Do We Care About An Interim Title Fight When the Actual Matchup is Just as Meaningful?


From The Desk Of Kenny Rice

TWO WORDS. All that’s needed to paint the scene of something special and even the sport identified with those two words.

This week we’ve seen two words in four scenarios that told us all this was special.

OPENING DAY. Next to the other two words, World Series, there’s nothing like the start of the baseball season for the faithful. A fresh start, even if you know your team will be mathematically eliminated by July, there is something to get excited about for now.

FINAL FOUR. The culmination of the three most electrifying weeks on the sports calendar where millions put in $5, $10, $25 into office pools and follow the teams picked throughout the NCAA Tournament. From mavens to the casual fan, every other person is a college basketball fan leading up to the last weekend.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME. Enough said, down to two teams and one will be the winner. This year Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating, three-pointer gave Villanova the title over North Carolina in one of, if not the greatest games ever played. On the women’s side, Connecticut continued their dominance like never before seen in a team sport, adding to their record with an eleventh trophy.

THE MASTERS. Underway now the premiere golf championship. Most will tune it Sunday to see who will put on the Green Jacket synonymous with greatness in golf and recognized in the world of sports as being as a “forever” win. The champ will be forever more mentioned in whatever else he does because of that moment at Augusta.

Which brings us to combative sports. The pairing of words here, TITLE FIGHT. The beauty is the raw simplicity. A champ and a challenger. Will the belt change hands? That’s all we need to know. Like Opening Day, Final Four, Championship Game, it gets right to the point and further explanation isn’t required. This will be worthy of our time.

One of the selling points for the UFC has been a relatively small group of weight classes compared to boxing where a few pounds can separate three divisions. In the UFC, holding a crown means everything, there aren’t many to go around.

Coming up at UFC 197 and 200 are interim title fights. That an extra word is thrown in there, is huge and in a smaller way. An Interim, a temporary and fill in. There’s no sizzle in being the one biding time until the real champ returns. Do that many fans really care about it at all? Would the fact that there is a good fight coming up between two guys who interest you be incentive enough to watch?

In a few days Jon Jones returns from a year absence to fight Ovince Saint Preaux. It will be for the “interim” light heavyweight championship because the champ Daniel Cormier is injured, which is why he isn’t defending his belt against Jones. Of course Jones beat Cormier by unanimous decision last time he fought, so the rematch was anticipated, expected, and demanded. It was going to be a TITLE FIGHT. But it isn’t as if Cormier hasn’t done anything. After the UFC suspended Jones, Cormier won the vacated belt last May and successfully defended it in October. He hasn’t gone away, this is a setback and he is expected to return this year.

Maybe the attention span has regressed to this point. Maybe everything has to have an attachment to catch our attention. Certainly the branding machine that is the UFC doesn’t need a lecture in marketing. There have been times when it was necessary for an interim fight because the recent champ had to either abdicate his throne–as did Jones–because of suspension or failing a drug test, or as was the case of Dominick Cruz (before his triumphant return) when he had so many lingering injuries that it was impossible to defend the title.

It seems premature to throw out a meaningless title when the current champ will be back. It seems pandering to Jones, a truly great former champ, to offer up a belt that doesn’t have the same panache as the one he held for so long.

This summer at 200, Jose Aldo will fight Frankie Edgar for the interim featherweight belt because the current champ Conor McGregor will again fight Nate Diaz at welterweight. Rare call here because it is commendable McGregor steps up from the class he is champ to fight the man who just beat him, but regardless which of these former champs will be holding onto a substitute strap the real buzz will be what is McGregor doing next? On its own without any interim added to it, it is an interesting showdown for Edgar and Aldo and that alone should sell some tickets.

These upcoming interim deals aren’t terrible for the sport, it doesn’t diminish watching, but wouldn’t we watch anyway? Until it is a real title fight, other monikers don’t garner the pizzazz. TWO WORDS: O-K.

– Kenny

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