Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weight Issues

By Lee Payton

Photos © Ray Kasprowicz

Lately, it seems like there are more big fight catch weight bouts than ever before.

When Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez tangle, it will be at a catch weight, somewhere in the neighborhood of 143 or 144 lbs. When Oscar De La Hoya fought for the Middleweight Title against Bernard Hopkins, it was at 157 lbs. And now, with huge money events like Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto and Mayweather being discussed, weight seems to be as much a part of the negotiations as location and percentage of the purse.

You've probably noticed a growing amount of fighters coming in to fights clearly weakened by the struggle to make a certain weight limit, as was clearly the case with The Golden Boy against Manny Pacquaio. Oscar entered the ring that night a sickly weakling. Middleweight belt holder, Arthur Abraham's recent performances have also been hampered by his battle with making the 160 lb limit.

We've even had world champions leaving their belts on the scale. The lightweight division saw Jose Luis Castillo miss weight twice in world title contests. Then the late Diego Corrales did the same thing against Joel Casamayor, coming in almost 5 pounds over the lightweight limit. Most recently, Nate Campbell missed weight and had to give up his 3 belts before he even climbed through the ropes.

But what does all this weight stuff really mean?

And what is the difference between weigh-in weight and fight night weight?

What is the process a fighter goes through to get down to the contracted weight limit?

What advantages does drying out significantly really offer? What are the disadvantages?

Is our current system the safest option?

Let's start with the difference between weigh-in weight and the weight a fighter comes into the ring at.

Most fighters these days are cutting about 8-12 lbs, meaning that when they step on the scale, they are pretty far from their natural weight. At a weigh-in you'll notice that the skin on the fighter's face will look tighter, the cuts in his body more visible, and perhaps their energy level is low. The fighter you're looking at is in no way ready for combat. In fact, he is at his weakest at that moment.

This is because the fighter has deprived himself of water. In extreme cases, water that he had inside his body was sweated out, either by working out in a rubber suit, running more, and/or hitting the sauna.

When he jumps off the scale, he can then eat and drink as much as he wants. He has about 27-30 hours to rehydrate and satisfy his appetite so that he can be strong for the fight.

What does this mean in the current competitive picture?

Not all fighters who fight at the same weight are really the same size. For example, Shane Mosley made 147 lbs for his fight with Margarito, but in the ring, he was 160 lbs. Compare that to Mayweather, who is also a welterweight, but who weighs 147 or so on fight night. He is one of the very, very few fighters who doesn't dry out at all. If he chose to fight Mosley (fat chance), he'd be entering the ring at about a 12 lb weight disadvantage.

For his next fight, Mayweather will need to lose a handful of pounds, and might actually have to skip breakfast and lunch and not drink anything before the weigh-in. Marquez, on the other hand, probably won't even get as high at 144, but rather is more likely to come in at closer to 140, which is his peak fight night weight these days.

What does it mean when they climb through the ropes? Very little. Mayweather will have about 8 or so lbs on Marquez, which is significant, but it would mean much more if they weren't both master boxers. Fighting a pressure fighter, or a very physical style at a size disadvantage would be a whole different matter. Floyd isn't the type of guy who will definitely take advantage of those extra lbs.

Resist the temptation of thinking JMM will be hugely affected by coming in at welter. He won't. He'll be the same sharpshooting warrior he always has been, he'll just be able to eat and drink all the way through camp without, a single worry about making a certain weight. He's not going to bulk up considerably and he won't be any slower. You'll be seeing the Marquez you're used to. Same goes for Mayweather. "Money" is just a little bigger. That's all.

One pug who is apparently writing his own rules when it comes to weight in boxing is Manny Pacquiao.

You've all heard about how he started at 106, was the flyweight champion and is now the junior-welterweight champion. As special as he is, that stat is a little misleading.

First off, while the great majority of fighters turn pro in their 20's, Pacquaio started his pro career a few weeks after his 16th birthday. Naturally that's going to create the impression his weight gains have been remarkable, when in reality most fighters have gained considerable weight since that age.

At age 15, Roy Jones Jr. was fighting as a bantamweight. That's 119 lbs in the amateur class. At 17, Roy was a junior-welter - 35 lbs south of where he campaigned for most of his pro-career.

Another example is Carl Daniels who fought Bernard Hopkins for the world middleweight title. Daniels won the national Golden Gloves tournament as a 16 year old flyweight. That's flyweight - 112 lbs.

And Floyd Mayweather Jr.? At age 16, Floyd won the national golden gloves as a light-flyweight. That's 106 lbs. The following year, Floyd again claimed national honors, this time at 112 lbs and two years later, won bronze at the '96 Atlanta games as a featherweight.

But back to former flyweight champion, Manny Pacquaio. The above named fighters weights listed are from same day weigh-ins, while the Pac-Man's pro weight totals are not. With the advantage of having another day to rehydrate, it's likely he was nowhere near 112 lbs in the ring. Probably a lot closer to 126 lbs.

The evidence of his weight struggles came in his loss to Medgoen Singsurat, where he appeared to have nothing left at the weight and was stopped by a body shot. Then came a move up to 122, where he was his devastating self once again.

People forget that during the latter part of his stay at 130, including the rematch with Marquez, he was a welterweight in the ring, weighing between 144-146 lbs. So really, he could have been a junior-welter a few years ago, which makes his blowout of Hatton much easier to understand. When the bell rang, Ricky had to struggle to make the limit, and only had a 4 lb edge.

Playing the weight game in boxing is dangerous. When a fighter denies himself fuel and fluid, he's doing something that's not natural for his body. Boxing is dangerous enough without this extra risk, but fighters are gamblers, and so are many of those who handle them.

The advantages? Having a significant size edge when the bell rings. Arturo Gatti was a legendary weight cutter, and it no doubt helped him blast Joey Gamache out of there in 2 frightening rounds. I believe he gained a staggering 19 lbs after the weigh-in for that particular contest.

The current system was put in place so that fighters who had trouble making weight wouldn't have to fight in a weakened state later that day. It's in place to protect them. The problem is, fighters, managers, promoters are taking advantage of it.

Now we've got middleweights fighting as welters or junior-welters. Feathers are lightweights. And heavyweights... well they could stand to lose a few lbs.

Like most things in boxing, it's screwed up, and there's no one way to fix it.

But when fight negotiations demand that a fighter come in at a weight that is going to assure that he cannot perform at his best, as is the case with proposed fights between Pacquiao and Cotto, Mosley, it becomes a bit of a circus, and does nothing but hurt the integrity of the sport. Roach knew he had pretty much won the De La Hoya fight for his man, no matter what the experts thought.

Let's just see these guys at their best. When Marquez and Mayweather lace them up, you'll be watching 2 of the sport's premier fighters going at it without any crazy weight cutting. No excuses.

e-mail Lee Payton


Anonymous said...

A well written and very informative article. Thanks, I've learned a lot.

Lee Payton said...

Glad you enjoyed it.