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Lost It On The Scales…

By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart

An opinion piece from the only Donald worth listening to…

Full Stop – In British English grammar a full stop is a lengthy pause, in the US, you call it a period. In the UK that tends to suggest feminine products. Here it means a period of time where I look at something in boxing in a little more depth. I am typing from my perspective of a fan who watches the sport closely. It’s an opinion. It is my opinion. Don’t like it? There are other opinions out there but if you don’t like it then good, debate and democracy are a good thing. If you do like it, feel free to spread the word.

Lost it on the scales…

As boxing clichés go, it is perhaps the one phrase that boxers hear that you have to feel, they kind of knew was going to be written before they went in for their weigh in. The other night, in Belfast, that was certainly the case for local boxer Lewis Crocker who was unable to make weight for his fight against Jose Felix Jr. To be fair to him, being a few pounds over was due to the fight being made at late notice and just 8 weeks after his last contest.

Having had a decent enough Christmas, making the 147-pound limit was safely beyond him. This was according to the British Boxing Board of Control. They stepped in after a check weigh in and pronounced the fight one where the regional belt on the line was now only an option to his opponent. Imposed on each fighter were clauses on dehydration and, for Crocker, a new weight which he achieved comfortably. Crocker won and did so comfortably though he looked like a much bigger man than the one he was facing. His opponent had made weight but was coming up from a lower weight category to make his debut at 147.

Now, there is no suggestion that Crocker was at it and was trying to gain a weight advantage over his opponent. And if anyone was to suggest that, then Crocker’s trainer, the effervescent Billy Nelson would be first on the phone to correct them. But weight categories are – according to another boxing cliché – there for a reason.

Last year the entire year in British boxing circles was filled with the Connor Benn saga and whether he knowingly took Clomiphene. As a result it got further and further away from the catchweight category that it was placed at to allow Benn to come up in weight but Chris Eubank Jr. to dip down to make the fight. Whilst the genetics of their fathers had placed each of them comfortably in the same weight categories, their sons are built differently. Much was debated throughout 2023 about this fight, and by the end of the year it was frankly becoming so boring that most commentators were totally turned off by it. It was therefore hardly surprising most people were past discussing weights. However not Chris Eubank Sr. He issued an appeal for the fight to be stopped because he believed that this weight difference was likely to put his son – Junior – into serious jeopardy. Aside from a father looking out for a son, this was given added gravitas as both Junior and Senior have been in fights which led to their opponents – Michael Watson and Luke Blackwell – suffering life altering injuries. And whilst both were not caused by making weight, the effects of having that on your conscience is plain for all to see and comprehend.

Recently I have been looking around at not just the physical needs of making weight but the mental implications. The serious side effects of boiling yourself down to a certain size and making your appearance, gaunt and drained before rehydrating for the following day, must filter through to your brain. Now we know, thanks to scientific study, that boxing below your weight category can make your punch power alter. Some think that being a tough guy above the weight you fight at makes your punch power more effective at the lower weight – some science disputes that. Whilst we are used to hearing commentators suggest that a fighter coming up in weight might not have held onto that power, it seems so remarkably obvious that fighting at a comfortable weight makes you fight much better. Boiling down to a size and then bulking up during the next day – after the weigh-in, in most fights, you can eat and drink what you want afterwards. The weigh in is clearly now an event that can sell tickets rather than at a point where the safety of the athletes is paramount.

But getting an advantage over a smaller opponent – which may be negated by that opponent following the same practices – also affects mood swings, anger, and confusion. The fact is that by getting to an uncomfortable place, you become less mentally effective. Now, that is clearly something with which most commentators will agree – fight week, held in a hotel can be a bubbling and seething mass of emotions – most of which at some point threaten to boil over.

Counter intuitively therefore what happens is the nutrition and rest associated with maximum performance become a principal stressor which means that the athlete may have access to the tools to use, but their minds are filled with anxious thoughts which hinder the effective use and practice of those tools. Of course, in response to that, boxers may feel a sense of achievement of conquering their own body and making weight boosts their self-confidence and allows them to build on that positivity, alongside the physical shape they are in to go on and perform.

There is insufficient science to make this a clear scientific claim.

Weight categories are clearly going nowhere. The effects of weight loss and weight gain are likely to be debated and talked over for years and perhaps even decades to come, however what is increasingly clear is that having boxers make weight, then gain plenty of extra pounds between that weight check and the fight puts plenty at risk. Crocker got through his fight and his opponent who could have refused to face him, went ahead with the fight, gave a decent account of themselves but ultimately failed. Fortunately, nobody left the ring injured or impaired.

But if we are to see some safe regulations, weigh ins, check in weigh ins, the times of those weigh ins and better regulation of the sport may become key. Further scientific analysis on the whole body and spirit of combat sports is also needed. That may cost. And who ultimately pays for that shall always be… the fighters, one way or another…

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