Sports Regulation and Martial Arts

Gilbert Carrillo
Executive Editor
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2017


In the United States, sanctioned MMA fights are a heavily regulated industry. While there are international governing organizations in the MMA industry, states permitting sanctioned MMA fights have created their own unarmed combat regulation authorities. These authorities are tasked with the responsibility of enacting regulations to implement and enforce state laws governing MMA fights. Although there are rules and regulations for most MMA personnel involved in the fights, the fighters (unarmed combatants) have just as many to comply with, if not more.

This summer, at the largest Mixed-Martial Arts (MMA) event of the year the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) conducted a new experiment. Fighters, for the first time ever, were granted more than 24 hours to weigh-in before a fight. The change is a health experiment which aims to reduce the de-hydration, head trauma and fatigue effects of tight weigh-in windows. However, strict compliance will be needed since a larger recovery window also allows fighters to bulk up and potentially gain an unfair advantage over another fighter. This compliance burden will ultimately fall upon the fighters.

One important rule for unarmed combatants requires them to be weighed before each fight (to make sure both combatants are in the agreed upon weight class for the fight). Until recently it has been the standard, across all states with sanctioned MMA fights, for the unarmed combatants to be weighed 24 hours or less prior to the fight. However, some of the unarmed combat regulation authorities have begun to permit fighters to “weigh-in” more than 24 hours prior to the fight.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) is considered one of the more influential unarmed combat regulation authorities in the United States. This is because most big money MMA fights take place in Las Vegas, Nevada. Recently, the NSAC followed suit with other unarmed combat regulation authorities by permitting fighters to weigh-in more than 24 hours prior to the fight. The UFC, the premier and largest MMA promotion companies in the world, hosted the UFC 200 MMA fights in Las Vegas.  The new policy regarding weigh-ins was instituted for the first time during this event, which consisted of three days of fights.

Although weight cutting is essential for nearly every fight, this new rule is the NSAC’s response to an increase in combatants’ injuries as a result of improper weight cutting methods. The argument for earlier weigh-ins is that it allows fighters more time to properly rehydrate after trying to make and cut weight for the fight. Previously, UFC fighters were permitted to use intravenous (IV) fluid to rehydrate following their scheduled weigh in. However, beginning October 1, 2015, the UFC partnered with the United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA) in an attempt to prevent blood doping, a common performance enhancing method that is widely viewed as providing an unfair advantage in the sport.

An earlier weigh-in time seems to benefit combatants. Combatants regularly rehydrate between 10-15 pounds overnight following a weigh-in.   This, allows more time to adequately hydrate, especially with IV rehydration prohibited in UFC, and is very beneficial.

On the contrary, a bigger window for rehydration after weigh-in would allow fighters to gain even more weight than they normally would. This could cause large weight discrepancies between two fighters come fight time. The weight differential could increase the power of the heavier fighter and thus increase the chances of greater injury than the sport already warrants.

In terms of ensuring compliance with weigh-in, UFC policy and procedures typically require fighters to forfeit a certain percentage of their fight earnings if the fighters fail to make the agreed upon weight class. Moreover, failing to make weight is viewed in a negative light and may jeopardize future fight opportunities for these fighters. Fewer fight opportunities would ultimately lead to less revenue the fighters could generate.

Regulatory compliance in sanctioned MMA fights, specifically the UFC, involves abiding by several rules and regulations from several different organizations and governing bodies. Although the rules and regulations are fairly straightforward, proper education about these rules and regulations must be communicated effectively in order to ensure compliance.