Interim titles are stupid ... and they’ve been stupid for years.
Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane will collide for the interim heavyweight championship in the UFC 265 pay-per-view (PPV) main event, which takes place this Sat. night (Aug. 7, 2021) inside Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Regardless of who wins, would anyone consider Lewis or Gane a champion?
Francis Ngannou captured the 265-pound crown with a thunderous knockout victory over Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 back in March, but the promotion
still hates Ngannou wasn’t interested in waiting for “The Predator” to finish up his protracted vacation.
So it will instead engineer a new Heavy-Fake Champion.
“We’re all part of the problem,” former UFC lightweight titleholder Eddie Alvarez said during a recent ONE Championship media day. “When an interim title is given and the media makes a big fuss of it and a fighter makes a big fuss of it and the fans makes a big fuss of it, an interim title has value. That’s the saddest thing that can happen in the sport.”
Perhaps second saddest if you consider this.
UFC President Dana White once screamed at sports reporter Kevin Iole for criticizing interim titles, insisting it was the only way to book Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway for 25 minutes — despite the fact that all headliners get five rounds anyway — while also giving “The Diamond” and “Blessed” a piece of the PPV pie.
“An interim title is given in replacement for money,” Alvarez countered. “We don’t wanna give you money, but we’ll give you an interim title. We don’t wanna give you money, but we’ll give you a main event spot. We don’t wanna give you money, but we’ll give you that opponent you want. We’ll give you everything but what you deserve, and that’s money.”
Which continues to elude Ngannou.
It might be reasonable to suggest that Alvarez is chewing on sour grapes after leaving UFC, but even current contenders like Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, widely-considered the nicest guy on the roster, took the promotion to task for its casual approach to gold.
“It almost diminishes the value of the title, because they’re just throwing it out there — it’s like, ‘You can fight for an interim title, sure,’” Thompson previously told Bloody Elbow. “I don’t know what the UFC is playing at or what their thinking is when it comes to the interim title but they’re just like, ‘You can fight for it anytime. Anybody can fight for an interim title.’”
Well, almost anybody.
Compounding this weekend’s championship silliness is the fact that Ngannou will be ready to compete before the end of the year, giving additional merit to the longstanding argument that most interim titles are designed to be punitive.
“Interim belts aren’t worth the leather they’re printed on,” former champion Michael Bisping told OddsBible. “An interim belt is a joke ... but it’s the UFC’s decision, and if they want to do that, then good for them. They’ve got to sell pay-per-views.”
Miocic stopped Junior dos Santos at UFC 211 back in May 2017, but didn't return to defend his title until the following January. Oddly enough, there was no dialogue about substitute straps and nobody from the UFC front office had to defend the champ’s position.
Surprising, considering the promotion’s extensive history with interim heavyweight titles.
“I’ve had the interim belt before and that little interim specification bothers me,” Carlos Condit told the media when looking back at his 170-pound run. “My belt is in my son’s room and for me that’s not the real belt. If I go out there and I beat [the champion], that would be a legitimate, undisputed UFC title belt and you can’t reach any greater height in the sport.”
Bellator MMA is also guilty of hopping on the interim bandwagon.
The fastest way to devalue the heavyweight title is to destroy its lineage. Instead of a finite timeline, we now have a championship multiverse where titles are popping up all over the place, creating alternate histories along the way.
Champions should be expected to defend their titles within a reasonable amount of time and if they can’t, or won’t, they should be stripped. That might sound unfair to athletes who get injured or can’t show up due to extraneous circumstances, but isn’t that what it means to be champion?
“The idea of an interim title ... it doesn’t make me too happy,” Sean Sherk told MMA Weekly back in 2007, following the announcment of this fight. “I’ll just have to fight whoever wins that fight. If somebody wants to wrap that belt around their waist and call themselves champion, I think it should be me. Otherwise, it’s just a little fake belt.”
The UFC model of “champion” is not about what you’ve done or who you’ve beat, it’s about timing, circumstances, and politics. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time and be savvy enough (or lucky enough) to capitalize on it.
Creating an interim title for Lewis vs. Gane suggests a victory at UFC 265 — and becoming the clearcut No. 1 contender — is not enough to promote this card or a future title fight against Ngannou, which is a shame when you consider the talent involved.
“Obviously I’m a giant fan of the UFC, I love them to death,” UFC color commentator Joe Rogan said on his official podcast. “I would never want to work for any other organization. But I don’t like the way they do things. There are a lot of things I don’t like. Some matchups don’t make any sense. Interim titles are preposterous.”