by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
What was supposed to be a main stage fight for women’s MMA during the initial Strikeforce broadcast on Showtime, turned into a circus side show when Cris “Cyborg” Santos failed to make weight for her scheduled bout against Hitomi Akano, missing the 145-pound weight limit by seven pounds.
The situation escalated when Cyborg was unable to make weight again later that evening, and it appeared the bout was in jeopardy, as her opponent turned down the fight because of the extreme amount of the overage from the agreed upon weight limit for the match-up.
Following the initial weigh-in, Cyborg was given until 8 p.m. PST to make the 146-pound limit (one pound over is allowed in non-title fights), but Akano’s manager, Shu Hirata, says they got a call at 6 p.m. instead, saying that Santos was ready to weigh-in.
Hirata then went back to the hotel to retrieve Akano and her team who had left the weigh-ins to get something to eat, and head back for the official weigh-in for her opponent to try and make 146 pounds.
“When she stepped on the scale with a bikini, she clocked 150.1, then she says she wants to take everything off,” Hirata told MMAWeekly.com in an exclusive interview. “At that moment the male commission guy got out of the room where the scale was, so the entire team for Akano left, and we decided who to send in to check it, and for about 90 seconds or so there was only Cyborg, husband and wife there.
“So the commission female staff came in, then we send Shannon Hooper, one of (Akano’s) cornermen into the room, and they close the door and do the second weigh-in and she’s buck naked. She clocked actually at 144 (pounds) at that time. Then I started complaining, how can a bikini weigh 6 pounds? But they claimed the bikini was wet, and a wet bikini would weigh 6 pounds.”
Akano’s team immediately cried foul, not believing that the 144 pounds read on the scale was correct and another weigh-in took place.
“I didn’t buy that, so I made the commission re-calibrate the scale, and I left Hitomi, Megumi, and Shannon Hooper in the room with her, and the commission female staff, and she took everything off, buck naked, and stepped on and it was still 150.1,” Hirata stated. “I don’t know how the 144 came in there, but obviously the whole strategy it seems like for the Chute Boxe team is they try to claim six pounds is the bikini. There’s no way a bikini weighs six pounds, wet or not wet.”
With Cyborg still very much over the weight limit for the fight, the team for Akano was accommodating in letting the Brazilian take the rest of the two hours left until the 8 p.m. deadline to make the weight cut. According to Hirata, the commission would not let Santos cut any more weight at that time due to safety issues, but because she weighed in at 150.1 and Akano weighing in at 143.5, the difference was more than six pounds, which he was told is the limit in California for the fight to take place.
It should be noted that on fight night, CSAC Assistant Executive Officer Bill Douglas said that the weight-spread tolerance for a fight to take place varies depending upon the initial contracted weight. In the case of Akano and Santos, who were contracted to fight at 145 pounds, Douglas said the tolerance was seven pounds. He said he was unsure where the perception that the tolerance was six pounds came from.
Even though the fight was approved by the Commission to take place, Douglas also stated that it was then up to the contracted parties and the promoter to determine if they would move forward with the bout.
Following Cyborg’s weigh-in of 150.1, the commission was willing to allow the fight to happen, but Akano decided to refuse the bout, based on her opponent’s inability to make the contracted weight for their fight.
“After Cyborg missed her weight at the second weigh-in, I rejected the fight,” Akano told MMAWeekly.com. “Then, while my manager and Josh (Barnett) were talking to athletic commission and promoter, I went back to my room with Shannon (Hooper) and Megumi Fuji, and waited. After while, the promoter asked me to reconsider, was called to come down to the lobby, then we began talking again.
“At that point, I have expressed my thought to the promoter, which was, in a sport called Mixed Martial Arts, if you allow a fighter to break rules, then from that point on, it will become something other than sport.”
Akano continued, “Even popular fighter like Gina Carano missed the weight in the past, and her opponent had to fight under the weight disadvantage. If this kind of things gets accepted in women’s MMA then this no longer is a sport, it becomes a sport where competitor can ignore the rules. So as a competitor of this sport, I felt, this needs to be stopped, therefore, I rejected to fight her and asked promoter to put an effort on preventing this type of incident. And I kept saying that I would fight as long as Cyborg can bring her weight down to the agreed weight, but this was rejected. In any world, it’s wrong that a competitor who broke the rules gets protected.”
While admittedly, both Hirata and Akano say an agreement was eventually reached that made sense for them, job security still played a part in the Japanese fighter’s involvement.
“At the end, Hitomi decided to take the fight, and she stayed partially because she felt the passion from the promoter who really had to make this fight happen, and the reason she kind of felt more is because Smack Girl promotion in Japan folded last year. She lost basically a place to fight,” Hirata told MMAWeekly.com.
It was more than obvious during the fight between Santos and Akano that the Brazilian held a huge size advantage over her much smaller opponent. In the third round, the fight was stopped because of strikes being sustained by the former Japanese champion.
After the conclusion of the bout, Cyborg apologized for not making weight, but didn’t make her way over to Akano to make amends. Akano says she was not expecting anything from Cyborg at that point.
“I actually feel nothing about that,” she said. “From the moment she showed up not cutting weight, I expected nothing.”
With such a huge difference in weights between the two fighters, the question soon has to be raised about stricter weight classes in female MMA to coincide with the men’s divisions. Still, Akano believes that she took the fight with Cyborg with the best of intentions regardless of weight class, but her opponent didn’t hold up her end of the bargain.
“I understand that weight classes can be different depend on the countries and promotions. I see no problem with the current weight classes, which I believe 125 pounds, 135 pounds, 145 pounds. (In Japan, we would need 115 pounds as well),” Akano stated. “If Cyborg can’t make weight, then I believe it would be better for her and Gina to fight at the open-weight division.
“I usually fight at 135, but I accepted this Cyborg fight as 145 because simply as a kakutou-ka, Cyborg’s fight style, made me wants to fight her, but it’s too bad the things turned out this way.”
Akano’s manager feels very strongly about the wrong that was perpetrated against his client, and doesn’t pull any punches about what Cris Santos did going into the fight against the much smaller fighter.
“Knowing that and coming in seven pounds over is almost cowardly because you could almost argue that if she cuts to 145, she felt like maybe there’s a threat there,” Hirata said. “Because as you know, in her last fight against Yoko Takahashi, she was already sucking air in the third round. I know Cyborg’s stamina is in question. She has to cut to 145 and (if) the fight really went to the third round, when it did, maybe Hitomi has a chance.”
Akano, while not happy with the circumstances surrounding her bout with Cyborg, still gives credit to her opponent and hopes to bounce back from this loss very soon.
“In order for Mixed Martial Arts to grow more as a professional sport, something needs to be improved so this type of ordeal would never happen again. I hope many people would realize that from this incident,” stated Akano. “Leave what happened outside the cage on the side. In terms of my fight against Cyborg, I lost the fight and that is the fact, and I feel Cyborg was a stronger fighter on that night.
“I would like to heal damages from this fight as soon as possible, and if I can fight in front of the fans again, then I will be happy.”