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How Process Networking Can Fix the UFC’s Weight-cutting Problem

While the introduction of weight classes is clearly a logical and well-intentioned act to create conditions for a just and fair sporting contest, the current situation is one that has a significant risk of creating more danger for athletes ... Process networks allow for the implementation of models that align all parties’ interests: athletes can be healthier, promotions can cancel fewer events, fans can become more engaged, and athletic commissions can more effectively represent fighter health and public policy.

For the past month, mixed martial arts (MMA) fans have been anticipating one of the most exciting Lightweight fights in history: the undefeated Dagestani grappler Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov against the salsa-dancing, mountain-dwelling Tony "El Cucuy" Ferguson. Would The Eagle’s legendary Sambo finally meet its match against El Cuycuy's unique MMA-focused jiu-jitsu and unorthodox standup game? For hardcore fans, this was the fight to watch.

The MMA world was tremendously let down and saddened when the news broke that the fight was cancelled due to health problems stemming from Khabib's weight-cut for the official weigh-in before the fight. Lightweight fighters must all weigh in at or below 155lbs, or the fight will not count in the UFC rankings—and the weight-missing fighter must forfeit 20% of their pay.

Sadly, fighters missing weight is not an uncommon occurrence. There is a tremendous incentive in combat sports to fight in the lightest class possible—having a weight advantage over an opponent usually translates to advantages in size and power, which translates into more victories and greater career success. So, after months of hard training, fighters routinely cut significant portions of the own bodyweight so that they can be validated 24 hours in advance as eligible for a fight. Some, like Khabib, (who reportedly walked around at 195 lbs — meaning a weight cut of rough 40lbs) end up in the hospital before the night of the fight due to this process. In 2015, a young professional fighter of 21 years also ended up in the hospital and died due to complications following a bad weight cut.

Joe Rogan, longtime Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) commentator and a former competitive martial artist, summarized the situation in two tweets:

Weight cutting is the biggest problem in MMA. We need a solution where we transition towards fighters competing at their actual weight. — Joe Rogan (@joerogan) March 3, 2017

To severely dehydrate yourself 24 hours before a cage fight is insane and has massive health and performance consequences. — Joe Rogan (@joerogan) March 3, 2017

A Problem of Validation and Regulatory Authority

Weigh-in events 48 hours before a fight are a centralized solution to a problem of validation. It’s an efficient solution because the UFC and regulatory authorities (state athletic commissions) only need to validate the weight of a subset of all fighters on their roster—fighters at that particular event, and they only need to do so one time for each event.

The UFC is a tremendously profitable company, and probably has the resources to establish the “actual weight “of all their fighters just by sending personnel to visit gyms to conduct weigh-ins on an everyday basis. However, that still doesn’t mean that the various regulatory bodies that sanction UFC events across the world would accept those daily weigh-in results. The UFC might have an incentive to use “alternative facts” if a fighter that draws big Pay Per View (PPV) numbers has daily weigh-ins aren’t placing him in the right weight class.

Enter Proof of Process

At Stratumn, we build networks that allow organizations to generate cryptographic proofs of data, which can be shared with regulators and independently validated by them.

Furthermore, these networks create a cryptographic audit trail from these proofs of data, which acts as a Proof of Process: verifiable proof of data integrity, ownership, and causality.

Usually, we’re looking at creating these networks for things like financial transactions, electricity usage, and insurance agreements—that all must be validated by a state or national regulatory authority. However, a (proof of ) process network could be used just as easily to securely and efficiently monitor the weights of the entire roster of UFC fighters, while allowing athletic commissions around the world to validate the results in real-time.

The Fighting Weight Process Network: A Proposal

Rather than conducting weigh-ins the night before fights at the venue, the UFC and Athletic Commissions could set up a process network that securely connects each stakeholder:

  • The Fighters: Provers
  • The Promotion (UFC): Verifiers
  • The Regulators (Athletic Commissions): Verifiers

The Fighter (Prover)

In this process network, the Fighter acts as the Prover—he must prove his weight to the UFC so they can schedule the appropriate matches, and to the Athletic Commission so that they can be sanctioned.

The Fighter can act according to an agreed-upon weigh-in schedule to prove his actual, real-world weight that he maintains during a long period of time (say for 6 weeks ahead of a fight)—not during a temporary, dehydrated state 24 hours before the event.

The Fighter can use a digital scale connected to the Process Network that is secured by an HSM (a tamper-proof device which proves the authenticity of the digital scale’s results), and digitally sign his weigh-in records using a private key (a bit like a username/password, except much better.) The digital scale could employ additional security mechanisms, such as cameras and facial recognition, which could flag results that appear to be falsified (by, say, a lighter weight fighter standing in for a heavier fighter and using his private key.)

Thus, the Fighter could quickly weigh-in several times per week, giving accurate, real-time, verifiable reporting on his weight to the UFC and Athletic Commissions, and has no need to cut weight, only to maintain an average “actual” weight.

The Promotion (Verifier)

In this model, the UFC gains real-time data and insight into the health of its fighters, and is able to independently verify the authenticity of the data without even sending personnel to check fighters’ weights. With this new additional wealth of real-time data, the company can focus on organizing events with significantly less worry about last-minute cancellations of main events due to weight loss.

Additionally, a ceremonial weigh-in can still take place at the event—as is customary in fighting sports—but with a process network, it can become a meaningful, official part of the fighter’s verified weight record. And Joe Rogan can announce both the event weigh-in result as well as the cryptographically verified average “actual weight” of the fighter.

The Regulators (Verifier)

In this model, athletic commissions can rest easier with a real-time stream of verifiable data on the Fighter’s weight. They will know well in advance if a fighter is off-course for his target weight. Additionally, they will be able to gather meaningful data on improvements of the performance and health of fighters when they no longer must cut weight, which they can report to elected officials and a public who has mixed feelings regarding the art of mixed martial arts.

A Renaissance for Combat Sport

The beauty about this type of process network is that it becomes applicable to any type of similar process—the very same network could be used not only by the UFC, but by other MMA promotions, collegiate wrestling tournaments, jiu-jitsu tournaments, Olympic judo—any sport that has weight classes.

While the introduction of weight classes is clearly a logical and well-intentioned act to create conditions for a just and fair sporting contest, the current situation is one that has a significant risk of creating more danger for athletes who already are in a high-risk sport. The interests of the fighter, the promotion, and the regulatory authority are not aligned, but opposed. And it’s everyone who loses: the athlete’s health is placed at additional risk, the promotion more frequently loses events, fans become disappointed, and the athletic commissions lose public approval.

Process networks allow for the implementation of models that align all parties’ interests: athletes can be healthier, promotions can cancel fewer events, fans can become more engaged, and athletic commissions can more effectively represent fighter health and public policy.

As a martial arts practitioner and MMA fan, it's frustrating to see the results from these archaic systems that such skilled athletes must endure in order to practice their art at the highest level, and I'm deeply happy to work in an industry that is beginning to offer real-world solutions to these old problems.


Addendum: What's the use of a blockchain here?

You can establish Proof of Data Integrity (the weigh-in results of the Fighter) without a blockchain, but that's only part of the picture.

In this example, the Fighter (and the UFC) also needs to know that the dates and times (Proof of Anteriority and Causality) of weigh-ins can be proved to be valid–not just the weights. This is only possible with consensus logic establishing a common timeline between the Fighters, the Promotion, and the Regulator—which is what a blockchain does.


Gordon Cieplak is the VP Product at Stratumn and an original member of the The Grappling Club


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