Making Weight: A First Hand Account of a Journalist Cutting Weight With a Pro

Exactly what do UFC fighters like Joe Lauzon have to do in order to "make weight," for fights, and how hard is it on their bodies?

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Let’s start with the salt, because that’s the first thing I failed with. I’d originally intended to shadow UFC lightweight star Joe Lauzon on the last day or two of his weight cut for his UFC 183 pay per view fight against Al Iaquinta, and try to do what he did -€“ meaning not eat or drink much for twenty four to forty eight hours, while sweating out water weight in the sauna, tub and mats.

Joe liked the idea and offered me full access in Las Vegas, but also recommend that I up the ante, a bit. "You should try to do the whole thing," he told me over the phone this past fall.

"You should see what everything is like. Sweating out the last two days is just the end of the process. Do the whole diet and water plan as well. I’ll give you my whole plan, it’s actually not that complicated. Just try to do the whole thing, and if at any point you don’t feel good, just stop."

If I were to follow the diet of any fighter on the UFC roster, Joe’s was probably the easiest to mimic. Case in point, two weeks before UFC 183, I sat in a sub shop in Suburban Boston with Joe and one of his Lauzon MMA students, discussing his weight cutting plan over rib tips, fries and Greek salad (well, Joe had the salad, I had fries and onion rings to go with my ribs).

Joe doesn’t diet, per se. This is in large part due to the fact that, unlike a surprising amount of pro fighters, he stays in the gym year-round.

Lauzon may not spar when he doesn’t have fights coming up, but he’s always grappling, always doing skill work, and sweating in the gym every day. As such, he never gets too heavy, or out of shape.

So, crash diets of extreme calorie reduction aren’t necessary for him when training camp comes around. He eats pretty healthy during camp (other than indulging me in my fat boy lunch invitation), thanks to prepared meals from SanoVita, so Joe doesn’t have to worry about the occasional French fry.

Joe’s plan to get to the light weight limit of 155/156 was indeed simple. I would learn that simplicity does not equal ease, however.

At least not to anyone but the most disciplined.  Around ten days before his fight, he starts cutting back, hard, on sodium, ie. salt.

He also starts to "water-load," that is, significantly increase his daily water intake. Ordinarily, he told me, he drinks about a gallon of water a day.

Heading into his weight cut, however, Lauzon would take in about twice that amount, each day. Many fighters begin to cut back their water intake three to five days before they have to weigh in.

Weigh-ins for UFC fighters and high level professional boxers take place the day before their fights. So, fighters have a chance to rehydrate and pack back on the water pounds they’ve lost, before getting in the ring or cage.

Joe explained to me that we would load up on as much water as possible, up until about 2PM on the day before weigh-ins, Thursday. Then, water consumption stops, and the sweating begins.

After cutting out water, there would be a Thursday evening sweat or "cut," session, followed by a second Friday morning cut, before weighing in Friday afternoon.

In between Thursday and Friday, there would be no food or water for Joe, and perhaps, me. I would have to see how I would feel after sweating it out for a couple hours on Thursday with Team Lauzon before knowing if I could make it through a second session the following morning, to say nothing of not ingesting any water in between.

That all seemed like a tough task as I’m the type of guy to get out of the hot tub or steam room after five minutes because I start to get uncomfortable. If I do ten minutes in either, you’d best believe it’s because I’m chugging a bottle of water, at the same time, and headed to a pizza lunch afterwards.

Before I could get to "the cut," however, I had to adjust my normally salty diet to include virtually no added sodium. It would be difficult, I thought, but with that as my only real diet restriction, I felt confident I’d make it through, and with my heart thanking me afterwards.

So, back home in Chicago, I hit the grocery store and stocked up on herbs and spices to flavor my food, as well as a humble and sassy little product by the name of "Mrs. Dash," which promised lots of seasoning flavor, with no salt or sodium.

I bought two bottles. Just in case.

Some chicken and fish from the meat department, and I headed home excited about dinner. That night, I didn’t even finish my dinner because it tasted so bland.

I should have picked up some lemons or lime, to marinate my white fish, and add some acidity that my tongue might mistake for salt, I thought. But mostly, I should have used some salt.

