Micro-Engineering The Weighting Game

10.27.04 - By Wray Edwards: When I was a little kid, my Mom and I were about to walk out on the Golden Gate Bridge to see the view. There was a turnstile which charged ten cents. I said: "Look Mom, I can slip under the bars here so we won't have to pay for me." She said: "No, that wouldn't be right. Besides, if your Father found out, it would really hurt his feelings, and he is as honest as the day is long."

I have never forgotten that, and my life-long respect for him sprung from that very moment. My Father's ethics were deep, emotional necessities which had shocking consequences should anything threaten their smooth application.every day. He was a Professional.

Recent discussions of boxers moving up or down in weight divisions, have overlooked the most glaring and dangerous example of this practice. As an overlay and not so very hidden agenda practiced by many boxers, it is the weight differential scam which occurs between weigh-in and fight-time. This time period can vary from twenty-four to seventy-two hours (but usually in the 24 to 27 hour range) depending on the time of the day, or two, before the fight that the boxers hit the scales, and the state in which they are to fight.

In Boxing's past, it was common to have official weigh-ins beside or right in the ring just prior to the fight. Then, as time passed, the powers that be decided they could get more media mileage, from what is now the contemporary practice of breaking up the signal events of an approaching fight into as many as three venues.

The first venue is a sort of banquet/press conference, when the contracts have been signed and the match is a done deal. The boxers, managers and promoters have a sit-down with the media to announce the fight, and possibly have a little boxer to boxer trash talk to gin up interest in the event. Many will remember when Antonio Tarver crashed one of these events and ridiculed Roy Jones into a media corner he couldn't get out of until he agreed to Tarver's demands.

The second benchmark in the run-up to a fight nowadays is the weigh-in with the media present again, and the hype and hoopla are ratcheted up as the boxers pose with their trainers, flex their muscles, and step on the scales for what is called "the official weigh-in". I remember seeing Diego Corrales, pale, gaunt and willowy mounting the scales at the Ledyard Center for his match with Casamayor last March. By fight time he was reportedly thirteen pounds heavier, flush in the face and looking ready-teddy; thirteen pounds! By contrast, Casamayor was said to have gained only six or eight. The final venue is, of course, the fight itself.

It is one thing for a boxer to move up or down in weight as a natural and prolonged extension of career planning. It is quite another to indulge in this practice virtually over night. I have been told, confidentially, that certain boxers will fast, steam-box, run, use diuretics, laxatives and even take enemas to make weight. If Roy Jones had a legit excuse after Tarver/Jones one, we must certainly conclude that two or three day fluctuations down, and then right back up can't be safe or ethical.

In the case of Jones, the standard line is that he had to lose in the neighborhood of twenty-five pounds of muscle to make the fight with Tarver. The negative effects of that transformation may or may not be authentic. Opinion is divided on that issue. A much more stringent case can be made for these short-term amendments to body mass which are au currant.

The current laxity in the time frame between weigh-in and fight-time gives an edge to boxers who can make these changes with relative ease. Corrales, Castillo and others regularly make ten to fifteen pound gains by fight time. Whether it is an advantage or not (and I believe it is an advantage most times) it makes an absurd mockery of the division system which purports to sanction and rate according to weight. This advantage is even more helpful to boxers who strike from the waist or shoulders, rather than from the floor.

Body type is critical for pulling this off. In the case of a boxer who is 5'7" who is up against a guy who is 6'1", the envelope within which the fudging can take place definitely favors the taller boxer. A tight, bunchy short guy does not have the muscle sheath flexibility of a lanky fighter. Also the relative differential possible from say a featherweight compared to a cruiserweight is stark. A guy at 125# who gains twelve pounds makes an almost ten per cent gain. A 199# cruiserweight would have to gain almost twenty pounds to accomplish the same task.

