Johnson’s comments come ahead of this weekend’s UFC 265 pay-per-view, which will see top heavyweight contenders Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane go to battle for the division’s interim gold.
The decision to create the belt garnered significant negative attention and confusion at first, with many fans and pundits questioning the need for it considering Francis Ngannou only became UFC Heavyweight Champion in March. After the booking, it was revealed the UFC was intent on having “The Black Beast” headline August’s Houston card, and with Ngannou unable to be ready in time, the promotion turned to “Bon Gamin” and an interim strap.
But despite some high interest in the clash between Lewis and Gane at the Houston PPV, as well as the prospect of a champion vs. champion fight down the line, Johnson has slammed the creation of the belt and the heavyweights who’ve agreed to compete for it.
Having retweeted a post from Ngannou that expressed the champ’s frustration about the booking, it’s clear Johnson fully agrees with the Cameroonian and his team’s stance. Speaking during an interview with Helen Yee, “Rumble” revealed that he doesn’t believe in the introduction of interim titles unless the champ is seriously injured.
“It’s trash. I just don’t believe in interim titles. I can see if the champ is hurt and it just takes a while, but don’t just take that man’s legacy away and try to give somebody else a shot.”
Johnson added that, as well as not supporting the use of interim titles, he doesn’t understand why any top contenders would be willing to fight with one on the line, describing the winner of this weekend’s main event as a “fake” champ.
“I don’t see how guys want to fight for an interim title and if they win they call themselves the champion. You’re a paper champ. It’s fake. How can you have pride in that? It’s nothing I would take pride in. If it’s not the real thing, I don’t want it,” said Johnson.
Johnson, who fought for the 205-pound UFC title on two occasions against Daniel Cormier, is preparing for a big fight of his own. Having retired in 2017, “Rumble” returned to the sport this year to compete in the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix. After recovering form first-round adversity in his quarter-final bout with José Augusto, Johnson secured a second-round knockout.
In the semi-finals, the 37-year-old will meet Russia’s Vadim Nemkov. The Belgorod-born fighter, who is the current Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion, hasn’t lost since 2016 and will be riding an eight-fight winning streak into his clash with Johnson on October 16.
Do you agree with Anthony Johnson? Or do you think the UFC was right to book Derrick Lewis vs. Ciryl Gane for the interim belt?