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Fighters are the ultimate weight-watchers

Methods for trying to shed pounds before a bout are often drastic, and doctors believe the practice is dangerous.

October 10, 2012|By Lance Pugmire
  • Boxer Timothy Bradley of Cathedral City is weighed by trainer Joel Diaz after a workout at the Boys & Girls Club in Indio.
Boxer Timothy Bradley of Cathedral City is weighed by trainer Joel Diaz… (Christina House / For The…)

Five years ago, flyweight boxing champ Nonito Donaire felt as if his body had shrunk as he dieted to make the 112-pound weight limit to defend his title.

Blood was in his urine before the bout, Donaire recalled.

"Everything about you is not there," he said. "You feel like an animal."

Donaire won that bout, but he later moved up in weight to avoid such trauma. On Saturday he fights in a super-bantamweight title unification bout in Carson against Toshiaki Nishioka at a more comfortable 122-pound limit.

Making weight is a fighter's duty — and it's often a challenge.

In the last year world champion boxers Brandon Rios and Adrien Broner both failed to make weight for their bouts, and an Ultimate Fighting Championship contender dropped at least 17 pounds in the day before his title shot. Medical experts and regulators question the inexact methods behind sudden weight loss and say it requires more oversight and education.

"It's a medical crisis," said Dr. Paul Wallace, a California State Athletic Commission ringside doctor. "There's not a credible diet that says you can lose 10% of your weight in a month, much less one day.

"But it's not a sport crisis because people have seen boxers like Fernando Vargas, Roberto Duran, Ricky Hatton take off massive weight, still come back and give a good fight and ask, 'How bad can it be?' "

Bad is what happened to Oxnard's Rios, the former World Boxing Assn. lightweight champion, who both in December, in New York, and in April, in Las Vegas, failed to make the required 135-pound limit.

"The only time I ate in New York before my Friday weigh-in was on the Sunday airplane [ride] — a chicken wrap," Rios said. "When I got to New York, I was around 142. All I did was sweat, train and run. I went to hell and back."

A nude Rios tiptoed onto the Madison Square Garden stage and was still overweight by two pounds, surrendering his belt on the scale.

Weeks before his April fight, Rios told associates he couldn't make 135 pounds. Rios was told by his promoter that he needed to win back the WBA belt to get a shot at richer purses. "I dehydrated myself," he said. "Spit, spit, spit."

On weigh-in day in April, Rios recalled a tip about how a scalding hot bath can shed pounds, so he jumped in for 15 minutes. "When I got out, I was so weak and my body was so hot and relaxed, they had to carry me out," he said. He still was overweight at 137.

The fight went on, but Rios was so lethargic most ringside observers believed he'd lost in an upset to Richard Abril. Judges awarded Rios a split-decision victory — however, the title was later awarded to Abril because Rios didn't make the required weight.

"When I got home, honest to God, I cried," Rios said.

This Saturday Rios fights at Carson and he hopes to have an easier time making a 140-pound limit.

Weigh-ins are usually 24 hours before a bout, so fighters have time to step on the scales, then eat and drink their way closer toward full strength and their normal weight by fight time. As a result, some fighters have a huge weight advantage when they step into the ring.

Last February Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. made the middleweight limit of 160 pounds, with half a pound to spare, for his World Boxing Council title defense against Marco Antonio Rubio. On fight night Chavez reportedly weighed closer to 180 when he won a lopsided decision over Rubio.

The WBC is now considering implementing fines against fighters who suddenly pack on too much weight after a weigh-in. In addition to the current required 30-day and seven-day weigh-ins before fights, the WBC might slap fines on any fighter who adds more than 5% of his body weight between the final weigh-in and fight night.

Beverly Hills internist Dr. Robert Huizenga, a former NFL team doctor, said what Rios and Donaire suffered through to make weight is more the rule than the exception.

Huizenga said even top fighters don't have a grasp of the effects of cutting weight. He cites Oscar De La Hoya's sluggish effort in his final fight, when he quit after eight rounds against Manny Pacquiao. De La Hoya weighed in for that bout at 145 pounds after fighting a year before at 154 pounds.

When a fighter rids the body of too much salt, Huizenga said, they risk a possibly fatal condition known as hyponatremia. And cutting weight can leave fighters prone to absorbing excessive punishment and brain trauma in the ring. "There's technology to analyze if an individual is too dehydrated," he said. "There should be a rule that those too dehydrated at the weigh-in shouldn't fight."

The Nevada State Athletic Commission considered the issue, but found that an individual's response to dehydration can vary, executive officer Keith Kizer said. "One guy might need an IV to come out of it, the other just needs a Big Gulp," he said.

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