The next morning, I laid out the sweetest breakfast and lunch I could imagine (smoothies, on top of yogurt, on top of oats, over and over) to tide me over and help me forget how badly I already missed salt. So, I ate, and ate a lot.

I ate absolutely as much as I wanted, and it all tasted sweet and good. But by dinner, I became a bit more concerned about diabetes in my future and wanted to have a savory meal after working out and before going to bed.

Joe Lauzon tapes an interview with videographer Brandon Chase after completing his UFC 183 weight cut.

That’s when I broke. I ate cheese, and the cheese had plenty of salt.

I had lasted less than twenty four hours in the first stage of Joe’s weight cut plan. The night prior, I didn’t go to bed hungry, but I felt as though I had.

The pangs were not in my stomach, but rather in the spoiled-rotten first-world taste buds of my mouth. What was food without added salt?

Oh, sure, life-sustaining, healthy and completely adequate for a good while, but, you know, other than that?

Not good enough. I knew my prospects for doing this weight cut were in trouble, already, when I felt entitled to salt after eliminating it for less than a day.

Rib tips Joe Lauzon never told me this part would be so hard.

"Just Do What You Can"

In Boston, former world champion Mike Brown told me that the weight cut would be a matter of motivation, a matter of the mind. I was in Boston to cover the most recent UFC on FOX card, on the undercard of which Brown’s student Charles Rosa would go on to win his first ever UFC fight.

I spent a few days with Rosa and his coaches, Brown, Charles McCarthy and Stefan Berkenpas leading up to the event. We trained together, and I observed Rosa go through some of his weight cut.

Brown loved that I was set to write an experiential story about weight-cutting. In fact, whenever I’d told most professional fighters about the idea, all of their faces lit up and spread into the same type of knowing and giddy smile.

I suspect they relished the thought of someone else getting a taste of the bitter medicine they force-fed themselves for so many years, in order to fight. "You can definitely do it," Brown told me.

"The thing is, will you have the motivation to do it? You won’t have a fight coming up that you’re doing it for, so there will be points where you’ll have to decide whether or not it’s worth it to you."

I would begin the process with Joe in a couple of weeks weighing around 200 pounds. Brown estimated that, if I followed the whole plan, I’d probably lose fifteen pounds during UFC 183 fight week.

The American Top Team coach and former fighter seemed to emphasize that that was a big "if," however. For all the physical pain and damage it causes, the process of cutting weight would eventually become a mental challenge, he promised.

And, without the motivation of doing it for a reason, for a fight, Brown seemed doubtful that someone would see it through. He gave me a similarly qualified prodding to the one Joe had offered weeks back.

"Just do what you can," he said.

"Try it and see how much you can do."

The Squeeze Behind the Juice

Without a fight ahead of me, what was the point of cutting weight? I wanted to see what even fraction of the experience was like, for one.

But why? The first question I’d gotten from most professional fighters when I mentioned the story idea was why I was doing it, and whether it was for a fight.

Even Charles Rosa, overhearing Brown and I discuss the idea in the UFC practice room in Boston assumed I was doing it for a competition. "You’re going to take a fight?" he asked.

Not this time. In fact, I’d fought six times before, five times in MMA and once in boxing, and had never "cut" weight for any of them.

Over fifteen years of training, I’d also never "cut" weight for a grappling competition, either. Sure, I’d trained hard and improved my diet and lost pounds of fat in order to be in better condition to compete.

But that’s not really what fighters mean when they say the "cut weight." Fighters like Rosa and Lauzon begin their weight cut already lean and shredded with no fat to lose.

What they do lose is insane amounts of water weight in order to make their division’s limits, and avoid being the much smaller man come fight night. That whole thing -€“ the thing of intentionally dehydrating yourself in the days and hours leading up to a fight -€“ is the thing I’d never once considered doing before.

It has just never seemed worth it. I fight as an amateur and not once do I feel that a guy beat me because he was bigger.

He beat me because he was better that night. I never wrestled in my youth, so I didn’t get into MMA with the typical wrestler history of weight cutting, either.

But, in the two years since my last fight, I’d healed up herniated discs in my neck and back and also put on thirty pounds. A month after my last fight, in Feb. 2013, I weighed about 173 pounds.

