By Bryanna Fissori
As a female MMA competitor, there are number of things to take into consideration going into any weight cut. First and foremost is whether or not the weight class is even reasonable given height, bone and muscle structure. As a 5’6” fuller-framed women I already know that I am not getting down to 115lbs. It is a big enough pain to get to 135. I don’t even have a menstrual cycle when I am lower than 145. It just doesn’t happen. At that point my body fat percentage is about 14% or so.
A current controversy with Women’s MMA is the lack of diversity in weight classes. Arm-baring phenom Ronda Rousey holds the UFC Women’s Title in the only female weight class the promotion has signed. The fact that women are now being signed in the UFC is a huge leap for the sport; the downside is that if you are not a bantamweight (135lb) you are still on the outside looking in. Most women in this class are going to range from 5’8”-5’5” tall. The question now is up for trying to manipulate genetics and force themselves into that group? Starweights are going to start pounding the mass builders and featherweights are going to go anorexic.
Featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (10-1) stands approximately 5’8” on a controversially muscular frame due to a steroid infraction, though she is obviously naturally large in build. Despite her notoriety as a fierce athlete, Santos is also stuck on the outside of the octagon as her physician has deemed it unhealthy and potentially dangerous for her to drop lower than the 145 mark.
The body fat of a healthy, active woman should range generally between 22-17%. This is a significant difference from men who should range between 6-13% for the same athletic performance. Its no big surprise that both genders usually fall under that mark the day of weigh ins.
Some of the dangers of low body fat for both genders are weakening of the immune system and loss bone density. It is also true that when your body continues to burn calories with very low fat to use for energy it will start to convert muscle for fuel instead. It is also a concern that the heart is a muscle and could potentially be affected. None of this takes into consideration the use of fat burning supplements, which are often a part of a fighter’s weight cut. On a side note, the action of severely dehydrating to achieve a weight goal can also have sneaky long-term affects such as kidney stones amongst other things. For females specifically, one of the most obvious concerns with low body fat is the effect on the possibility of child bearing. It takes body fat to conceive.
Santos has stated that she maintains 8% body fat when she is at 145lbs. That is obviously very lean and despite speculation of some that she refuses to drop to 135 in order to avoid the match-up with Rousey, realistically strength and the mental stability of taking off that last 10lbs is a serious factor to any fighter. Rousey herself spent most of her MMA career at featherweight and competed at the 2008 Olympics even heavier.
Though no one seems to be asking why Rousey hasn’t offered to go up a weight class, it is understandable that since she has found her peak at 135 she would be hesitant to go up again. She, like me, is only 5’6” and bantam is a much leaner, but realistic weight. I recently took a fight at featherweight for lack of a bantamweight opponent. Though there was virtually no stress involved in the weight cut, I was still hesitant because I knew it was not my peak performance weight.
Weight cutting is always a challenge. Everyone has moments of weakness and weariness both mentally and physically. I wont argue that it is more difficult for women, but I will say with conviction that for a woman to achieve the body fat percentage of a man is an unrealistic and unhealthy expectation.
That being said, don’t think for even one minute that just because I still may have a little junk in the trunk that I am not going to kick your ass.
What are your thoughts?