It’s time to re-examine day-before weigh-ins
When Nate Campbell defeated Juan Diaz last year, he not only won three alphabet belts, he also put himself into position for a lucrative payday. He found himself thrust into a lightweight class loaded with marquee names. Wherever Campbell turned, he was looking at big money. But the demands of the human body will often supersede the demands of the bank account.
On February 14, the then-36-year-old Campbell weighed in for what was to be a routine title defense against South Africa’s Ali Funeka. The bout was the main event of an HBO Boxing After Dark show taking place at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. To his shock, Campbell was three pounds over the weight limit. He was allowed time to shed the extra weight, but two hours in a sauna melted off a mere six ounces.
In less time than it takes to place a call to Weight Watchers, Campbell was stripped of his title belts. Even if Campbell defeated Funeka, the belts would go into the alphabet scrap heap to be picked over by various promoters and fighters. But if Funeka won, the belts became Funeka’s.
In an effort to save face, the de-belted Campbell fought hard for 12 rounds and defeated Funeka by a majority decision. Understandably, there was a catch in Campbell’s throat when he talked later about his trouble making weight. “My body said, ‘No more,'” Campbell said.
Ironically, Campbell’s previous bout was canceled when his opponent, Joan Guzman, failed to make weight. Prior to that, when Guzman challenged WBO titlist Jorge Barrios, it was Barrios who blew it at the scales.
These weighty issues are not only a promoter’s biggest headache; they are also giving the medical community something to ponder.
“Part of the problem is that fighters should fight at the appropriate weight for their body size,” Dr. Margaret Goodman told THE RING. “For some reason, once successful, boxers don’t believe they need to maintain their weight.”
The decade’s poster boy for coming in heavy would have to be Jose Luis Castillo, who scandalized himself by twice failing to make weight for bouts with Diego Corrales. But Castillo is not the only guilty party. Corrales, in turn, didn’t make weight for a bout with Casamayor. Such titleholders as Stevie Forbes, Scott Harrison and Chris John have all had bouts canceled or been stripped of titles by coming in overweight. But it’s not just a matter of fighters eating their way out of their class. They sometimes ag their way out.
It was during the mid-1980s that the Nevada State Athletic Commission, advised by Dr. Flip Homansky, began having fighters weigh in the day before a fight. Previously, fighters weighed in the day of the fight, but Homansky was concerned about light-headed, dehydrated men competing mere hours after being weighed.
Homansky was hoping fighters and trainers would use the extra time to properly re-hydrate. What we’re seeing on a regular basis, however, are aging fighters trying to “work” the system. They’ll use the extra day to replenish after draining themselves to make a weight class they should’ve abandoned years ago.
Castillo was a perfect example. He was over 30 and had already fought as high as 150 pounds, but the opportunity to fight Juan Lazcano for the 135-pound championship was too tempting. By the time Corrales came into Castillo’s sights, Castillo should’ve already said goodbye to the lightweights. After the two Castillo-Corrales debacles, the Nevada commissioner supported the idea of fining boxers 10 percent of their purse if they failed to make weight on their first attempt. Still, Dr. Goodman feels commissions are ignoring an obvious, slowly growing dilemma.
“Every one of the commissions knows there is a problem, but it is easier to turn a blind eye and pray for nothing to happen that places the sport in a bad light. If there are no deaths, nothing changes,” she said.
“The weigh-in was changed for the right reasons to the day before, but the fighters have abused the system. As a result, many have permanently abused their bodies and metabolisms. Many have eating disorders from all the yo-yo dieting started in the amateurs, and they consider eating their reward, like (Ricky) Hatton.”
Goodman’s suggestion for change is complex.
“There needs to be a pilot program started across the country where there are two weigh-ins,” she said. “Use the day-before, but place restrictions on how much weight the fighter can gain the following day. Do this for six months and look at the data, the fight outcomes, injuries, etc. Then one could prove the effectiveness of the change.”
Homansky’s plan is more blunt. “If a fighter doesn’t make weight, cancel the fight. Fine the fighter, manager and promoter. Give the money to the opponent. That would stop the nonsense.”
Homansky is less bothered by fighters lingering in divisions they’ve outgrown than by fighters who use the time between the weigh-in and the fight to take in enough fluids to actually jump an entire weight class. Arturo Gatti entered a 2000 fight with Joey Gamache having gained 19 pounds after the weigh-in. He knocked Gamache into retirement.
“Gamache seemed to be a beacon for why the day-before-fight weigh-ins proved to be a joke and potentially dangerous to an opponent,” Goodman said.
A similar case occurred in 2005 when Miguel Cotto made the 140-pound limit for a contest with DeMarcus Corley but entered the ring weighing 157.
“It was originally always less than 24 hours before, but now promoters have the weigh-in up to 34 hours earlier to help their fighter, or for TV,” Homansky said. “I did this to help them replenish fluids and electrolytes, but it is abused. The fighters use it as a crutch. If the boxers fought in the right weight class for their body size, it wouldn’t matter. The weigh-in could be anytime.
