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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Perils of Cutting Weight

Making weight is one of the toughest challenges a professional boxer faces. In order to come in under a contractionally obligated weight limit, pros typically not only train constantly, but also eat healthily. "You can’t out train a bad diet," says Tony Milch, a former 14-2 professional boxer who currently runs the Gloves and Doves program. Boxing isn't just a job; it's a lifestyle

There are times when a fighter is unable to make the weight through diet and exercise alone. When that happens, the boxer is forced to cut weight. Cutting weight essentially means shedding pounds quickly in a short period of time. It's dangerous, and it's difficult.

Here's what a number of boxers had to say about cutting weight:

"I was always in training when I was a pro. Cutting weight is one of the hardest parts of training," says Milch.

"I don't cut much weight anymore, but when I used to in the amateur days, I would say, uh, even if I tried to explain how horrible it is, I wouldn't be able to." says David Alaverdian (5-0), a 28 year old flyweight prospect.

"It's the hardest part of boxing," claims Cletus Seldin (26-1), a 35 year old junior welterweight contender. Seldin is one of the few boxers who has actually gone down in weight, beginning his career in the 147 pound division.

"Cutting the weight was becoming not only a chore, it was terrible for my health and conditioning," Callum Smith (28-1), a 31 year old former super middleweight world title belt-holder told DAZN after moving up to light heavyweight.

"It’s hell on earth. You're hungry 24/7, you're thirsty 24/7... Your body feels like your insides are getting cooked. And this might go on for 2-3 weeks," explains Benny Sinakin (6-1), a 24 year old light heavyweight prospect.

"When it's a real weight cut, it feels like you might die," says Dmitriy Salita (35-2-1), a junior welterweight world title challenger who hung up the gloves in 2013 and is now a promoter.

Record-breaking powerlifter Stefi Cohen, a 29 year old featherweight who is 1-0-1 as a pro boxer needed just one word to describe what cutting weight feels like: "Hunger."


There are several ways to cut weight just before the weigh-in. Benny Sinakin explains, "You have to sit in the sauna, go running, hit the bag, and basically do heavy cardio to burn [off the weight]. And you have to wear a sauna suit on top of that."

Despite the dangers, making weight is extremely important even if that means cutting. Missing weight can lead to fines, canceled fights, or ridicule from the press. Joan Guzman- an Olympian and two-division world champion with enormous talent- should be a household name, but he made a career of badly missing weight. He lost money, chances at more world titles, and a platform to fight regularly on HBO. On one occasion, Guzman made weight but his fight was ruled a no contest when he tested positive for a diuretic.

If Guzman's career is a cautionary tale about the dangers of missing weight, Danny O'Connor's is a cautionary tale about trying to make weight.

O'Connor was set to fight for his first world title against Jose Ramirez, a 140-pound belt-holder, on July 7, 2018. During his career, O'Connor had fought between the junior welterweight and junior middleweight divisions. But in his previous two fights he came in under the 140 pound junior welterweight limit and therefore felt he could continue to make the weight. On the day before the fight, O'Connor was two pounds overweight with the weigh-in just hours away. He went to the sauna to shed the remaining pounds.

O'Connor passed out when he left the sauna. When he woke up, he was incoherent. "Four bags of fluids did not hydrate him," writes Mark Whicker. "O’Connor was hospitalized and his kidneys approached dysfunction."

Danny O'Connor hasn't fought since. Just as it was heating up, his career ended.


The timing of the weigh-in often enters discussions about weight cutting. These days, most weigh-ins are held the day before the fight. The move away from day-of weigh-ins was made because it was too dangerous for a weight-drawn fighter to step into the ring after only hours of rehydration. Yet, this has caused separate issues. Allowing for more time to rehydrate and eat has incentivized fighters to push the limits of weight cutting so that they can hold a significant weight advantage come fight night. Michael Rosenthal discusses the debate further in The Ring. Holding multiple weigh-ins might be the answer. 


About the legendary Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran, conditioning coach Leo Thalassites, who would eventually become the oldest living cop in the U.S., once told Bernard Fernandez, "He's always been able to take off weight, but he didn't always take it off the right way."

Taking off the pounds "the right way" is the best option to avoid a dangerous weight cut. Boxers tend to share similar ideas about how to lose weight safely, but in practice they each do it a bit differently.

Amateur boxer Chananya Davids says of making weight responsibly, "It's a whole long process that takes a month."

David Alaverdian says, "Morning is cardio, and evening is boxing." The 112 pounder eats healthy food and never balloons up to more than 120 pounds. Typically, his walking around weight is even less than that.

Dr. Stefi Cohen, the powerlifting boxer who earned a PhD in physical therapy and exercise physiology, stresses the most fundamental aspect of losing weight is to burn more calories than you put in, what she calls a calorie deficit. "In order to lose weight you must be in a calorie deficit," she says. Tony Milch concurs. He advises, "Train really hard and take in fewer calories, so burning more than you're fueling gets you down to weight!"

Milch was "never more than seven to ten pounds over even two months out from a fight." He took in "loads of water and carbs during the day only, but not at night." Milch would, "run on empty in the morning and then fuel up."

Kerry Kayes, a former bodybuilder who is now a strength and nutrition coach, agrees with Milch about hydration. "Water weight is not true body mass weight. A two liter bottle of water weighs four pounds, so if a boxer doesn't drink the bottle of water, he think he won't weigh the four pounds. The reality is when you cut back on water, your body starts to hold water, which is the worst thing you can do," Kayes told Sky Sports.

"The best way to get rid of water is to drink lots of water," says Kayes. That's because a hydrated fighter sweats easier. 

"The best way to lose weight is to eat adequate amounts of protein and cut back on carbohydrates." Kayes argues that if a boxer cuts back on protein, the body cannibalizes muscle and once it does that, the body's metabolism slows which makes losing weight very difficult.

Dr. Cohen agrees with Kayes about the importance of protein. When it comes to losing weight, she recommends, "Eat protein with all your meals." According to Cohen, as long as the protein is consumed within 24 hours of the workout, the benefits are the same as if it's immediately consumed.


Cutting weight is a process filled with horrors, but even losing weight the "right way" is difficult. Most professional boxers work another job or two, so they're trying to make weight while also working. For the more famous boxers, media requests skyrocket during fight week, just when weight loss is at its most urgent period.  And then there's the agitation we all feel when we're on a diet. But for boxers, the stakes are much higher.

Even Milch, who "never cut too much," explains, "It's hard because you get on edge when close to a fight, but that's what makes a professional."

For many boxers, the toughest fight comes not in the ring, but in the weeks, days, and hours before stepping onto the scales. Even before a single punch is thrown, their health is on the line.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article! Well written and informative.