Voluntary Dehydration and Concussions in Mixed Martial Arts

Nilan Patel     

Mock Research Proposal

Summary of Research Proposal 

Competitive mixed martial arts (MMA) functions on a weight class basis. Competitors are told to make a certain weight, which is measured two days before competition in order to be authorized to compete, and in order to receive a 100% of their payment. And so days before weigh-ins many competitors opt to voluntarily dehydrate their bodies well beyond dehydrated levels in order to make weight. It is known that cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) acts as a cushion for the brain, which plays a key role in preventing concussions. Dehydration of about 2% can reduce CSF volume be at least 10% (Harwood & Milne, 2014). Our goal is to provide evidence to The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) that weigh-ins should be done two weeks prior to fight night, instead of two days before fight night, in order to give martial artists time to properly rehydrate themselves for competition. In doing so, martial artists partaking in competition would be at a lesser chance of experiencing concussion from repeated shots to the head. The theory driving this goal is that levels of CSF are linked to the risk level at which an individual can experience a concussion following impact to the head. There are two major pieces of literature that support this theory. After monitoring concussion status in a knocked out boxer by CSF-biomarker analysis, researchers have found that quality and volume of CSF plays a significant affect on an individual’s recovery through concussion (Neselius, Brisby, Granholm, Zetterberg, Blennow, 2014). Weber et al. (2013) argued that clinical measures of concussed wrestlers were altered by the levels at which wrestlers were hydrated and noted that the effects of weight cutting and dehydration are not well understood and therefore interfere with concussion diagnosis.

The specific aims of this proposal are to offer the first detailed assessment of injury rate compared to weigh-in proximity to fight night for the UFC.

We hope to determine:

  • The degree to which CSF volume plays a role in risk of concussion for mixed martial artists partaking in competition.
  • The optimal number of days at which weight for martial artists is to be measured in order to prevent concussion due to voluntary dehydration.

In order to reach the aims mentioned above, our study, which will span 7 years, will split the UFC into thirds. Each group will consist of 20 mixed martial artists, and groups will differentiate by the proximity of weigh-in dates to fight night. One group will follow UFC standards and weigh in two days before fight night, the second group will weigh-in a week before fight night, and the third group will weight in two weeks before fight night. Analyses will of course, compare concussion rates between the three groups of mixed martial artists and post competition analysis will include an analysis of CSF volume in order to obtain objective measures. The research team will be made up of clinician-scientists and scientists in the fields of neuroscience neuroimaging, and sports science. Research will be supported by research assistants and graduate students with or without experience with concussed individuals. Evidence that the closer weigh-ins are to fight night can increase ones chance of suffering from concussion will provide competitors with a valid argument to correct and overlooked flaw in UFC standards. Empirical findings from this study would provide additional research to the field of sports related injury related to poor preparation, which is information that any competitor can use in order to reduce risk of brain related injury.


Harwood, J., Alex Pennetti, and Kevin Milne. “Game time environmental conditions and       concussion rate in college football (884.28).” The FASEB Journal 28.1 Supplement (2014): 884-28.

Weber, A. F., Mihalik, J. P., Register-Mihalik, J. K., Mays, S., Prentice, W. E., &Guskiewicz, K. M. (2013). Dehydration and Performance on Clinical Concussion Measures in Collegiate Wrestlers. Journal of Athletic Training, 48(2), 153–160. http://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-48.1.07


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