What’s the Deal with UFC Weigh-Ins?

Aspen Ladd recently missed her weight cutoff by a single pound—here’s why that matters to the UFC.

By Alexandra Cadet

UFC fighter Aspen Ladd was shaking as she stepped up to the scale for her pre-match weigh-in last Friday night. One could be forgiven for thinking that she was just nervous. After all, this was supposed to be her first fight in almost two years. But it became clear that her struggles were rooted in something more serious once people saw that she couldn’t lift her arms without losing her balance. 

Aspen Ladd striking a pose.
(Credit: Esther Lin, mmafighting.com)

After a few minutes, the process was over. Aspen Ladd missed her weight class cutoff, putting her planned fight in serious jeopardy. 

(NOTE: Content warning for in-depth discussions of weight.)

If you’re not familiar with the UFC, you might be wondering what exactly “weight classes” are. Simply put, weight classes, introduced in 1997, “are divisions of competition used to match competitors against others of their own size,” per Wikipedia. As of October 2021, the classes available for female fighters are Strawweight, Flyweight, Bantamweight, and Featherweight. Ladd’s planned fight was supposed to be part of the Bantamweight division. 

Weight classes are considered a necessary element of the UFC for both safety and financial reasons. When it comes to mixed martial-arts, a high weight is a natural advantage for fighters, since it generally comes with increased muscles and power. Allowing a 100-pounder to fight against a 200-pounder could lead to a lot of gore, injuries, and lawsuits. Dividing athletes up by weight also raises the amount of titles to be won in each class, which helps to boost the UFC’s overall revenue.

In order to ensure that each fighter is in the correct division, televised weigh-ins are required right before every match. After these checks, the fights—which are marketed as “headliners,” “main card events,” or “preliminaries” depending on their level of importance and appeal—can finally go on. Matches typically consist of just a few five-minute rounds, but require two evenly-matched and fairly weighted opponents to be safe and entertaining. 

During weigh-ins, it’s very rare for a fighter to be under the weight minimum of the division. However, as Ladd’s controversy shows, weigh-ins over the class limit are more common than you might think, and are dealt with in a variety of ways. According to Speak MMA, “If a fighter weighs in too heavy the day before their fight […], then their opponent has a choice as to whether they will proceed with the fight. Usually, if the opposing fighter agrees to fight their overweight foe, then they will receive 20% of their foe’s purse (the money they get to fight).” The opposing fighter can also choose to abandon the match. After Ladd’s botched weigh-in, she revealed via Instagram that Macy Chiasson—her planned opponent—had decided to cancel their fight.

Aspen Ladd’s statement after her flubbed weigh-in, posted on Twitter. Note that this response was released around the same time as her aforementioned Instagram post.

In her post, Ladd also mentioned that she was unable to reach her weight division’s cutoff due to water retention from her menstrual cycle; in fact, the reason she appeared shaky on the scale was that she didn’t want to “bleed in front of the media.” 

However, despite the fact that period weight gain is a very real and widespread phenomenon, one major UFC figure seemed to suspect deception on her part. “It’s one thing to miss weight, it’s another thing to try and cheat the scale and use every excuse in the book to not weigh in properly,” Bantamweight fighter Miesha Tate remarked. “Everyone saw you cheat and [you] still came in a lb over. I bet you were every bit of 139.”

Of course, Ladd has had many controversies in the past regarding her weight. During the weigh-in for her fight against Germaine de Randamie in 2019, she was visibly shaking on the scale just like she was last Friday. She managed to make the weight cutoff, but ended up getting her license suspended for months due to gaining twenty more pounds afterwards and fighting against de Randamie while way over the limit. Ladd and her coach may deserve criticism for not coming clean about her weight for that match (since, as mentioned previously, large weight disparities in fights are how people get seriously hurt), and the pot-stirrers piping up after last Friday’s events are considered vital to the UFC’s brand. But aren’t accusations of cheating over a menstrual cycle a bit much? 

Additionally, Ladd’s suggestion that she “would get slammed” regardless of whatever valid explanation she gave for what happened on Friday suggests something rather icky about discussions of weight in the UFC. While taking responsibility in situations like these is necessary, no one should feel immense guilt or be ripped to shreds online over accidentally gaining a few pounds, and no male sports commentator or fan should EVER feel comfortable with making weird and condescending comments like these about female athletes. Hopefully, as Ladd recovers, fans will be a bit more understanding of not just her plight, but the rather harmful lengths that plenty of UFC athletes have to go to in their struggle to weigh-in properly.

Ladd might not be back in action this week, but other talented UFC fighters certainly will. The fight between Strawweight athletes Mackenzie Dern and Marina Rodriguez will headline the UFC Fight Night taking place on October 9th. A Flyweight match-up between Mariya Agapova and Sabrina Mazo is also on the card; the latter fighter will attempt to drop down to 125 pounds in order to be eligible for the weight class. 

If you haven’t been following UFC until now, now is a great time to start. We’ll do our best to keep you posted on all of the action here at She Plays.

A full schedule of every upcoming UFC match can be found here.

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