With the recent addition of yet another interim UFC title fight after the recent announcement of the addition onto UFC 224 of a welterweight championship tilt between Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington, it brought up a recurring question: Do UFC interim belts really still hold any value?
Over the past couple of years, it seems as though the meaning and the significance of such titles have constantly declined. They’re being given out on too regular of a basis. Robert Whittaker claimed one against Yoel Romero. Tony Ferguson snagged a strap when he topped Kevin Lee. José Aldo and Max Holloway have both claimed interim featherweight crowns since the start of 2016.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing for fighters or marketing purposes to have interim titles. However, once multiple interim titles start getting handed out, it slowly starts to lose its meaning. Sure, interim titles still signify the undisputed No. 1 contender spot to fight for the undisputed title next. It also translates to better financial position to earn bigger paydays and drag more eyes to fights.
Yet, as far as values of the titles go, it has lessened significantly. The moment one becomes an interim champion in the UFC, it gives them all the right to call themselves a champion. This will go down in the history books, too, no matter what anybody thinks or says. However, once interim titles are put on the line too frequently, it changes a promotion’s approach. It allows the UFC to make major moves without much consideration or care.
We recently saw the evidence of this with Tony Ferguson. Ferguson sustained an injury that forced him to withdraw from his UFC 223 title bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov. While we won’t get into too much detail of the injury itself, it is certainly worth talking about consequences Ferguson might face due to his withdrawal. UFC President Dana White told ESPN in an interview shortly after Ferguson’s withdrawal that “El Cucuy” would be stripped of his interim title once the winner of the bout between Max Holloway and Nurmagomedov has been announced. Of course, now Holloway has been deemed unfit to fight, and the UFC has failed in attempts to line up Anthony Pettis and Paul Felder in Holloway’s place.
Could we just sit and think for a bit about how unfair all of this sounds? While Conor McGregor sits out of the Octagon for 500 days and counting — all while managing to wreak havoc on this event in an incident that led to his arrest, by the way — Ferguson competed six months ago to earn his interim title. However, this is all due to the fleeting meaning of the interim tag. It doesn’t really signify anything more than the fighter’s status as the next title challenger.
Speaking of UFC 224 and its brand new interim title bout, it is also quite unnecessary. The champion Tyron Woodley is on the verge of returning to the Octagon, so why go through the needless steps of handing out another belt? “The Chosen One” defended his title three times since he won it, and all against rightful No. 1 contenders, which is more than you can say for a lot of the champions in recent memory.
So, do interim titles still hold any value? Sure, but it definitely doesn’t hold as much value as it did even a couple of years ago.