Julija Stoliarenko collapses during weigh-in for UFC bout

Julija Stoliarenko, a UFC fighter, collapsed twice during her weigh-in for her bout against Julia Avila. The bout was scheduled to take place at UFC Vegas 22 on 20 March 2021 but was cancelled because of health concerns.

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Ernest Vicente
May 26, 2021 12:43 pm

If an athlete fails to make weight for a UFC fight they are fined up to 20% – 30% of their earnings. A percentage goes to the commission and a percentage goes to your opponent. So you are literally paying someone to kick your ass. If an athlete is slightly above the weight limit, fights can still happen. But in in the case of Julija Stoliarenko and Julia Avila, it was decided to call the fight off. It just wasn’t worth the risk.

The rules surrounding weight classes and weight cutting need a drastic overhaul. Some people have argued for having the weigh in on the day of the fight. Why? Because it would bring the weigh in and the fight closer together, discouraging fighters from cutting too much weight in the first place. But I’m not too sure about this. Athletes go to extreme measures to make weight. I can totally see athletes taking the risk of making weight and ballooning up in weight within a few hours for the fight. A very risky practice. But weight cutting the way athletes currently do it is risky as well.

Whatever the solution, regulation and rules need to change. For one it will curtail “weight bullies”. These are fighters whose natural weight is considerably higher than what they weigh in as. They will make weight and then balloon up in size immediately afterwards. It’s not unheard of to have a fighter regaining up to 20lbs or 30lbs of weight in time for the fight! This of course makes a mockery of the weight class. And it is done solely to get an advantage over your opponent.

Secondly it will stop the drastic measures athletes take to make weight. Speak to athletes, even those who have competed at high school and college. Some say it is the hardest thing they have ever done. Even harder than their match. You feel horrible, you’re dizzy and shaking.

This is why people are disgusted that Julija Stoliarenko was allowed to weigh in after her first collapse. It is disgraceful and sends a poor message that taking extreme weight cut measures is acceptable. The reality is that it’s not acceptable, and one of these days an athlete will die trying to make weight. Sadly this is probably the only scenario that will get regulators to change the rules around weight cutting.

Travis Banks
May 26, 2021 11:08 am

On the surface Julija Stoliarenko looked absolutely fine. You would never guess anything was wrong until she stepped onto the weighing scale. Looking back, she must have been trying her hardest to remain composed and conscious as her body battled against her to shut down.

At first she looked a bit off balance and stumbled backwards. She just about kept her balance, staying upright but then stumbled a bit more until she fell off the scale and crashed into the UFC banner behind her. People rushed to check on her as she regained consciousness and professed she was fine. She remained seated on the floor until a chair was brought for her to sit on and recover.

Controversially she was given a second chance to weigh in. Many UFC fans are unhappy and outraged at this. She registered at 135.5lbs and pumped her fist. But this time you could see something was wrong. She was blinking heavily and as she stepped off the scale, she fainted. She wasn’t ‘fine’ after all. She soon regained consciousness, sat up and was taken away in a stretcher.

Notably she was drinking water as she was stretchered off. The dangers of these extreme weight cuts is dehydration, which Stoliarenko explained in an Instagram video. She explains that the problem wasn’t her weight cut; “It was one of the easiest weight cuts in my career”. The problem, she says, was that she made her weight too early; 16 hours too early to be exact. Staying in that dehydrated state is not sustainable and can only be kept going for a short period of time before the body shuts down.

Ironically Stoliarenko says she feels great after the weigh in and is ready to fight. No surprise there given the extreme measures athletes take to make weight. And understandably she is very upset because the fight has been called off. Stoliarenko has done the right thing and apologized to Julia Avila.

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Sefa Kozan
May 28, 2021 10:50 pm

How frustrating for Julia Avila who has put in all that preparation, training and mental energy toward the bout. The bout is then called off because of something entirely out of her control. If I were Julia I would be fuming! However Julia has put this behind her and wished Stoliarenko a speedy recovery.

The fainting of Julija Stoliarenko at her weigh in is another example why something should be done to stop this harmful practice. People who have watched the footage wince at the whole spectacle. But why doesn’t anything change? There are so many cases of fighters having health scares because of their weight cuts.

Renan Barao fainted while in a salt bath. He hit his head and had to be taken to hospital. Khabib Nurmagomedov admitted that he suffered from seizures in his weight cut for his bout against Conor McGregor. And then there are those who have died when cutting weight because of organ failure. We have to ask ourselves, is it worth it?

