UFC: Stop the Interim Insanity, I Want to Get Off

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UFC aldo rousey
Ronda Rousey and Jose Aldo Credit: Shutterstock.com

In the wake of Georges St. Pierre not being ready to fight until after October, UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping says he’s injured, and isn’t able to fight any time soon. That would be all well and good, except that Bisping has in the past been healthy enough for one fight, but not for another. Which leads one to believe that this is more of a bargaining tactic, but that’s a conspiracy theory for another day.

The real point of contention is the UFC’s desire to bring another fake interim title belt into existence in the meantime. UFC President Dana White told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto this week that should Bisping be unable to fight this Summer, they’re likely to book an interim title fight between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero.

First, the disclaimer: there are no two fighters more deserving of a shot at middleweight gold than Romero and Bobby Knuckles. Except maybe Gegard Mousasi, always the bridesmaid. However, booking them into a meaningless interim title fight is not the way to give them their shot at UFC gold. In fact, the entire concept of interim gold has become little more than a bad joke with a flat punchline.

UFC titles need to mean something, and that includes interim belts. There was a time, not that long ago, when the UFC was guilty of not using interim titles often enough. That was around the time Dominick Cruz was holding onto a belt he couldn’t possibly defend. Yet since the purchase of the UFC by WME-IMG, we’ve now had three scenarios where interim belts have been brought into play.

The first, and biggest offender, was creating an interim featherweight title for UFC 206 simply so the event could have (on paper) a title fight attached to it. Daniel Cormier had suffered an injury and was pulled from his light heavyweight championship bout against Anthony Johnson, and the promotion felt the event still needed gold. Conor McGregor had won the lightweight title a month earlier, so the promotion figured his featherweight title was ripe for the picking. It stripped him, awarded the championship to Jose Aldo (who had already won a meaningless interim featherweight title at UFC 200 just prior to the WME-IMG era), and made the Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis fight at UFC 206 for a new interim featherweight title.

The problem? Conor McGregor was neither hurt nor inactive, making the need for the original interim belt questionable. True, he hadn’t defended his 145lb title, but the UFC allowed that. The interim title at UFC 200 was simply damage control. Worse was stripping McGregor, then just handing the title back to the man he knocked out in thirteen seconds, especially since he wasn’t able to fight at UFC 206 anyway. Holloway vs. Pettis? There was no reason it couldn’t simply be a number one contender’s fight. Remember those? Those used to be a thing.

UFC 209 was supposed to have an interim title fight as well, again as a result of McGregor’s inactivity. This time, he was taking time off to have a child. No problem there, but at the time that title fight was booked, he’d only been out of action a matter of months, and MayMac was no closer to happening. Again, a number one contender’s bout is what Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov would have been. Yet due to Nurmagomedov having a disastrous weight cut, the fight fell through anyway.

Which brings us to UFC 2-whatever, and a possible interim middleweight fight between Whittaker and Romero. There’s maybe a pinch more legitimacy to the idea, with Bisping injured, but not much. Why? Timing. Bisping last fought in October. And that fight was something of a gift to both “The Count” and Dan Henderson, the man he faced for his first title defense. Were Hendo not a legend, that fight is never booked. Still, Bisping fought, and was campaigning for another fight just weeks later.

Can you really claim the champ is too inactive to fight this case?

What’s shocking here — and what absolutely needs to change — is the lack of a direct rule in the UFC regarding interim titles. It’s not a difficult concept. The promotion needs to have set guidelines for when an interim title fight can be booked. Something along the lines of, the active champion is going to be out for a period of twelve months or more, based on sound medical evidence. or another acceptable reason (say, a female champ becoming pregnant). In such a case, an interim title fight is booked and belt awarded.

If an interim title is awarded, and the reigning champion not able to return for a unification belt within, say, another six to eight months, the champ should be stripped, and the interim champ promoted to the undisputed title holder.

Not this willy-nilly “lets use it as a bargaining chip or to float a PPV” system we see now. Because that devalues UFC titles in general. It’s mind boggling that the UFC doesn’t have an established set of practices regarding interim titles at this point.

Until that happens, UFC interim titles have all the value of that paper “fantasy” belt Joanna Jedrzejczyk handed Jessica Andrade earlier this month.

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