Last week we lost Yang Jian Bing to weight cut complications. He was meant to fight Geje Eustaquio in a flyweight contest on ONE Championship 35.
The bout was cancelled on Thursday following the weigh-ins due to Yang’s severe dehydration from attempting to make weight. Bing never made it to the weigh-in, he was admitted to A&E at San Juan De Dios Hospital in Manila on 10 December, 2015 at 2.43pm already unconscious and non-responsive.
He was pronounced dead on 11 December at 12.06pm of rhabdomyolysis. Exertional rhabdomyolysis is one of several types of rhabdomyolysis and is caused be extreme physical exertion performed under high temperatures while dehydrated.
Anyone who has ever cut weight will be familiar with having a sauna suit on or being in a sauna while skipping or shadow boxing after restricting food and fluids for at least 18 hours. These conditions depending on the degree of exertion and dehydration can increase the risk of rhabdomyolysis. Anyone who cuts a lot of weight (7% of bodyweight or higher would be considered a lot) should be aware of the warning signs.
Symptoms to look out for are:
- Dark red or brown urine or no urine output
- Muscle pain (especially in the shoulders, thighs and / or the lower back)
- Muscular weakness or difficulty in moving the arms or legs
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fever or rapid heart rate
- Confusion, fever or loss of consciousness
If any of these symptoms occur the individual should be taken immediately to the nearest hospital for treatment. This is not the first time a fighter has died from weight cutting; Leandro “Feijao” Souza died in 2013 attempting to make weight for Shooto Brazil 43 and several deaths have happened in collegiate wrestling from weight cut complication. Complications from cuts have cancelled fights for Johnny Hendricks and Renan Barao in UFC recently. Jim Miller and James Vick have both been outspoken on the issue and long-term or permanent damage caused by cutting weight.
I myself have had problems cutting weight for my second match against Rin Nakai where I had cut 9kg in 18 hours in an attempt to make the 61.2 kg weight. I was 66kg before flying over to Japan from London and was then just over 70kg when I arrived in Tokyo. I missed weight by 800 grams and was having sever lower back pain which made it hard to sit or lie down in the taxi on the way over and after being 1 kg over initially I managed to squeeze out an additional 200gr at a nearby sauna. Pancrase or rather Mei Yamaguchi who was the translator for Pancrase had asked me to maintain the weight until fight day or to try cutting further and I flat out refused citing health risks.
It’s easy to criticise fighters for not making weight but the risks associated with extreme cuts can no longer be ignored. How many more deaths or serious injuries will need to happen before we address the issue? Fighters will always want to gain a competitive advantage and if one fighter is cutting weight then others will follow to ensure they aren’t at a disadvantage. Doing a quick search will unearth articles or op-ed pieces contemplating ways to address the problem of weight cutting. The fact of the matter is that fighters are going to cut weight. Whether promotions have a day before weigh-in or week before weigh in there will be fighters that are putting themselves at risk.
The issue is less about the promotion and more about awareness. Understanding the risks associated with weight cuts is paramount. Coaches need to be aware of the causes and symptoms and educate their teams. The culture within the sport needs to change. Fighters must consider the bigger picture; no fight or tournament is worth dying for. Coaches and teammates are instrumental in creating and maintaining this perspective for the fighters. Dying in order to make weight isn’t noble at all; it’s tragic.
Promotions can change weigh in procedures all they like but the real change must start in the gym. Coaches and fighters can do this by educating themselves on health and safety around cutting weight as well as recovery to avoid tragedies such as these or long-term damage. Gyms can start by contacting local health centres or more information, bring in a nurse or nutritionist to talk to your team about the risks and what can be down to avoid complications.
For a fighter, the only thing that matters in the camp is the fight so coaches and teammates play a vital role in maintaining perspective and helping to keep the fighter out of harm’s way. The death of Yang Jian Bing should not be in vain; it is up to all of us to honour his life as well as our own through education and change.