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Feature Story

Safety or Fairness?

By Joe Koizumi

Two months have passed since the WBA 115-pound champ Nobuo Nashiro, Japan, narrowly kept his belt on a split draw with official challenger Hugo Casares, Mexico, in Japan on September 30.  This reporter has been still considering rapid weight gain of Cazares from 114 pounds at the weigh-in to 128 just before the title bout.  Cazares had predicted at the press conference that he would climb up to the squared circle at 130 to overpower the defending champ Nashiro, and we then laughed at his big mouth.  Big wasn’t only his mouth but his stomach.  The Mexican, nicknamed “Increible”, was so incredible that he actually scaled at 128, only two pounds short of his prediction.  He gained no less than fourteen pounds in one night.

There is another well-known example of WBA super-bantam ruler Celestino Caballero, an exceptionally tall 5’11” Panamanian as a 122-poounder, who is reported to have usually gained twenty pounds after the weigh-in until before the fight.  Taking advantage of his superior physique and weight gain, he has kept his world the throne ten times to his credit.

When Caballero faced Steve Molitor in a WBA/IBF unification title bout, we vividly watched Caballero’s physical advantage to Molitor, whom the Panamanian prodigy annihilated via a fourth-round demolition with great ease in Canada last November.  It didn’t look a fair game in terms of their difference of physique and actual weight at the fight.

The late Arturo Gatti faced Joey Gamache at the Madison Square Garden on February 26, 2000.  Gatti tipped the beam at 140.5 to 140 for Gamache.  Just before the encounter, Gatti scaled in at 159, Gamache 143.  Their difference of weight was no less than sixteen pounds.  Actually in the squared circle, it was a battle between a middleweight (Gatti) and a small welterweight (Gamache).  Having gained 18.5 pounds after the weigh-in, Gatti easily demolished Gamache in two quick rounds.  It never looked a fair fight.

Why can we allow such an incredible weight gain of some twenty pounds as seen in Cazares, Caballero, Gatti, etc?  It comes from the current weigh-in system that is executed 24 or 30 hours before the bout.

When we had a previous system, the weigh-in ceremony traditionally took place some ten hours before the game.  Usually we had it at 10 AM when the fight was to start at 8 PM.  Then, boxers were usually unable to gain weight so drastically as today, since they were educated to finish the last meal some five hours before the competition for the sake of proper digestion and for fear of absorbing body shots with some food still indigested inside the stomach.

Also, trainers of old school used to believe that a big weight gain might ruin the speed cultivated through strenuous training.  Therefore, it was previously thought stupid that boxers eat and drink like a horse after the weigh-in.  The common sense in boxing has changed as that in other sports.  When did it change?  After the new weigh-in system of having it a day before the game was adopted.  Easily do lightweight boxers at the weigh-in become welterweights at the fights, welterweights become middleweights, and middleweights become light-heavyweights.  Their weight rebound apparently strengthens the boxers by gaining power without losing speed so much, as they have been training at the gym with heavier weight than their belonging class limit.  The theory has been amended in terms of weight rebound, so trainers of today allow boxers to increase the weight after passing the weigh-in much higher than previously.

Then, we have to ask a fundamental question as to why we changed the time of weigh-in into a day before.  Simply for the sake of SAFETY.  The one-day-before weigh-in scientifically has proven a remarkable effect that it should save boxers from dehydration and supply sufficient nutrition to have them soundly recover from severe reduction of weight.  It (one-day-before weigh-in) also eliminates their terrible condition, in order words, their incapability of regaining the physical strength and endurance against punches in time.  It is supposed to help decrease ring tragedies.

It was medically verified that the one-day-before weigh-in should be better than the previous ten-hour-before weigh-in, so all the organizations and jurisdictions amended the weigh-in system more than ten years ago.  It has been put into practice and come into effect everywhere in the world.

However, if you give a thirsty and hungry boxer 24 or 30 hours for recuperation, there might happen more and more examples such as Gatti, Caballero, Cazares, et al.  It means that the newly adopted weigh-in system has made boxing an unfair game in terms of their possible weight difference between the contestants.  Safety with the one-day-before weigh-in seems to stand at the expense of fairness of equal weight between them.  Is it too much to say Fairness was replaced by Safety?

This observer never suggests we should return to the previous weigh-in system.  Taking the new system’s medical merits into account, we have to support the current system for the sake of safety, which should be the most important in any human athletic activities.

Then, isn’t there any way to solve the problem of actual weight difference between them?  Ideally, we may well consider the second weigh-in to regulate their weight just before the fight – in the near future.