I’d fought at 175 pounds and wanted to be ready to fight at 170 pounds, soon. Then, I busted up my neck.

Then, my back.  After a couple years of not sparring or rolling Jiu Jitsu regularly, I’d gotten up to about 205 pounds.

I knew I’d fight again, but doing so at welterweight seemed unlikely. I’d also fought at light heavyweight twice before, going 1-1 at that class, but I did so in pretty bad shape, and that portly size came with a pretty lazy and resigned attitude to fighting much bigger opponents.

After training a bit more seriously in recent years, and getting into slightly better shape, I wasn’t so sure about walking around at 205 pounds and fighting guys who would be coming down from about 225. So, the idea of learning about weight cutting began to seep into my mind.

This story could be my "test" cut, to see how much I could drop in a day or two, and to feel how healthy I felt the day after.

The second purpose of this story, I thought, would be to simply share what it was like to cut weight for professional fighters. The idea that all athletes must walk around twenty or more pounds above their weigh-in weight has been an accepted one in fighting, for years.

Fans also seem to take for granted that cutting that amount of weight in days’ time is simply "a part of the job" of being a professional fighter. So, when we see a ridiculously fit UFC fighter on the scale, and they miss weight by a few pounds, we’re quick to jump on them as unprofessional or lazy, or some other flip characterization.

I’ve been around gyms and fighters since I was 15 years old, and so I’ve seen enough to know that there’s a lot that goes on before guys and girls hit the scale or cage. What did that sunken, depleted fighter on the scale who just weighed in a pound and a half too heavy go through over the past hours and days?

That’s what I wanted to observe and, at least partially, experience for myself, and then attempt to relate to fans. Fans take so much for granted, from weight cutting to knockouts to fighting through injury, that the opportunity to get a first-hand, embedded account of just a portion of what someone like Joe Lauzon goes through immediately before he has to head out and fight another trained man, seemed like a great opportunity.

As it turns out, we picked a heck of a weekend to do a story on weight-cutting.

The Cut: Day 1

I’d tried to eat very light Thursday morning before heading out West from Chicago, to meet Joe Lauzon and his team as they began his cut down to lightweight for UFC 183. I had a liquid breakfast of a water, frozen berries, Greek yogurt and vanilla whey protein shake.

After completely failing at cutting salt out or even significantly down over the past few days as Joe had instructed, I hoped to at least be good today, the first day of the cut. That lasted until I landed in Nevada.

I found some grilled chicken in a packet, with hard boiled eggs, and brie cheese and crackers. I’d just eat the chicken and eggs, and leave the salty cheese and crackers out, I told myself as I purchased them from a stand in the McCarran airport, before getting on my shuttle to pick up the rental car.

I ended up eating a lot of the cheese, and some of the crackers. Perhaps worse than any of my diet lapses, was how little water I’d been drinking.

If I were following Joe’s plan, I would have upped his and my usual gallon a day of the good stuff, to about two gallons each day, for the past few ones. Everyone can understand how restricting yourself from things you enjoy is challenging, but professional fighters also have the burden of making sure they get enough of things they need, in order to train.

I’d quickly learned not just the challenges of keeping certain things out, but also of putting in enough of what I needed, heading into this cut. An excess of water was needed at the same time a depletion of water-retaining sodium was, Joe told me, so that, once water was eliminated (in a couple hours, on Thursday), the body would go into a "flushing mode," and urinating a ton of water would supplement the sweating out of other pounds of water weight.

By not eliminating salt, and by not water-loading, I was sure to lose less water weight over the next two days than I could have if I’d stuck to Joe’s plan. So, I showed up to Las Vegas, over-fed and over-salted (my usual state, since the age of 3), under-watered, and unsure of how I’d feel in a sauna for an extended period of time.

After a delay at the hotel check-in counter in a hotel connected to the UFC 183 host venue of the MGM Grand, I raced to the arena to meet Joe and his team to begin the process, shortly after 4PM. Many fighters on the card stayed at the MGM Grand hotel and then walked down to the portion of the arena whiched housed makeshift training rooms with mats and cheap standing heavy bags, as well as the pop-up UFC offices, where they’d check in, take photos, and do a dizzying array of other pre-fight commitments, all while extremely dehydrated.