“Going back to the morning of the fight would be more uniform. It would decrease abuse. A welterweight should go into the ring weighing not much more than 147; it is a crime when a kid weighing almost 160 fights someone weighing 149.
“The key is educating the fighter and their team,” Homansky continued. “The amateurs understand this. Amateur wrestling has gone back to weigh-ins just before the match, and serious injuries, including deaths, have decreased.”
According to Goodman, commissions either ignore the problem or don’t recognize it.
“They typically take that tack, unless a spotlight from the press is shone on their actions,” she said. “They think that fines are a deterrent, but they’re not. Boxing hates changes. The promoters are worried because of the logistics of all this. Commissions aren’t certain how to do same-day weigh-ins, or if they should do two weigh-ins. The promoters like to have the big weigh-ins on TV, so that means showing up twice before fight time. The bottom line is, boxing regards change as bad – something placing further pressure on folks – so it is simpler to accept the status quo.”
Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, agrees that there are holes in the system.
“It’s actually become part of the matchmaking process,” said Kizer, “with some people not wanting to fight a certain fighter because he’s known to put on extra weight after the weigh-in. Or sometimes they’ll agree to a fight because they know the opponent will come in depleted. I don’t see it necessarily as fighters abusing the system. I think abuse is too strong a word.”
Kizer is open to changes but hasn’t heard any ideas that appeal to him. As for dictating how much weight a fighter can put on after a weigh-in, “I’m apprehensive about telling fighters that it’s wrong to re-hydrate too much. We want them to re-hydrate and be healthy. I haven’t seen statistics that show the heavier fighter always wins. I know that’s being studied, but it’s inconclusive right now.”
Kizer also opposes the idea of two weigh-ins.
“I’ve spoken to fighters who say they can’t sleep before the first weigh-in. To have a second weigh-in means you’ll have fighters operating on no sleep for two or three days. That’s not good.”
Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, who was the WBA light heavyweight titleholder in 1980-81, wishes the day-before weigh-in were in place when he fought.
“If they’d had it when I was fighting, I’d still be a champion today,” said Muhammad, who trains Chad Dawson. “I like giving a fighter a chance to re-hydrate. The fighters who can’t make weight don’t have the right people around them. Fighters need to be watched. When a guy has that much trouble, 80 percent of the time it’s because his body is saying the game is over.”
Mustafa Muhammad was involved in a scale controversy when he failed to make weight for a 1983 bout with Michael Spinks. It was a highly anticipated rematch – Spinks had beaten Muhammad for the title months earlier. To everyone’s surprise, Mustafa Muhammad weighed in heavy. To this day he claims the scale was off.
“I weighed myself the night before and I was 174,” he said. “Everything was on schedule. But that scale was way over. Bert Randolph Sugar came to my defense and weighed a three-pound bag of flour, and the scale jumped five pounds. Spinks always weighed light, but that day he weighed right at the limit. You knew something was wrong.”
Mustafa Muhammad-Spinks II was canceled, but Campbell-Funeka had to go on. The promotion, a mega show dubbed “The St. Valentine Day Massacre,” had been troubled for days and had already seen the roster jiggled.
Campbell was angry and disappointed at his failure to make weight. Still, he turned his disappointment into fuel for battle. From the opening bell, Campbell planted his forehead on Funeka’s chest and hammered away with body blows, occasionally lobbing overhand rights to the head. One of those right hands nearly ended the fight in Round 2 when Campbell sent Funeka toppling backward to the canvas.
By the middle rounds, Campbell was huffing and puffing like the middle-aged fighter he is, but in the 11th he dropped Funeka a second time. The 12th was all Campbell’s, as he blasted away at Funeka’s midsection. He’d be damned if his three belts ended up draped around Funeka’s lanky body.
Judge Deon Dwarte scored the bout 113-113, but Michael Pernick and Benoit Roussel saw it for Campbell, 115-111 and 114-112, respectively. Funeka was visibly upset by the scoring, but the verdict was fair.
The verdict on weighing fighters, though, needs a little more scrutiny.
“I wish I had the answer,” Kizer said. “It’s a tough one. At the end of the day, it’s about money. If a fighter is offered a million dollars to compete in a weight class that doesn’t suit him, he’ll try it. Wouldn’t you?”
Perhaps, but the inherent greed associated with the sport shouldn’t give commissions an excuse to not give their full attention to the matter. Why wait for another Gatti-Gamache to happen? Why wait for more Castillo-style embarrassments?
Oscar De La Hoya probably thought he could use the time to re-hydrate after wasting himself to make weight for his fight with Manny Pacquiao. His re-hydration process amounted to a mere two pounds between the weigh-in and the fight, and he could not snap his tired body to life. But time will pass, and another fighter will try to succeed where Oscar failed. The next fighter may not be lucky enough to quit on his stool. Day-before weigh-ins were established with good intentions, but the system needs an overhaul, if only because it makes fighters think they can do more than is physically possible.