what actually happened until much later. The fighter that makes the weight always has the option of refusing to fight. Executive Director of the New York State Athletic Commission, David Berlin, clarified the commission’s guidelines regarding post weigh-in negotiations when he wrote, “The negotiation typically involves not only the new contract weight but also the financial terms of the contracts. The negotiation can also include an agreement between the parties to hold an additional weigh-in; however, if such an agreement is made, the additional weigh-in will not be conducted by the Commission. A boxer who comes in on weight, and whose opponent comes in over the weight limit, also has the right not to negotiate, in which case the bout will not go forward.”

Although two fights have been derailed in the past two months due to weight issues, it is extremely unlikely that refusing to fight is a viable option for many fighters who feel pressure from the networks, camps, commissions or anyone else involved in the event. Fighters fight, so mismatches are made, and money takes precedent over everything else.

It’s hard to argue that the current system doesn’t need to be overhauled. The weigh-in is meant to place fighters on equal footing — a featherweight fights a featherweight and a heavyweight faces a heavyweight. But everyone involved in the sport in some capacity recognizes the clear contradictions that fighters can gain in excess of 15-20 pounds between the weigh-in and the fight and compete in a much higher weight class. (Note: The IBF is one of a few sanctioning bodies who limit the amount of weight gain allowed between the weigh-in and the bout.) Whether one is referring to the current system or the same-day weigh-in, it is not unusual for fighters to put weight back on. Nevertheless, due to time constraints fighters were reluctant on same-day weigh-ins to put on 12-15 pounds in the hours leading up to bout because they knew they couldn’t be competitive. More importantly, the system caters to established fighters with savvy managers who can afford to hand over a portion of the purse money.

“Once a fighter gets on the scale, then he is supposed to get paid,” said J Russell Peltz, Philadelphia-based boxing promoter and historian. “That’s the way the rule reads. Marriaga could have walked off and gotten his full purse. But in hindsight the show must go on.”

In November 2013, Edwin Rodriguez couldn’t lose two pounds prior to his fight with Andre Ward and was fined $200,000 by the California State Athletic Commission, or twenty percent of his $1 million purse. The commission also set limits on the amount of weight Rodriguez could gain after the weigh-in. Therefore, Rodriguez could not come in over 180 pounds. That assertiveness should be the norm rather than the exception.

“There are fighters who would fall down a cesspool to make the money that Edwin Rodriguez lost in his fight against Andre Ward,” Peltz continued. On the subject of staying in the fighter’s weight class, he added: “How can you have a lightweight who weighs 135 pounds for 10 minutes a year? Really, we’re talking about hours here.”

Of course, there are two angles to look at regarding the weight gain: (a) it could assist in the complete destruction of a lesser fighter and Arturo Gatti vs. Joey Gamache in 2000 is one of the most egregious examples of that flaw, and (b) the fighter could be so lethargic from the weight gain that he can’t compete. A great example of this problem is Daniel Geale’s recent leap in his title bout with Miguel Cotto from 157 to 182 pounds overnight.

It’s not fair to place blame solely on the fighter, especially in Geale’s case. He made an honest attempt to meet at a catchweight of 157, even though he could have easily come in at 160.

“When Matthew Saad Muhammad fought Dwight Braxton, he had to lose six pounds. He came to the weigh-in at 8 am and then had to go run on the beach hours. He took the weight off, but he was a shell of himself. I blame it on the trainer. A trainer says, ‘I can’t live with him. But you have to live with him,’” said Peltz. “Absolutely, the trainer is to blame. Your job is to make fighters make weight. I am incredulous when a trainer says, ‘I can’t follow him around and watch him.’ Why not?”

Without a federal oversight committee, real problems in boxing become talking points and then slowly fade away because something else has surfaced to divert the public. Boxing has undergone a lot of changes in the last year that have benefited the sport; however, why isn’t the safety of a fighter the first priority? Consider the Walters fight as a model for what’s wrong with the current process. Walters is a world-class fighter, and he faced a good fighter in Marriaga who was unfortunately not in his class. But what if Marriaga was a lesser fighter who came in weighing 128 come fight time and couldn’t handle Walters’ punching power and gets destroyed? Then you have a legitimate featherweight fighting a welterweight and, well, according to the guidelines of the commission, then there is nothing wrong with this scenario. Does the sport need another fighter to get seriously injured before someone speaks out? What has to happen in order for this problem to be fixed?

“You can’t get the commissions together on anything,” said Peltz. “They can’t get together on uniform medical.”

He added: “Commissions should put the clamp down on this, but they won’t. They don’t want to lose the big fight. They want to secure that tax revenue (revenue such as ticket and TV revenue). I have never seen so many fighters in my life not making weight.”

Peltz is not alone in his dissatisfaction regarding the current weigh-in system. Even if reverting back to the same-day weigh-in is not the answer, then commissions need to come together to set a limit on the excess weight that every fighter can gain after the weigh-in, and how it would affect the fighter who missed making weight. To ensure a fighter does not walk away unscathed, a six-month suspension should be instituted for the fighter and trainer and the other commissions should come together to honor the suspension.