Cutting weight can also be counter-productive. Do we really think having seizures and feeling very ill before a fight is a positive thing? Some fighters lose up to 30lbs from their regular weight for a fight. Of course things won’t operate normally when you lose that much. Importantly, losing that much weight rapidly makes you easier to knock out. The exact opposite of what you want to happen!

Also if you are cutting weight for the purpose of regaining the weight quickly and having a size advantage over your opponent, then that’s pretty stupid. This is because your opponent can do the exact same thing. A likely scenario is that both fighters cut weight and then rebound in time for the fight. Instead they both could have fought at their natural weight class. Doh! The quality of the match up would be better too because neither opponent would have to go through the gruelling weight cut process. That’s right. Believe it or not, you perform better when you don’t have multiple seizures days before you fight.

In life we all go through these ‘wake up’ moments when you reflect on your actions. Julija Stoliarenko has put the fainting experience down to bad timing. But maybe fighting at a higher (and safer) weight class is on her mind now.

Paulina Klaman
May 28, 2021 5:55 pm

I have trained Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu recreationally and have participated in some local competitions. Training is strenuous and the competitive spirit is high even at these low-key competitions, so I shudder when I think about the some of the methods high-level athletes use to cut weight especially when competition is so intense.

In an International Society of Sports Nutrition study published in 2019, Self-reported methods of weight cutting in professional mixed-martial artists, 92 professional mixed martial arts (MMA) athletes were surveyed about how they cut weight. Worryingly the results showed that some athletes were getting their weight cutting advice from social media and most cut weight without the advice of a registered dietician or nutritionist. All athletes surveyed were male, so more research should be done to see if female athletes follow a similar trend.

At the level Julija Stoliarenko competes, she will be cutting weight under the advice of a competent team. But that goes to show that it can be highly problematic at that level, let alone in lesser known competitions. Rapid weight cuts are not good for the body. The fluctuations and rapid regain are indicative of the unhealthy state you are in when your weight has been deliberately lowered using extreme methods.

One of these methods is water loading. This one makes me shudder! The basic idea is that you drink a large volume of water for a few days. Then the day before you weigh in, cut your water intake drastically. The body won’t expect the drastic cut and will continue to expel water from the body when little water is coming in. The problem is that taking such excessive volumes of water isn’t good for you.

While the average person and recreational competitor isn’t willing to take the risk, the mentality of a high level athlete is different. They have more money on the line. Their reputation makes a difference to sponsorships and future opportunities. They have to consider the livelihood of the team that works with them. Almost all professional athletes talk about how their success is a team effort. And then there is mentality. To reach the level that Stoliarenko and Avila are at, you already are accustomed to discomfort and you justify the dangers of weight cutting as something that is just part of being a professional fighter.

Sean Ellis
May 28, 2021 11:21 pm

As someone who spent my high school years in the wrestling team, I know what Julija Stoliarenko was feeling. Cutting weight is a painful process. You feel horrible, you look like a ghost and you can pass out any second. It isn’t so bad once you drink water again. I watched the footage of Stoliarenko’s weigh in. Wearing a mask might have hidden some of it, but anyone with a trained eye could see she was struggling to stay present.

I have experienced some crazy stories and have heard some crazier ones. This is what combat athletes sign up for. Once my coach gave me a bucket and had me spit as much as I could into the bucket on the way to a meet. Others get chucked into a sauna or steam room. Wearing a sweat suit is another option as you do squats, burpees and push ups.

You wouldn’t wish a weight cut on your worst enemy. It’s important to distinguish between a weight cut and losing weight. Losing weight can be a gradual and painless process. Maybe a bit of hunger. But the more you progress, the more you improve your health… up to a point. A weight cut for sports is a totally different beast. This is rapid weight loss. The more you progress, the less healthy it is. You’re always thirsty. Your mood is really bad. I remember there were times when the smallest thing would make me go off. It’s also very difficult to sleep, which makes you even more cranky.

I don’t think I could put myself through that these days. Professional sports requires so much sacrifice of its athletes. Time, effort, lost opportunities to live a normal life. And cutting weight. If there is anything that will put you off from pursuing a career as a pro, it will be weight cutting. This is also why I have immense respect for UFC fighters. They hone their craft in the octagon but what they do outside is just as hard.