–Kenny Rice

This Friday at 5 PM ET Inside MMA will be live in Dallas for the Strike Force weigh in show. This will be the second time within a week I’ve seen athletes step on the scale. The others were not fighters– though in their locker room and even publicly they’ve had some classic confrontations–they are jockeys.

Athletes in sports are sometimes fined for being overweight; football, basketball and baseball players have been subjected to the so many dollars for so many pounds over rule. But the only sports where the scales mean money that matters, as in it can cost them the opportunity to participate if they are not spot weight—fighters (including boxers) and jockeys.

Jockeys have to weigh-in twice before and after each race they ride. The first to make sure they made the weight allowed for the particular race, the second to insure, though rather antiquated these days, there was nothing added or subtracted in the saddle. Jockeys are the only athletes to weigh in with their equipment, including the saddle. Say for example it’s a handicap race, horses are rated best chance to win carry more weight than the rest. If that weight can’t be attained by a jockey and saddle, additional weight in the form of lead bar is inserted into the saddle to make up the difference.

When a fighter weighs in it’s the same. If they don’t make the weight they don’t fight they don’t get paid. It is a parallel that was evident when my friend and NBC colleague, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens appeared on Inside MMA. There was an immediate bond between jockey and the fighters that day regaling each other with stories and offering advice about cutting weight. It’s a daily thought for each.

Of course there are exceptions, jockeys can ride in some races listed as a pound or two overweight. Fighters can still enter the ring or cage with a few extra lbs if their opponent is agreeable, though the promoter will usually dock them a portion of their purse.

At the top level it is imperative for both athletes to be reliable in their ability to maintain weight, to assure promoters and trainers they can count on them for the big shows and races.

The thing I admire about both athletes is they don’t have guarantees, if they don’t play they don’t get paid. Their seasons each start in January and run through December. Time off means money lost.

Another similarity to MMA and horse racing is the small percentage of the top echelon athletes and the money they make compared to the gulf that exists with the mid to lower level peers.

The best fighters and jockeys are doing well, those featured in the main event or in the featured race make the kind of money that those on the opening under card will never make. Here jockeys have a huge edge on MMA fighters, getting ten percent of the purse. The recent Belmont Stakes winning jockey took home $60,000 for the win and will have the chance to come close to that several more times this year in a single day. Seven figures for the top jockeys are not uncommon, a handful of MMA fighters, if that many, will hit a million in a year.

Stevens, a three time Kentucky Derby winner, was an outstanding high school wrestler as well. I know a dozen jockeys, who because of their weight limitations and size, gravitated toward wrestling in middle and high school. It is amazing how many understand and can relate to the MMA fighters in terms of conditioning and strategy.

It might be a stretch to some, but once you see both worlds, they aren’t that far apart on several issues. The biggest is when they put their feet on the scales. A career move could hang in the balance.

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