Joe, his boxing coach Steve Maze, manager Chris Palmquist, teammate and grappling coach, TUF veteran Jimmy Quinlan, and videographer Brandon Chase, came down an escalator, towards the arena, and I greeted those I knew -€“ Joe, and Chris, and shook hands with the others I was just meeting for the first time.

Joe gloved up and hit Maze’s held mitts for a minute or two at a time, while the rest of the team hung around, watching and checking their phones. The air was light, with lots of teasing and trash talking in between hitting mitts.

I shadowboxed a few feet away. The goal was to just get the body sweating, lightly, to be followed by more intense sweating sessions in the adjacent hotel spa.

Getting their gear from, and their own shorts and banners approved by the UFC, is just a small amount of the errands and logistics and chores UFC fighters have to do during fight weeks, while cutting weight.

Joe checked his weight on a scale in the room. He was about 168 pounds. I jumped on afterwards, and had managed to lose two pounds since the night prior with my (for me) light eating, and weighed in at 198 pounds.

Several other fighters on the card would come into the room and check their weight also. Jimy Hettes, who would be pulled from UFC 183 two days later because he’d gotten sick, looked good at the time and was all smiles Thursday afternoon when he stepped onto the scale, likely before beginning his dangerous cut in earnest.

Flyweight contender Ian McCall came in and checked his weight. We were all pretty astounded when he stepped onto the scale and he said it read 143 pounds and some change.

McCall was lean and ripped and in just twenty four hours he’d somehow have to weigh, at most, 126 pounds, to fight John Lineker. When Lineker once again missed weight the next day, and McCall came on to the stage cursing the Brazilian and gesturing violently at him, it didn’t surprise me.

I don’t know exactly what McCall did between Thursday at 143 pounds and Friday to make 126 pounds, but it was most likely brutal enough to justify his anger at Lineker for not going through the same. In any case, McCall didn’t seem worried as he explained to Joe that he was "water-loaded."

Then, our own sweating began. Joe and his crew headed to the spa, with me trailing.

A soak in the hot tub for about twenty minutes was first.

Before fighting Michael Johnson in 2013, Joe tried out a method of cutting that was different for him. It involved sitting in a bathtub filled with hot water, as well as salt and rubbing alcohol.

That solution sucks the moisture out of the body while you sit in agony. Joe said it was more physically painful than sauna sessions, and it didn’t help that they used water that was far too hot.

Joe Lauzon all warm and snuggly in his burrito wrap of sweat.

"They were literally pouring boiling water into the tub," Palmquist recounted with a shake of his head.

Joe made weight but felt extra drained the next day. No more bath tub cuts for Team Aggression.

The jacuzzi would do, for a warm up. After that, we walked the few steps from the tub to the sauna, and sat inside the wood room for over twenty minutes.

There are rules around fighters during weight cuts. Some are universal.

For example, when coming in and out of the sauna, you close that door behind you as fast as you can. When an athlete is forcing themselves in an environment that sucks out dangerous amounts of moisture from their body, they are committed, and every degree of heat counts.

A sauna door that lingers on its swinging path from open to closed, lets in "cold" air, and messes with the sweat inside. One prohibition that didn’t exist with Lauzon, at least, was against talking.

We all talked, a lot. Over the next two days, the topics ranged from silly to serious, and everything in between.

There was discussion of rivals, teammates, the UFC’s new deal with Reebok, relationships, and much more. I let Joe, Chris, Jimmy, and Brandon (Maze was too smart to join us for the cutting sessions) take the lead with conversation, at first, uncertain of how the fighter felt about frivolity while going through this process.

It soon became clear that he welcomed it as a distraction. That night, after the first cut, in his hotel room, he would likely not have the same ability to separate himself from the dry, thudding, and waiting pain of dehydration.

"The talking helps a lot," Joe said.

The talking, and the mere presence of supporters, was support. I don’t know what Joe felt, but as I stood up out of the tub for the first time, after forty minutes or so of that and the sauna, combined, I felt the type of light headedness from losing water, that had always prompted me to grab a water bottle and stop a soak, in the past.

Now, however, I saw other guys around me going through the same, or much worse, and figured that if they could do it, I could. Also, I knew if I fell down or something, they were there to pick my dumb ass up and call 9-1-1.

