If there's one thing almost every fighter in MMA can agree on, it's the fact that weight-cutting is never a fun experience.
While there are a wide variety of weight classes and fighters of all shapes and sizes in the sport, nearly all of these athletes (including some heavyweights) are required to shed pounds before stepping on the scale the day before they fight.
Some fighters cut just a few pounds, while others are dropping massive amounts of weight leading up to a bout. Nutritionists like Mike Dolce have become masterful in getting athletes prepared for a weight cut, but sometimes a fighter still wants to push the physical limits.
A lot of fighters cut the maximum amount of weight possible, then add it back on after the weigh-ins are over to give them the size and power advantage come fight night. It can backfire, however, and former UFC fighter Walel "The Gazelle" Watson knows all about it.
When he first signed with the UFC, Watson was a wiry and muscular fighter competing at 135 pounds—for his debut bout against Joseph Sandoval, the shift to drop weight was no problem at all.
Once he turned 27, though, Watson noticed his body changing dramatically. He was already walking around with only four percent body fat, but instead of training during his camp at 145 pounds, his weight suddenly shot up to over 165 pounds. His eating habits didn't change, and Watson even tinkered with his diet, working with a nutritionist to try to get his body back in line to drop the extra pounds.
"The first fight in the UFC was a nice weight cut, after that they were all bad," Watson told Bleacher Report. "I sometimes had to go four days without food just to make weight. Not eating for four days just to make weight. In the back of my mind, I was like, this is kind of ridiculous that I'm killing myself like this, but I signed a contract and I had an obligation to fulfill. I'm going to make it even if it kills me, and a couple of times it almost did."
The severe weight cuts took a huge toll on Watson's mind and body. His performances started to suffer, and eventually he lost three fights in a row before exiting the UFC.
He makes no excuses for the losses, because he signed up to compete at bantamweight, and there was no way he wasn't going to make the weight limit before he had to step in the Octagon. Still, looking back on it, Watson knows he was playing a dangerous game with his body.
"I'm a guy that doesn't have much body fat to begin with. For me, cutting 30 or 35 pounds is just murdering my body and murdering my brain," Watson said. "30 percent of your water goes to your brain, and when you're cutting so much weight it just makes everything so much harder for me.
"It's something I wish I would have wised up before that, but sometimes you've got to fail to find the recipe for success. To me the fight was making the weight half the time. That weighs in on your performance."
Eventually, after watching Watson suffer in weight cut after weight cut while also witnessing diminishing results in his fights, his strength and conditioning coach said enough was enough. He advised Watson to stop dropping the additional weight and make the move to featherweight.
While there's only a 10-pound difference on paper, not having to shed that extra weight was the difference between happiness and misery for Watson just 24 hours before stepping into the cage. Now that he's fighting at 145 pounds, Watson is back to his old self.
"I feel a lot stronger now because before I was cutting a lot of weight to get down to 135," Watson said. "It makes you sluggish and a little more lethargic and things like that. You lose a little bit of strength out there, and now that I'm not cutting as much weight I feel like a killer out there again.
"My confidence is at a whole new level. When your camp is spent just thinking about your weight and diet, you know 90 percent of the time, it just weighs in on your brain. To not have that stress on me, my confidence is at an all new high right now."
The differences have shown in his recent performances. Watson has stopped his last two opponents inside the first two minutes of the fight, and he will go for No. 3 on Sept. 21 when he travels to Finland to face Tom Niinimaki.
Watson hopes that a win will earn him a call back from the UFC, but this time when he signs the bout agreement, he's agreeing to 145 pounds—a weight he's happy to make.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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