This reporter hereby attempts to prepare a table of the weight categories and the “Upper Limit Guideline” of 10% and 15% in addition just before the bout for your reference.

CLASS

WEIGHT LIMIT

+ 10%

GAIN

+ 15%

GAIN

HEAVY

OVER 200

-

-

-

-

CRUISER

200

220

20

230

30

LIGHT-HEAVY

175

193

18

201

26

SUPER-MIDDLE

168

185

17

193

25

MIDDLE

160

176

16

184

24

SUPER-WELTER

154

169

15

177

23

WELTER

147

162

15

169

22

SUPER-LIGHT

140

154

14

161

21

LIGHT

135

149

14

155

20

SUPER-FEATHER

130

143

13

150

20

FEATHER

126

139

13

145

19

SUPER-BANTAM

122

134

12

140

18

BANTAM

118

130

12

136

18

SUPER-FLY

115

127

12

132

17

FLY

112

123

11

129

17

LIGHT-FLY

108

119

11

124

16

MINIMUM

105

116

11

121

16

Ideally, the Upper Limit Guideline should be suggested to the boxers who passed the weigh-in in order to respect the fairness in having them (the contestants) fight at nearly equal weight, whether we may accept the +10% or +15% guidelines.  This reporter personally prefers the +10% guideline, since it should be logical to have the post-weigh-in weight index as we have the +10% pre-fight weight index a week before the bout.  But the +10% guideline may prevent Caballero or Cazares from eating and drinking as much as they like.

However, in fact, is it possible to execute the second weigh-in just before the bout in order and regulate their difference of weight?  It may be actually hard to mandate an excessively ballooned boxer to reduce the weight down to the Upper Limit Guideline only two or three hours before the game?  It might kill the highly anticipated superfight provided that one should refuse to reduce the weight, or one should deteriorate his condition by reducing weight just before the game.  Therefore, this idea of regulating the just preflight weight seems highly unpractical.

This reporter remembers an old story at Royal Albert Hall in London on January 13, 1921.  World flyweight champ Jimmy Wilde, who usually weighed around 110 pounds, faced former bantam ruler Pete Herman of US in an overweight bout.  The contract weight was 118 pounds, and the weigh-in was stipulated at 2 PM, eight hours before the game.  Wilde scaled in at 109, while Herman 117.

Just before they entered the ring, Herman looked too much bigger to the eyes of Wilde.  The Welshman demanded Herman’s weigh-in again before the bout, and the man from New Orleans refused to do so as he already finished the contracted afternoon weigh-in.  Herman’s refusal almost made Wilde pull himself out of the unfair-looking contest.  Then, one of the huge crowd, the Prince of Wales, bothered going to Wilde’s dressing room to persuade him to fight Herman as the audience were earnestly anticipating the Mighty Atom’s appearance.  Finally Wilde reluctantly accepted to battle Herman despite the apparent weight difference.  Eventually it resulted in Herman’s seventeenth round stoppage with referee Eugene Corri’s interruption after Wilde hit the deck three times.  It was recorded as Jimmy Wilde’s noble blemish in his great career.

Then, how about applying a penalty of 10% of the purse per excessive pound over the guideline?  For example, should a lightweight (135 lbs.) boxer scale in at 157 pounds in case of the +15% Upper Limit Guideline (155 lbs.), he will owe 20% deduction out of his purse for his two-pound overweight.  This reporter can hear your hysteric criticism of crying “Ridiculous!” or “Nonsense!”  and will have to withdraw this penalty system in case of overweight to the Upper Limit Guideline even if we look for fairness to avoid the great weight difference of the boxers and the disadvantage of the much lighter boxer.

Strictly speaking, problem isn’t the weight gain but the weight difference between the contestants.  If each should rebound by twenty pounds equally, there will be no apparent weight difference between them.  If so, there’s no problem.  It must be a fair game as the boxers with almost same weight compete in the ring.

There is a practical suggestion.  Their actual weight just before the fight should be more publicly announced and registered, if not by a MC in the ring.  People may know the jurisdiction sacrifices fairness for safety.

To make a long story short, in a Boxing Utopia, we may consider how to actually make boxers fight with nearly equal weight for the sake of FAIRNESS by having them recuperate after the weigh-in for the sake of SAFETY.  It may be worth considering that we have the second “official” weigh-in to regulate the wide difference of weight between them in the future.    Otherwise, boxing may become a “stomach” game, not a fight game.  We may fundamentally ask where boxing stands on the weight category system.




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