After the sauna, Jimmy and Brandon rigged up a wrap on the spar floor using towels for Joe, and another for myself. Joe called the wrap a "burrito."

I imagine the thought of food comforted him a bit, during this hungry time. "We stay here until we stop sweating," Joe explained to me while on the floor, all cocooned up.

If a fighter like Lauzon stayed in the sauna for as long as he’d need to lose the twelve pounds or more of water weight he needed to, without interruption, it would likely be a great deal more hazardous than what he was already doing. That much heat, without break, for, let’s say, a couple hours at a time, could do some serious damage to a person.

So, we took breaks. However, his body temperature couldn’t drop too much, or his ability to continue to sweat out pounds would be hindered.

So, a break from the tub and sauna, meant being wrapped up tightly (so minimal air could get in) in towels, so that he could stay warm while resting. By Friday, even this "rest," would be pretty agonizing for Joe.

For now, he was pretty talkative and happy, it seemed, in his "burrito." After a half hour or so, Joe’s sweat dried up, and we headed back into the sauna.

Lauzon (L) and the author keep their core body temps high while resting from the sauna. 

Joe’s goal for Thursday was to hit 160 pounds, leaving him just four more pounds to cut the next morning, perhaps less, depending on how much he "floated," overnight. We often wake up a little lighter than we went to bed.

Joe would not hit that 160lbs mark on Thursday, however, due to limited time in the spa. In all, we got in about two hours of cutting on Thursday, before it closed at 7PM.

Joe didn’t seem worried when the scale showed 163lbs after Thursday’s cut. He explained to me that they would have basically doubled their sweat circuit of sauna and wrapping, if they hadn’t been cut short on time.

I weighed in and had also lost five pounds, and was down to 193.

If Joe would have hit 160lbs, he would have allowed himself a sip or two of apple juice, and perhaps a bite of bland chicken breast. The former would be to allow himself a bit of sugar and moisture on the tongue, and the latter to simply give his metabolism a morsel to work with as ember.

He would allow himself neither, however. As his team headed off to a restaurant in the hotel, Joe went up to his room to rest and sleep early. I wanted to stick with that plan, also.

I was invited to dinner by Brandon, and said I’d meet them there to just hang out, but I didn’t want to drink water, or eat food.

I doubted I could last the whole night without more water or food, but I wanted to at least try. I hoped the relatively cool air outside of the spa would be enough relief to distract me from wanting food or water.

I was wrong.

I got to my room, showered, got dressed, made a call and answered a few emails.

I decided not to go to dinner with the guys because the food and water would be too tempting. My earlier light headedness had turned into a dull, throbbing headache.

My mouth was a bit dry. Certainly, I was in no risk of starving, after eating a protein shake, eggs, cheese, crackers and chicken earlier in the day.

After seeing just how much weight Ian McCall (L) lost to make weight in just 24 hours, his anger at John Lineker (R) for not making weight, was put into full context.

But I felt that normal person urge of, "I want to eat because it’s been a few hours," that we often mistake for hunger. I’d have some water, I decided.

But, no food. The headache from losing five pounds of water bugged me and, though I could have held out for longer that night, I began to realize I couldn’t imagine trying to sleep feeling that way.

So, I drank water. A bit too much, too soon, it turned out.

The next day, joe would tell me the importance of sipping, not chugging, to avoid the type of stomach ache that would stay with me the rest of Thursday night. Who would have known that the same advice given to college kids regarding tequila would hold true for water, after weight cuts?

I had told myself I’d just drink water but not eat, but once that water bridge was crossed, food no longer seemed so taboo. So, I chose what I would call a "light" buffet option, and headed to an all you can eat sushi and seafood restaurant across the street.

It really is all or nothing with discipline, at least with me, I suppose. A lot of emphasis is placed on how hard, or extreme professional fighters train.

There isn’t nearly as large a spotlight on these physically inactive, psychological components to what they do, however. Certainly there is not enough understanding of how their lives are often really not just extreme, but rather steeped in routine, out of necessity.

