In June, No. 1 contender Colby “Chaos” Covington (14-1) became the latest victim of the UFC interim title saga. After defeating former Lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos (28-10) at UFC 225, Covington established himself as Tyron Woodley’s (18-3-1) next title challenger, or so everyone thought.
On July 24, Covington was stripped of the Welterweight interim title and effectively withdrew from his scheduled UFC 228 title fight with Woodley, which is scheduled for Sept. 8 in Dallas, TX, because of nasal surgery.
To the surprise of many, the UFC chose not to reschedule the bout and awarded the title shot to No. 2 contender Darren “The Gorilla” Till (17-10). Till is fresh off a win in his home country of Liverpool, England, defeating previous No. 1 title contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (14-3) via unanimous decision.
While the fight between Woodley and Till is a fantastic stylistic match-up, it’s not the biggest fight the UFC can make at 170 lbs right now. Covington’s brash personality, along with his fandom of our current president, makes him marketable and a villain-like figure. It’s a fight destined for controversy, pay-per-view buys, and racial divide.
On the other hand, Till missed weight before his fight with Thompson (173.5 lbs), and had to forego 20 percent of his original purse. This is the second instance of the year where the UFC awarded a title shot to someone who missed weight, and we are barely into the month of August.
In 2003, the UFC introduced an interim title. Its primary focus was to keep the division moving while the current champion recovered from injury, or dealt with other personal matters. The Zuffa era saw an interim title in effect 10 times, while WME-IMG already has booked five. Some are more justified than others, but that’s an entirely different article altogether.
The first time the interim belt was implemented took place before Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell (21-8) was set to face then undisputed Light Heavyweight champion Tito “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Ortiz (19-12-1) at UFC 43. Weeks before the highly-anticipated grudge match, Ortiz withdrew from the bout, citing refusal to fight Liddell for undisclosed reasons. Thus, Randy “The Natural” Couture (19-10) stepped in to replace Ortiz, and as the old saying goes: “the rest is history.”
Today, the UFC utilizes the interim title so frequently that it taints future fights. They are moving away from their old mantra, and the numbers don’t lie. The UFC has not surpassed a million pay-per-view buys since UFC 214, which took place a full year ago.
The lack of clarity with titles in the modern era remains a questionable feat, and something needs to change about who “deserves” a shot. If Covington won the interim title, regardless of post-fight injury or not, the fight should be made.
It’s a fight the UFC needs to make, and a fight the fans are screaming for. Not Till, who even admitted after his last fight that he did not earn a shot, and wanted to wait it out.
Nowadays, MMA’s integrity is questioned. From Conor “The Notorious” McGregor (21-3) receiving a “slap on the wrist” from a New York City judge to Brock Lesnar (5-3-1) fighting for the Heavyweight title after a two-year ban by USADA.
After considering all of this, I have come to the conclusion that the UFC uses interim titles to sell pay-per-views when they have no solid main event caliber slots to fill. Due to the lack of depth on main cards, the buy rates will continue to drop unless a drastic change is made by President Dana White.