The reason the same-day weigh-in system was scrapped in the late-1980s was to better serve the fighters who dehydrated in order to make weight and were forced to fight in a weakened state. One only had to see how quickly a fighter during that generation got off the scale to quickly inhale some type of broth or liquid to recognize the severity of what they put their body through. The impetus behind the current system was to allow the fighters ample time to recover. 

“There is a big difference when you have a bigger name fighter not trying hard to lose weight and willing to pay for poundage. You saw it with Walters (and I use him because it was a recent fight). If I can stay strong (and not lose the weight) then it is worth the “X” amount of money. There is a loophole in the rules and all it costs the fighter is money,” said Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood.

Regarding the better option between the same-day weigh-in and the current system, Farhood adds, “The negative side is that you have fighters who are gaining so much weight and then are so grossly out of the weight class. The other side is that it is safer to have time to recover. I prefer the way it is now regarding the safety issue.”

Watching Alexis Arguello suffer to try to stuff his 5-foot-10 frame into the 126-pound weight class or seeing Wilfredo Gomez desperately try to make a 122-pound bout late in his career are prime examples of the fighters who struggled with the same-day weigh-in protocol. However, what makes the current system so flawed is that fighters can easily get an edge, and that was never the intent with the weigh in or an issue with the same-day weigh-in. Rumors of tampering and foul play with the scales have always been a part of the sport in the past, but there have never been so many obvious cases of fighters manipulating the system.

“The weigh-in the day before gives you one more meal,” said former world champion, Carlos Palomino. “I used to eat breakfast and a prefight meal where I would load up on carbohydrates. I would stay off liquids. I would come in at 145 for the weigh-in and go into the fight at 150 or 152 pounds.

“(Daniel) Geale came in at 182 and looked like he was in molasses. He dehydrated to make 157 and tried to put all of that weight back on. For a lot of fighters, that’s the difference of weighing in the day before. They overdo it. I think it was a lot better the day of the fight.”

It is not easy to score a boxing match. Boxing may never find a solution to the problem of properly scoring bouts. It has tried different approaches, but none have improved the scoring system. We still gripe about bad judges and haggle over each round. Maybe that will never change. But what boxing has here is a fixable problem that deserves its utmost attention before the next fighter goes out to face a fighter twice his size and gets slaughtered.

Then, it’s too late.

Christian Giudice
Author: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Author: Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran

Website: christiangiudice.com; belovedwarrior.net
Twitter Account: https://twitter.com/#!/chrisgiudice
Beloved Warrior Page: http://www.facebook.com/BelovedWarriorTheRiseAndFallOfAlexisArguello

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  1. No10Count 11:53pm, 06/22/2015

    It isn’t just the trainers fault but also the commission’s.
    What the hell is all that money for? Just extortion?

    I thought it simple - have 3 weigh ins.
    The first is 5- 7 days out. Fighter to be within 8 lbs of contracted limit.
    Then day before weigh in - fighter has to make this weight or automatically gets a LOSS on their record.  Regardless if fight happens or not. No fines needed. 4 hour deadline.
    Day of fight weigh in - fighter can not rehydrate more than 6 lbs from contracted weight. This keeps fighters within 1 weight class of their fight weight. 

    6 month suspension if fighter fails day of weigh in.
    If fighter fails both day before and day of then a 9 month suspension for first offenders. 1.5 years for 2nd offense. 
    Again no fines needed. 

    Also any fight for a belt can not be at a catch weight. 
    Non title fights can be at any negotiated weight.

  2. Philip Matsikoudis 08:53pm, 06/22/2015

    I want to thank Christian Giudice for his article about the very serious weight issue in Boxing.  I’m shocked to hear a smart man like Steve Farwood, who I think the world of when it comes to Boxing knowledge, to make such a reckless statement.  Guys like Wilfred Benitez & Alexis Arguello should have just moved up in weight instead of draining themselves.  They put themselves at risk by foolishly trying to make a weight that they shouldn’t have been boxing at.  Today it’s the other way around.  It’s the other guy who rehydrates that puts the natural weight division guy in danger.  If someone has to be in danger, let it be the guy who’s playing loosely with the rules.  I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Giudice.  This is a an issue that will hurt Boxing badly hen a tragedy occurs with a Cruiserweight fighting a middleweight.  Of course there always seems to be a train wreck just around the curve whenever things are going well for the Sweet Science.  Just when it’s gaining momentum like I haven’t seen since the 1970s, something awful WILL happen if the Sport doesn’t return to Same Day Weigh-Ins.

  3. Kid Blast 10:04am, 06/20/2015

    I got great feedback on this article from my own fan base—what there is of it.

  4. Kid Blast 03:05pm, 06/19/2015

    Good one. Where is the outrage? Where is the BWAA?

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