It’s hard to cry for Colby Covington. However seeing him passed over as Darren Till gets the next welterweight title shot at UFC 228 shows once again that the UFC’s interim belts don’t matter.
Since sometime around UFC 200, the UFC apparently got this idea in their heads that interim belts are great, useful tools for selling PPVs. Now, there’s not proof of there being much of a boost when a interim belt is on the card (see: UFC 206, a great card that flopped on PPV). Despite this, we continually see them put on cards that “need” a title fight. It all began at UFC 200, where Conor McGregor was perfectly fine and capable of defending his title but decided not to, or at least skipped some media obligations and was told to stay home. The UFC created an interim belt at 145lbs, which Jose Aldo captured, defeating Frankie Edgar. The insanity carried right on to UFC 216 where once again McGregor was by all accounts fine, however Tony Ferguson instead found himself booked into an interim title fight.
Now, the most egregious example becomes UFC 228. Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, who defended his belt three times in the year previous, was sidelined, but only until September. Even so, the UFC made an interim championship fight between Rafael Dos Anjos and Colby Covington at UFC 225, a fight Covington won.
However, the UFC booked themselves into a corner with UFC 228. With the possibility of an unproven draw in Nicco Montano main eventing the card, they opted to make a fight between Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington. Or tried to. Covington understandably wasn’t ready for a fight so soon after his last contest, thus the UFC did the only thing they saw fit: they proceeded to strip Covington of his title just a little more than a month after he’d won it. Thanks for coming out, Chaos.
Technically they haven’t stripped him yet, but that’s the plan. The UFC also decided to give his title shot to Darren Till. This is the same Darren Till who won a staring contest his last time out against Stephen Thompson. Additionally, he missed weight for that bout at UFC Liverpool by 3.5 pounds.
Till’s a fine fighter and championship caliber, but it’s still a questionable decision. And by stripping Covington it finally proves once and for all that UFC interim belts don’t matter.
So if they don’t matter, why have them? The UFC needs to stop booking themselves in a corner. Having stacked cards such as UFC 205 where there’s three title fights is awesome. Until the aftermath. Then, it leads to pointless title fights on cards such as UFC 208 or UFC 206 simply because there’s nobody around to defend a belt on the card.
Interim belts need to be about necessity (i.e. the champion being out long term). The UFC knew Woodley would be ready in the next two months, thus there was no reason to make that fight for an illegitimate belt. Especially on a stacked card such as UFC 225, where the “shine” of an interim belt was unlikely to add many more PPV buys.
If there’s one positive in the stripping of Covington, it’s that we’re likely to see more fighters wise up as to the belts meaning nothing. Recently, Brian Ortega turned down an interim title fight after Max Holloway fell out of their fight at UFC 226. Instead, Ortega said he wanted to wait for the real belt. Perhaps this will start a trend.
Maybe all of this chatter about interim titles will amount to nothing. Maybe Ortega will be the lone holdout to the plague of junk titles. If the UFC feels the need to legitimize a card, they may simply go back to the easy “fix.” But there is an important discussion to have about this type of matchmaking and the potential repercussions of short term gain.