If you don’t have the discipline to go to bed at a certain hour every night, wake up at a certain time every morning, go to the gym every day, eat the same stuff every day, and then force yourself to stick to every little detail during a crucial time like weight-cutting, you likely don’t have what it takes to be a great professional athlete. Or, if you have the ridiculous talent to do so, anyhow, your chances at achieving longevity are slim.

Outliers aren’t what game plans are based on or how proven roads are paved. So, the path is of consistency and attention to detail.

If one small rung, say having a little water after the first half of a cut, is off, then the whole thing may be derailed as you sit in front of three plates at a bargain seafood buffet just off the Las Vegas strip.

The Cut: Day 2

Kelvin Gastelum (R) worked hard during his weight cut to get down to welterweight for his UFC 183 co-main event fight against Tyron Woodley, but ultimately missed the mark, big.

There weren’t many other UFC 183 fighters in the spa Thursday afternoon. The next day, Joe and Chris would comment on how they were always surprised by how few fighters they see in the hotel spa, cutting weight.

Most, it seemed, left the bulk of their cut to Friday, and/or hit up a 24 hour gym in the area. TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum, who would go on to miss weight and lose a close decision to Tyron Woodley on Saturday, got into the whirlpool with us Friday morning, just after 9AM as Joe began his second day of weight cutting.

He and Joe’s team exchanged pleasantries. The young fighter was clearly there to do work, but he smiled and gave no indication of the problems that were soon to come and be evident to the whole world.

Hours later, as Joe was putting on the finishing touches on his own weight cut with the help of his corner man and TUF 17 middleweight member Jimmy Quinlan, the TUF 17 winner Kelvin watched his weight cut crash and burn. By this time, Gastelum was done smiling, had gotten dressed and supposedly refused to return to the sauna.

He and his team were said to plan to go up to his room and try a salt bath to get the rest of the weight off. Word in the spa was that Gastelum was still 179 pounds with time ticking away before he’d have to make 171 to fight Tyron Woodley in the UFC 183 co-main event.

Should the 5’9 Gastelum have stayed in shape and gotten leaner in between fights better so he’d have less weight to cut the week of UFC 183? It certainly would seem so.

But on Friday morning, his apparent refusal to get back in the sauna was by no means the tantrum of some spoiled, pampered athlete. He looked miserable and awful, after no doubt spending hours and days cutting back on and sucking necessary water out of his body.

Once a body stops sweating, as Gastelum’s appeared to have done, it is in a serious danger zone. Sweat cools the body so that it doesn’t overheat and fail, and sweat is also a sign that a body has some water left in it to, you know, live.

Quinlan told me that it wasn’t rare at all for teammates and coaches to physically restrain and force fighters back into saunas to continue to cut weight, if need be. "If a cut is going badly, you can get to a point where you don’t care about anything else in the world," he explained.

"You don’t care about money, your career, the fight, the cut. You are too thirsty."

What Jimmy didn’t say, but what the situation he described actually was, of course, was that fighters can get near death during weight cuts. That’s what all of this was, after all.

Fighters trick their bodies into flushing out water they need, after taking out sodium they needed to live as well for the past few days, and then they undergo intense heat to sweat out pounds more of water. And, just in case a fighter’s body starts to try and do its job by cooling itself down and lowering their core temperature to avoid over-heating, let’s just wrap you up in towels and a blanket to prevent that from happening.

Oh yeah, Joe’s wrap on Friday morning stepped up from just towels to also including a full comforter blanket. It appeared to provide little comfort to him, however, as he lay prone, after tub and sauna sessions.

During weight cuts, comfort is relative. Just as he had us switch from sauna to tub, to wraps, to provide relief from the sauna as much as anything, while still keeping his body hot, Joe would ask for help from Brandon in moving his body to a different position while wrapped up for a half hour.

"Can you move me to my stomach," Joe asked.

I can’t imagine what actual relief being on his stomach, as opposed to his back, could have given Joe at that point. It would seem to me his difficulties had more to do with not having had salt in days, no water or food in nearly 24 hours, and having sweated out about ten pounds in the past twelve hours, with what had to have been crappy sleep in between, than with lumbar positioning.

I didn’t ask Joe to reflect on any of that, in the moment, as at this point, he truly seemed to be getting uncomfortable. In the internal psychological war that is weight cutting, however, I surmised that even small changes can be used to trick the mind into thinking things are getting a little bit better.

