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13th Jan 2017

This “interim title” ploy is getting out of hand and fight fans are no fools

Jumped the shark

Darragh Murphy

We get it, the UFC is in the money-making business but at what cost?

There are a few understandable reasons for the booking of interim title fights, chief among them being scenarios in which champions are unable to defend their title for a long period of time for whatever reason, be it due to an injury or suspension.

But, when we compare the trigger-happy manner in which the UFC is content to slap an “interim title” tag on bouts nowadays to the way they used to deal with this issue, the differences couldn’t be starker.

In 2016, there were more interim title fights (three) than took place in the previous three years combined – one in 2015, one in 2014 and none in 2013.

Last year we saw two interim title fights in the one division (featherweight) in spite of the fact that not even a year had passed since the champion at the time, Conor McGregor, had claimed the belt.

It’s a new phenomenon and one that fight fans are getting increasingly sick of as the creation of interim titles will only serve to dilute the significance of the UFC’s undisputed titles.

UFC belts ought to be special. They used to be.

But now it seems that if a champion is unavailable to fight for six months then the UFC will throw together an interim title bout in that division so that it can maximise the frequency of “big” fights and therefore pack pay-per-views with faux title significance.

Let’s look at Jose Aldo’s time as featherweight kingpin, just due to the fact that he had something of a reputation as an inactive champion during his long reign atop the 145lbs division.

Aldo once went 13 months without defending his belt and there wasn’t even a sniff of an interim title fight in that space of time but one couldn’t imagine that happening nowadays.

The UFC jumped the shark late last year when they scrambled and panicked as they rushed to put an interim title on the line for Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis when the light heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson, originally slated as the event’s headliner, fell by the wayside.

That involved stripping McGregor of his featherweight strap, promoting the then-interim champion Jose Aldo to the undisputed champion in the process, all in the hope that a struggling pay-per-view wouldn’t flop entirely.

It might work in the short-term, i.e. in relation to giving numbered UFCs a much-needed bump but, in the long run, it will hurt the pay-per-views because there needs to be that allure hanging over titles. They can’t just be token trophies that essentially become representative of the UFC’s desire to trick fans into tuning in because, hey, there’s gold on the line.

McGregor won his UFC lightweight title just 62 days ago in what will go down as one of the most stunning title-winning performances of all time but, already, the organisation has booked an interim title fight at 155lbs.

Fair enough ‘The Notorious’ is not likely to take to the Octagon again until August/September but, still, a nine-month hiatus should not automatically result in an interim title being created.

Khabib Nurmagomedov will fight Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title in March but that fight would have been no more than a title eliminator two years ago.

It just makes no sense and is such a clear attempt from the organisation to maximise the marketability of bouts involving McGregor because a unification fight upon his return to action means that much more than a more straightforward title defence but how many unification tilts can be thrown together before fight fans realise that enough is enough?

It’s disrespectful to sully the hard work that fighters put in on the journey from prospect to ranked contender to challenger to champion if the promotion is happy to essentially put two championship belts at the summit of any division that doesn’t see champions defend their belt as often as the UFC brass would like.

One of the most appealing aspects of the UFC that turned it into the world’s preeminent mixed martial arts organisation was how different it was from boxing in the way that the title frames were infinitely less cloudy. There used to be one champion in each UFC weight class, unlike boxing where you’re still looking at a different champion depending on the organisation, making the sport harder to follow than it should be.

But if the UFC continue in this current trend then it’s going to dilute the divisions. There’s no way that it won’t.

Now more than ever, a number one contender is having a belt strapped around his/her waist because the actual undisputed champion fell out of a title fight on short notice.

It’s not that difficult!

There should be a cut-off of one year before the UFC even consider looking at setting up an interim title fight and that seems to be the general consensus among fans who don’t want to feel tricked into believing that meaningless belts are anywhere near as important as legitimate championship gold.

Interim belts definitely serve a purpose but the UFC have started to take the piss ever so slightly as now they feel that they’re a fallback when the organisation is in need of putting that extra little bit of hype behind a bout.

It’s nonsense and fight fans are most definitely no fools, as they came out in droves to ridicule the decision to make Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson an interim lightweight title fight.