Of all the talk around Carl Frampton’s split with Barry McGuigan it was the revelation by Frampton himself, that on the eve of the weigh-in, he was ‘probably nine pounds overweight’ that was the most surprising. As you’d expect from the two-weight world champion, who was being trained at the time by Shane McGuigan, Frampton took all the responsibility for not making the 126-pound limit and refused to blame the team, ‘Yes, it is a team responsibility and there’s the camp and everything that goes on but I’m the main man and that’s the bottom line. I’m not going to blame anyone else for me missing the weight. It wasn’t great – unprofessional’, he told the BBC.

Of course, Frampton wasn’t alone in 2017 when it came to not making weight. Gervonta Davis, the IBF super-featherweight champion, was stripped of his title after failing to make the 130-pound limit against Costa Rica’s Francisco Fonseca, on the Mayweather v McGregor undercard. Marlon Tapales was also stripped of his WBO bantamweight belt ahead of his scheduled title defence against Japan’s Shohei Omori when the Filipino fighter failed to make the 118-pound weight limit; and Argentina’s Anahi Sanchez vacated her WBA lightweight title after coming in one-pound over the limit for her fight with Ireland’s Katie Taylor on the Joshua v Takam undercard in Cardiff.

Despite the health warnings and detrimental effect on performance associated with rapid weight reduction, boxers continue to use unsound weight loss techniques to make weight, including: forced sweating, self-induced dehydration, starvation, and pathogenic methods such as diuretics and laxatives. Carl Frampton tells how he spent the hours before the weigh-in wearing a sweat suit and in the sauna. Anyone who watched him step of the scales, could see from the urgency in which he reached for the drinks bottle, that he was clearly in a very dehydrated state. The freak accident, when his opponent Andres Gutierrez slipped in the shower and knocked his teeth out, and the subsequent cancellation of the contest, was as Frampton said, ‘maybe a blessing in disguise’.

Sweat suits, forced sweating and saunas have been part of boxing culture since weight categories were introduced. Traditionally boxers have worn rubber or plastic garments and multiple layers of clothing to encourage excessive sweating. And despite the health warnings associated with the use of diuretics, laxatives and vomiting, such practises are still being used by weight-class athletes and boxers to shed unwanted pounds.

Rapid weight reduction methods that induce dehydration have significant physiological consequences. Studies have shown that plasma, blood volumes and oxygen consumption are lowered; cardiac function is reduced; the thermoregulatory process that controls body temperature is impaired; and the volume of blood flow to, and fluid filtered by, the kidneys is decreased. Researchers have also identified psychological problems associated with rapid weight loss, including mood alterations, and increased anger, anxiety and fatigue.

In addition to the detrimental effect on the boxer’s performance, considerable health risks are associated with induced dehydration. Studies on weight-class athletes who resort to such methods showed increased excretion of the enzyme leucine aminopeptidase – an indicator of kidney damage, and raised levels of calcium and oxalate excretion which can lead to kidney stones. Extensive use of diuretics can cause hypokalaemia and metabolic acidosis which increases the risk of sever cardiac disorders; and the frequent use of laxatives is associated with a wide variety of problems of the gastrointestinal tract, such as colonic peristalsis and bleeding. Tests have shown that dehydration can cause changes in the volume of intra-cranial compartments – increasing the risk of brain damage from bruising after head injuries, with researchers stating that ‘some sportsmen and women e.g., boxers, rugby players, and footballers are especially vulnerable to serious head injuries whilst dehydrated’. And a study into the impact of hydration and energy intake on performance suggested that if ‘body water loss exceeds 6% or more of body weight, severe cramp, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, coma or even death should be expected’.

It’s clear that rapid weight reduction, and the methods used to achieve it, is a practice that’s not only detrimental to the boxer’s performance, but also presents a considerable risk to their health and well-being. For boxers to compete to the best of their ability and remain in good health, it is essential that they understand the adverse consequences of rapid weight reduction and forced dehydration. At the best of times boxing is a dangerous sport and trainers, managers and promoters have a collective responsibility to ensure that their fighter climbs through the ropes in good health, without having been subjected to the dangers associated with rapid weight loss.

By Ian McHarg