For me, the wraps, outside of the sweltering sauna and boiling hot tub, did still provide me with relief. My body’s situation was simply a much different one than Joe’s, however.

After giving in and drinking water the night prior, after our first cut, I went on to drink enough water before bed to take me to a gallon for the entire day. And no, I didn’t have breakfast Friday morning, and had my last cup of water at 4:30AM to bring me to three total for the day before we began sweating again at 9AM, but I’d had a sushi buffet the night before.

Simply put, my body had stuff in it to use, as well as a good night’s rest, while dropping some pounds on Friday morning. Joe’s body was rapidly running out of anything to use, and that was the point.

That’s how a person as lean and fit as Lauzon is at 170 pounds, can get down to 155 or 156 pounds in a day or two. All he had left in his body was necessary stuff -€“ water, muscle.

He had been cutting away the former for a while now, with hopes of impacting the latter as little as possible.

Joe openly admitted that he didn’t feel great at this point, but he never complained. In fact, he still seemed to take joy in conversing.

He did so with his team, when he wanted. Lauzon also had an amazingly good attitude, humor and energy for speaking with other fighters and fans while he cut.

Unlike Thursday, the MGM spa was filled with fighters and their teams on Friday morning. Derek Brunson, who would go on to win impressively at UFC 183 and shimmy his way into the hearts of millions of women, err, his girlfriend, sat down next to Joe and the two talked for about fifteen minutes, mostly about personal finances.

Matt Serra, the coach of Lauzon’s UFC 183 opponent Al Iaquinta, saw Joe from across the room, then came over and reminisced with him about times they had played Call of Duty online together.

A fan came over to Joe and introduced himself as his biggest fan, and then went on to chat with him for about five minutes. Joe was lively, sharp, warm and engaging with all of them.

Some asked his advice on matters, others asked process questions about cutting weight…as he was cutting weight. He hadn’t had water or food for a very long time and his body was drying out and his eyes sunken a bit into his shaved head because of the weight cutting stress he was putting himself through, yet Joe maintained a talk show host’s conviviality, somehow.

I mentioned how impressive that all was. Joe shrugged.

Soon, a quick steam session was plugged in between sauna times. Joe cycled us through several more tub-sauna-wrap circuits and then checked his weight.

He was under 156 pounds, and so was ready to make weight. Weigh-ins were still not for about four hours, however, so there would be no celebrating with buckets of Gatorade or pedialyte just yet, however.

Joe had to stay dry until after weighing in. Still, there was a light at the end of the tunnel for him, now that he had gotten past where he needed to be.

And, that sweet, amber light at the end of the tunnel for Joe was apple juice. "I don’t even care about eating food right now," he said.

"I just want to be able to drink something."

So, Joe decided to get out of the sauna, get out of the wrap and simply sit and rest in the spa on a chair for the better part of an hour. It was a break from the intense heat and near-constant sweating he’d been going through for the past twenty hours or so.

He couldn’t drink, but he could just, be. After sitting and resting, Joe and I got back into the jacuzzi to sweat out just a bit more.

Joe wanted to sweat out some more ounces so that, after showering and getting to his room, he could safely drink some apple juice, carefully measured out by Brandon, before weighing in at 4:30PM. Joe looked forward to this juice like a fat kid (me) looks at a buffet line (the night prior).

Lauzon amazed Cepeda with how he maintained good cheer throughout an exhausting weight cut. 

After the dehydration and calorie restriction he’d undergone, the flavor and sugar of the juice would feel like heaven. "The sugar in it is going to give him a rush of energy up on that stage, while weighing in," Brandon explained.

With that to look forward to, Joe got as talkative as he’d been the last two days, while sitting in the tub, losing his last half pound or so. When we got out, after nearly a half hour, we both had to pause to gather our light heads, before standing, unsupported, on our own two legs on the slick, wet spa floor.

I don’t know about his, but my kidneys had begun to hurt hours ago. Still, knowing he’d made the weight and had a mini-sugar rush to look forward to, made the room light once more.

