TheoryCraft Thursday: Interim Champions

UFC 188

This week, TheoryCraft Thursday looks at championship belts in the UFC, real and paper, unified and interim champions. When is it right to issue an interim championship belt? When is it right to unify? Let’s get deep.

So at the weekend, two heavyweight warriors collide. After two years away due to a torn meniscus, Cain Velasquez is seeking to shut down Fabricio Werdum and show everyone why his belt is the only one that matters. Since he’s been away, there have been 8 belt changes in the UFC, so for Werdum it’s a proving ground. After a long layoff, does Cain still have it? Will ring rust play its part? Is that knee really OK? Is Werdum an actual legit contender? A lot of questions to be answered, but really – I’m in it to see an actual unified belt. For me, interim championship belts might as well be made out of paper. I really don’t like the idea. For me personally, to be the champ, you have to beat the champ and until that happens – I don’t consider them the true belt holder.

Controversial? Maybe, but this is the Ultimate Fighting Championship… this is our coliseum, these are our fighting pits. It’s a fight and you’re in there, representing yourself, saying, come at me ANYONE. If you don’t want to fight because of injury, put it off, but don’t be surprised, if 2 years down the line, they take it away from you. I’m a big fan of Dominic Cruz, always was, but the poor guy has been plagued with injuries. He understands why the UFC made him vacate the title, and I couldn’t see it go to a more worthy champ than Renan Barao. However, I don’t agree that he should have been given an interim belt. It means nothing. I can’t imagine how unbearable Urijah Fabler would have been with that “belt”, but either way. They should have had a contender fight and just treated the number one contender spot as the thing to aim for until the Champ returned. If, like Dom didn’t, then they have a fight for the belt between the two top guys in the division. Simple. If Dom comes back, yeah, let him work his way up the ranks. Start with 1 or 2 top 10 guys and depending on performance, boost it to that contender spot. It builds excitement and a grudge match of him clawing his way back to the belt. Fans want this.

So when is it right to take a belt away completely? Well, I agree that Jon Jones should have been stripped of his belt. He’s not a good ambassador for the sport and he has legal and personal issues to sort out. Good. I think this is the right set of cirvumstances. But if he ever makes it back to professional MMA, he needs to win back fans, win back the sport. Don’t give him a title shot out the bag, give him a challenge. Give him a few guys and build the hype! However, GSP, why did he leave? Shrouded in mystery is no way to leave it, open ended. No GSP. Fight until you fail or again, have them fight for contendership, but not you’re not a champion until you’ve beaten the champion.  What would happen if GSP came back now? Should he get a title shot straight away? Nah, give him a grudge match first. Let him fight Hendricks. That would build hype.

One hype train I wasn’t on board until very recently was Conor McGregor. For a guy that weighs in at 145lbs, his mouth is big and his ego is bigger, however, his stats are hard to ignore. Conor now has 5 wins in the UFC, with 4 big finishes over legit contenders in the featherweight division. As the only featherweight champion in UFC history, Jose Aldo hasn’t lost in the last 10 years, however, he’s only had 6 title defences in the UFC, with only 2 finishes. Yes, you can argue about the WEC, but let’s not. So does Conor deserve a title shot? Yes, I’d say so. He’s got a lot to gain and a lot to lose. Conor knows his talk is what’s got him noticed, got him the biggest world tour, the UFC has ever put on. But he also knows he has to live up to that. This is the business of fighting; it’s what fans want to see. At the end of the day, the sport pits two people against each other, both think they can win, both want bragging rights. If Conor wants to start the war outside the ring, that’s part of the game as far as I’m concerned. He’s come far in a short time, but if he loses, it’s a long way, slippery slide back to square one of the top ten. He’s made a lot of enemies in those rankings, so guys will be hungry to fight him. I don’t know if his ego could take a battering like that. I think if he lost (not by decision), he’d quit. And honestly, I think that would be the best thing for him. Money, name and fame made. Get out and get into something else.

So what becomes of forgotten “champions”? The people who were king for a day until dad came home to claim the belt? Carlos Condit hit a skid with the UFC Welterweight belt. Losing to GSP and Hendricks, it kinda begs the question, why did he ever have that interim belt in the first place? Back to this weekend’s action, Did Werdum deserve gold after beating a 2 week notice Mark Hunt? Not in my book. And I think, when he loses on Saturday, he’s going to have some of the contenders he skipped, waiting in line to step over him on their way to the number one contender spot.

Well, that’s TheoryCraft Thursday! I’d love to hear what you think. Comment on Facebook or Twitter or submit to reddit