What is a “Catchweight” Boxing or MMA Fight?

Why is 145lbs considered a catchweight in professional boxing, but not in MMA? It has to do with how weight classes are set up in combat sports, and how matchmakers set up bouts between fighters.

In this post, I’ll be breaking down what a catchweight fight is, why they’re used, and highlighting some famous examples from both boxing and MMA.

Let’s take a look… 

What is a Catchweight Fight? 

Catchweight is a term used in boxing and MMA to describe an agreed, non-standard weight limit that’s beyond the existing weight classes of that sport.

As you’ll know, both boxers and MMA fighters are required to ‘weigh-in’ before a fight, to show they don’t exceed the upper weight limit for the weight-class they’re competing in. 

But fighters can ‘game’ the weigh-in system and hit the scales significantly lighter at the weigh-in than they would on fight night. While this is pretty much standard practice, it does run the risk of unfair competition. Especially when there’s a big natural weight difference between fighters. 

Enter catchweight… an agreed weight to accommodate a size mismatch between fighters. A catchweight can be agreed when a bout is originally scheduled or made late notice, usually as the result of the botched weight cut. 

Existing Weight Classes

Both boxing and MMA have their own, fixed weight classes. The names and weights of these weight classes are different in boxing than in MMA. Plus, they’ve both changed and evolved over time, and in the past have even varied across promotions. 

Here are the current weight classes for both sports:

Anyway, the main takeaway here is that if a bout is scheduled at an upper weight-limit that falls between 2 weight classes, it’s a catchweight fight.

A Catchweight Example 

To use an example, let’s say a bout was arranged between Fighter A and Fighter B, with a 145lb upper limit. 

In boxing, the upper weight class limits are 140lb (Junior Welterweight) and 147lb (Welterweight). So our hypothetical fight would be fought at a catchweight. Technically, it would also be a Welterweight fight as it’s under the upper limit for this division. 

But in MMA, 145lb is the upper limit for the Featherweight weight class. So this would simply be a regular fight in the featherweight division. 

Yep, it can be pretty confusing. So why do we bother with catchweight fights?

Why Use Catchweight Fights? 

Fair Competition

Catchweight fights are used in the interest of keeping a fight fair. A catch-weight limit can help compensate for the abilities of heavier fights to drastically cut weight before the weigh-in, only to regain all of this weight in time for fight night. 

This time I’ll use a real example. Consider the much-anticipated fight between Jon Jones and Israel Adesanya. 

  • Jon Jones – 205lb UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
  • Israel Adesanya – 185lb UFC Middleweight Champion

If they compete, should Adesanya move up or should Jones move down? 

Jon Jones is probably physically incapable of meeting the 185lb limit – so that option’s out. 

How about Adesanya moving up? Adesanya could forgo his usual weight-cut and meet the 205lb limit easily. He’d likely enter the octagon at his natural weight, 190-200lbs. But Jones cuts weight to make 205lbs. So on fight night Jones, once rehydrated, would enter the cage at his natural weight, 225-230lbs. 

That’s potentially a 40lb difference! 

So rather than asking Jones to make an impossible weight-cut, or having Adesanya pile on weight to try and match Jones’ naturally bigger frame – a catchweight of 195lbs could be used. 

This is a catchweight as it’s not a recognized weight class in the UFC. It’d mean Adesanya could weigh-in 10lbs more than usual, and Jon Jones 10lbs less. At least on paper, this would make it a fairer fight. 

Protecting Against Fight Cancellations 

To extend the above example, let’s say Jones agreed to fight Adesanya at 185lbs. He’d probably be unable to get down to this weight, and the bout wouldn’t be sanctioned by the governing athletic commission. That means disappointed fans and a boat-load of money lost. 

So scheduling a catch-weight ahead of time could help avoid fight cancellations. 

But catch-weights can also be arranged last minute – let’s call these impromptu catchweight fights. An impromptu catchweight may be arranged if a fighter comes in overweight for the arranged weight-class, but both fighters then agree to compete at a new, higher weight. 

This helps save fights from falling through, but it’s not ideal. This is because it’ll usually result in athlete fines and will also make the fighter who missed weight ineligible for titles and/or bonus payments. 

Tactical Advantage

Athletes often seek catchweight fights so they can test-the-waters and become accustomed to fighting with extra weight, before formally moving up a weight class. Athletes may also request their opponents to meet a lower catchweight than they are used to, in the hope they’ll be weaker on fight night. Sneaky stuff! 

Famous Catchweight Bouts in MMA 

UFC 99 – W. Silva vs Franklin

Wanderlei Silva typically fought at 205lbs and Franklin at 185lbs. As a result, their fight was scheduled for a 195lb catchweight. Franklin had so many career bouts at this catchweight, fights at 195lb picked up the comical nickname ‘Franklinweight’ amongst fans.  

UFC 104 – Johnson vs Yoshida

After Johson missed the 170lb welterweight limit by a whopping 6 pounds – it was agreed that rather than canceling, the fight would take place at a catchweight of 176lb. Later, at UFC 142, Johnson missed weight again… this time by 11 pounds! 

UFC Fight Night: Cyborg vs Länsberg 

Before competing in the UFC, Cyborg was a 145lb fighter. The UFC wanted to sign her, but their heaviest female weight class was 135lbs, a weight Cyborg refused to cut down to. As MMA fans were so eager to see Cyborg compete under the UFC promotional banner, a catchweight of 140lbs was agreed. 

UFC later created a new division for 145lbs – Women’s Featherweight. I can’t blame Cyborg for refusing to cut to 135lbs – here’s a disturbing video of one of her weight cuts. 

Famous Catchweight Bouts in Boxing  

Pacquiao vs Cotto

Cotto, known amongst boxing fans as the ‘catchweight king’, was often criticized for not defending his middleweight belt against true, career middleweights. For example, his fight against Pacquiao was agreed for a catchweight of 145 pounds to accommodate Pacquiao’s smaller physique. 

Who did it work out better for? Here are highlights: 

Jones Jr vs Trinidad

Jones Jr agreed to concede some size and fight Trinidad at a lower catchweight of 170lbs rather than his usual light-heavyweight class. This time, the bigger man won in dominating fashion.  

Castillo vs Corrales II 

Originally scheduled for 135lb, Castillo failed to make weight by 3.5lbs. After eating a heavy fine of $120,000 for this, the fight was agreed to take place under a special catch-weight limit of 147lbs, to be met on fight day.

Which Catchweight Fighter Has the Edge?

Is the naturally bigger fighter always at an advantage in a catchweight fight? All things equal, common sense suggests the bigger fighter should have the advantage. But it doesn’t always play out that way. 

In the examples above, the bigger athlete won 3 out of 6 times. Not too convincing. In fact, even if we look at fighters who have missed weight for their bouts there doesn’t seem to be a big advantage. According to MMA fighting, across 42 recorded bouts in the UFC, the fighter who missed weight (i.e. was heavier) won 54.8% of the time. Not much better than chance. 

Fan Reception of Catchweight Fights

How about the fans? Are catchweight fights better for us? 

Some fans hate catchweights as they can complicate weight-divisions and really draw out fight negotiations. But catchweight fights do provide an opportunity to see ‘super-fights’ that otherwise would never happen.

Anderson Silva even recently called out Conor McGregor for a catchweight bout at 176lbs. Would you like to see it? Let me know in the comments! 

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