Tony Ferguson On Sleep While Cutting Weight For A Fight

In this Guest Post From Dr Ian Dunican, He looks at the aftermath of UFC 233 where Tony Ferguson suffered an injury resulting in a missed bout and how it relates to the requirements of combat athletes to sleep while cutting weight.

Although bouts getting cancelled, card reshuffles and late replacements are not that uncommon, UFC 223 had a particularly interesting and somewhat crazy week in the lead up to the main event. Multiple changes to the fight card and the fighters as a result of injury, weight cutting issues and poor behaviour. Let’s take a look at some of the underlying physiological components that may have contributed to these changes.

Tony Ferguson & Unorthodox Training Methods

The interim lightweight (155 lb) champion, Tony Ferguson is renowned for his all-out approach to his fight camp, including training at altitude in big bear, unorthodox strength and conditioning methods (See Tony Ferguson kicks a steel pipe in training) However, training hard needs to go hand in hand with training smart. Late night sessions at 01:30 in the morning in addition to his daily strength and conditioning (Tony Ferguson: “Late Night Sesh A Success”) may be negatively affecting the recovery process.

Sleep for Physical Repair

This is specifically the period when Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep should be occurring. Whilst many processes occur during sleep, this phase of NREM is predominately for “physical repair” with the release of growth hormone a vital requirement for an athlete in camp. Lack of sleep and mistiming of sleep can lead to an increase in the likelihood of injury and affects daily cognitive performance including reaction time. In industrial settings, this may result in slips, trips and falls.

“Updating the software without damaging the hardware”

– John Kavanagh

Whilst replication of your fight conditions and fight time at least three weeks out from a scheduled fight is recommended, a sensible approach should be employed including delaying the next day time of wake to increase sleep duration. This will allow your body and mind to get used to staying awake at the time of the fight and more importantly being active during this time. You don’t have to spar hard during this period, but you should be drilling, moving or doing some light sparring. As John Kavanagh says, “Updating the software without damaging the hardware”. Notable fighters who employ this strategy include Conor McGregor, Michael Bisping, Nick and Nate Diaz.

Adapting For Fighting In Different Time Zones

Max Holloway should be commended on taking a fight on six days’ notice and weighing in at 171 lbs at the start of fight week. It seems the odds were stacked against Holloway from the start. The potential confounding factor for Holloway not being able to cut the weight may be due to circadian misalignment (Jet – Lag). Holloway flew from Hawaii to New York City (NYC) crossing 6-time zones.

Adaptation in general requires one day for one-time zone crossing, meaning Holloway would not be fully adjusted to the NYC until at least Friday (weigh-in day). The side effects from jet lag include digestive issues such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea and difficulty in regulating appetite and may result in lethargy (UFC 223 Embedded: – Episode 4), diminished strength and difficulty sleeping.

Jet Lag & Sleep strategy

These are all important factors that may affect a weight cut of 16 lbs in six days. It is also of interest that flying eastward (Hawaii – NYC) is more difficult to adapt to as opposed to flying westward. In contrast, flying in a westward direction is easier to adapt (Dublin – NYC). This may be why McGregor was not suffering from any of the physical effects of jet lag in NYC such as diminished strength or lethargy, but some would argue that his cognitive performance and decision making was impaired.

It may be beneficial for top tier fighters to consult a Physiologist / Sleep / Performance expert in the future to plan fight camps, travel and fight week or even on late notice.

To hear more from Ian you can listen to my podcast with him on how Combat Athletes can Sleep In And Win!

Dr Ian C Dunican PhD, MBA, MMineEng, BA

Ian holds a PhD title for “Sleep and Performance in Elite Combat and Contact Athletes” and has worked with combat athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport, Super Rugby, Australian Rules Football, UFC and many more. He was a TEDX Perth speaker in 2017.
Contact him at Sleep4Performance, in Perth, Western Australia.