When all else fails, introduce an interim title to the mix. Not the words of the UFC top brass, although in the past couple of months we have seen the introduction of a secondary belt to the featherweight and lightweight divisions in times of promotional crisis, and the absence of a champion [McGregor].
Daniel Cormier and Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson were due to square off in Canada late last year at UFC 206, but injury to the champ forced a rapid rethink in strategy. The decision to shuffle Max Holloway vs Anthony Pettis to the top of the bill at UFC 206 was made, although this was never going to garner the interest that the initial headliner would. So what did Dana White and co do? Well, they created an interim featherweight title fight. Suddenly, UFC 206’s primary fight would once again be for a “title”, as intended.
The decision drew criticism from some, who felt that it was a weak effort on behalf of the promotion to make the PPV event worthwhile. Conor McGregor was simultaneously stripped of (or voluntarily relinquished) his 145 pound strap, with the winner of the Holloway/Pettis strap facing [new champion] Jose Aldo for the “real” title. From the promotions perspective, selling the fight as a title eliminator would not have held as much weight without a physical belt, given the UFC’s track record for reneging on title-shot promises.
While fans and associates of Conor McGregor were among the first to ridicule the introduction of the belt, McGregor himself was not averse to hoisting the interim gold over his head in his win over Chad Mendes at UFC 189. These belts arguably grant the victor with an elevation on their stock, but to many fans they are somewhat worthless in the grand scheme.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson was made official for UFC 209 this week, in a fight spiced up (once again) by an interim belt. McGregor is likely out of action until the end of the year, so the possibility of the winner between the Russian and the American having to defend (and possibly lose – confirmation, Dana?) the title of Interim Champion makes for even more confusion.
What makes this scenario unique, however, is that both guys are solidly in the #1 & #2 spots in the lightweight rankings, so the result should logically determine the challenger to the Irishman’s strap, right? Tyron Woodley v Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is a title fight on the ‘209 card, so it is not as though the UFC are in a similar position to the Holloway v Pettis situation.
UFC’s Ben Rothwell sent a cheeky tweet to UFC president Dana White on Friday, appearing to poke fun at the President for this recent rise in interim belts:
Dear @danawhite, there must be an interim title at stake between McGregor&Mayweather,otherwise I just don't find it interesting enough.Thanx
— Big Ben Rothwell (@RothwellFighter) January 13, 2017
One may argue that the new owners of the world’s chief MMA promotion are responsible for the rise in secondary titles, and being a business with finance at the forefront of its operations, it is a valid argument. Conjecture of motives aside, the introduction of a litany of belts has led to a series of mismatches, and a ton of promotional disputes in boxing – let us hope that the UFC are not planning on adopting a similar model of throwing a belt into the mix in just any fight.