In conversations with metabolic physicians several issues were raised regarding the practice. The human body, like any other biomechanical system, can adapt and change in remarkable ways to meet environmental changes. There are automatic neuro-chemical and hormonal systems which are intended to regulate our physiology for optimum performance. There are, however, limits to the safety and ethics of such behaviors.

Many tricks such as blood doping (saving one's blood for later self-transfusion), stimulants, and many other metabolic enhancers are commonly tested for, and prohibited by all professional and "amateur" sports sanctioning authorities. The two considerations which encourage this testing are, of course, safety and ethical sportsmanship.

The key word is "professional" when we are considering the sport and business of Boxing. A boxer and his management can choose to play the weighting game, or, conform to the letter of the rules. I know, for certain, that there are two matches which are to be fought by the end of the year, where one of the boxers is going to fight exactly at the sanction weight, and the other boxer is going to do the crash slim-down approaching the weigh-in, and then gain as much as possible by fight time. The latter boxers will move up two if not three divisions by the time they step in the ring.

Someday, and perhaps it has already happened, there are going to be fatal consequences from this practice, not to mention the wry joke it makes of the division system. It's scary enough that they're in there trying to hit the other guy so hard his brain functions scramble; at least let's do it under healthy conditions.

"A horse is a horse of course, unless it's Mr. Ed." A featherweight is a featherweight of course, unless he's a "professional" boxer. In that case he might be a light welterweight fighting under a featherweight banner. F1 drivers are weighed (including their cars) to the ounce. Jockeys must conform to a strict handicap.

Many people have said "Gee, in the old days fights had to be cancelled 'cause guys couldn't make weight. What a mess that would make. Just think of the MONEY problems that would cause." THAT'S NO EXCUSE! Only three courses are available to address this problem: 1. Let the sham continue apace, 2. Apply the purse fine system, and let the fight continue. 3. Require the boxers to make weight one hour before fight-time. If they train to their sanction weight all along, what's the problem? If they train to a higher weight, expecting to finagle the rules, that's a different story.

Too much to ask you say? Why? Are these guys truly professionals or not? There's already enough fudging going on behind the scenes what with promoters having influence in the selection of judges, back-room deals and God knows what else taking place. The least we can do is establish some controls over this critical aspect of the sport. The macro-engineering of a fighter's weight to his avowed division is a long-term training and nutrition goal. Allowing fighters to play what is essentially dishonest game training to 145, then dumping weight to make a lightweight weigh-in, and then gorging and re-hydrating back up to welter for the fight, ridiculously skews the whole weight division system.

"Well everybody does it" is no excuse. Under present rules, very few boxers ever fight at their sanction weight. And some boxers gain an unfair advantage from the current practice. Why should this awkward situation continue? If a boxer can't make weight through proper training, and fight at his actual advertised division weight, then he has to move up.

There are essentially three weights: The boxer's "walking around" weight, his weigh-in weight and his fight weight. The weigh-in and fight weights should be the same. The nasty little game which has formed around the scales to ring differential, is an insult to the "profession", endangers the boxer's health, sullies the ethical atmosphere and honor of the sport, and encourages other practices which undermine Boxing standards in general.

Along with cleaning up this pathetic indulgence, the WBC and the IBF should consolidate the other nepotistic sanctions and form a completely disciplined world boxing system. Five to seven judges should score each fight and the best rules and regulations from all commissions need to be adopted for regularity and control of the sport.

As Boxing is the ultimate free agency game, it needs the ultimate in ethical and organizational controls. Otherwise, its current downward spiral will continue. This is not a pie-eating contest. It is a single combat, blood sport which operates on the bare edge of mortal survival. As such, its organizational skills are responsible for making life and death decisions. Electrolytic imbalances and blood volume swings of as much as thirty per cent, and other effects caused by the weight game, are intolerable burdens on boxer health, and threats to their safety which must be eradicated from the sport. Hey boxer, trainers and managers; just make the weight, long term. otherwise the whole division system is nothing more than a dangerous hoax.

Article posted on 27.10.2004

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