Joe weighed in on the scale he’d been carrying around all week, and which had been calibrated to match the scale which would be used by the Nevada Athletic Commission just hours later during the weigh-ins at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and he indeed had ounces to spare for liquid refreshment before 4:30. I stepped on and had lost another five pounds, from where I ended Thursday night.

Packing it Back On

Even after drinking water and eating a "light" buffet the night prior, I woke up relatively light. From Wednesday night to Friday around noon, I’d gone from 200 pounds and some change to 190.2lbs.

Plate one of three, post-weight cut, for the author. 

I’d cut ten pounds in about thirty six hours, while drinking a gallon of water on the first day of cutting, and eating three times that day. Certainly, I realized that it would be pretty easy to clean up my diet and get down to a "walking around" weight of 195 pounds, and then lose ten pounds of water weight in one or two days, to make 185 pounds.

How well would I perform in a fight after a cut, and how much could I put on in a day’s time, were still open questions. Of course, after doing my own weigh-in at the spa, I hit the MGM Grand Buffet while Joe was still abstaining and waiting to weigh in.

After weighing in, Joe would ever so slowly eat a healthy sandwich, while sipping water. Then, after UFC president Dana White gave his usual pep talk to the fighters backstage, post weigh-ins, Joe finished hydrating safely and fully.

I hadn’t gone through enough to warrant an IV, which many fighters get after weighing in, I figured. And though I certainly also didn’t deserve another buffet, I took one as my savory, fatty reward.

The author steps on the scale just after Lauzon to see exactly how much weight he’s lost.

There were eggs, there were hush puppies, there was fried chicken, but also Brussels sprouts, fresh fruit and green beans. Oh yeah, and sausage.

Delicious sausage.

Sure, I like food, but I also wanted to get started on the fun part of cutting weight -€“ putting it back on. Fighters want to cut weight only because they can put it back on afterwards and walk into the cage much heavier than they weighed in at, the day before.

So, it’s not just about cutting a huge amount of weight, it’s about doing so in a magical way that allows you to put it all back on, and more, in less than a day, and then feel well enough to fight.

Some fighters do it to have a size advantage. Others, like Joe, simply don’t want to be a great deal smaller than their opponents.

Joe walks around at 170 pounds, and he fights at lightweight. There are featherweights, these days, who walk around at over 180 pounds.

The option for professional fighters is clear – either cut weight, or go into fights as the much smaller man. I wasn’t fighting Saturday but I figured I could become a much bigger man, if I kept eating all day Friday.

After cutting ten pounds, Cepeda could only put six back on by the next day. Also, Team Alpha Male is totally not impressed.

I weighed myself in again Saturday morning just as I woke up, before drinking or eating anything, in the hotel gym, before my mini, see how I feel after cutting weight, workout. I’d cut ten pounds, but only put back on six.

In all likelihood, the plan Joe had given me, that I didn’t follow through completely on, not only would have allowed me to drop more weight if I’d followed it, but it might have also made it possible for me to put it back on, afterwards, as well. If I’d removed salt from my diet, and water-loaded, the water would have probably come off easier and in more volume.

Then, I could have perhaps sucked up more effectively afterwards, especially if I’d gotten an IV. I felt fine after my little workout, but I’ve fought enough to know that nothing could have approximated the energy needed to compete in an MMA bout, and so I still don’t truly know how much energy I’d have after doing a moderate weight cut.

Lessons from ‘The Fight Before the Fight’

In the end, I cut a little weight, but more than I’d ever done before. I cheated along the way, and did almost everything I could have done to make it easier for me, but it was still painful and scary at times.

A cheese burger from Tap, in the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, with a pickle spear on top, and steak fries on the side. 

Friday night, Joe gathered the men who helped him cut weight, along with his fiancee, and a larger group of close family members and friends who’d traveled from Massachusetts to Las Vegas to support him. There were cheese curds, burgers, fries, fish, and plenty of water laid out on the long table, sidelined by stools, and smiles on friends.

Joe held court, and everyone had fun. There was still a fight to fight, but fighting was the fun part, the reward.

For the rare warrior breed of women and men like Joe Lauzon who relish the battle, the real fight is earning entrance into that arena, or onto that battlefield. Things like cutting weight.

On Friday night, that fight before the fight was over and won. It was a time to relax and be hopeful.