There used to be a time when a championship fight would be the most important bout on any given UFC card. Those days seem to be gone, however, and the recent UFC 200 matchmaking decisions are proof of that.
Featherweight champion Conor McGregor headlines the anticipated July event in an immediate welterweight rematch with Nate Diaz, while former champ Jose Aldo and top contender Frankie Edgar battle for an interim 145-pound title in the co-main event. Not to mention Miesha Tate is set to defend her women’s bantamweight title against Amanda Nunes in a fight seemingly third on the depth chart (keep in mind the UFC hasn’t officially finalized the order of the lineup).
The matchmaking is highly suspect to say the least. Interim titles were initially meant to occur when a reigning champion was unable to defend his or her belt due to injury or other circumstance but in this case it’s simply because McGregor insisted on a rematch with Diaz.
Diaz submitted McGregor at UFC 196 last month and the pay-per-view is rumoured to be one of the most successful in company history in terms of number of buys. The UFC is obviously banking on them to recreate the magic and push UFC 200 to break records.
From a business perspective it makes sense since McGregor and Diaz are exciting, have massive fan bases and their first encounter generated plenty of buzz. From a competitive standpoint it makes no sense whatsoever. This is the first time in UFC history an interim belt will be on the line while the reigning champion of that division fights in another weight class on the same card. Both Aldo’s and Edgar’s camps were aggravated by this decision. Aldo slammed the interim title telling MMAFighting “it means nothing” while Edgar’s coach Mark Henry said it’s “a joke” during an appearance on Off The Ball.
UFC president Dana White did say that win or lose McGregor will be defending his belt in his next fight, but the damage is already done and the UFC will be burning away a contender in Aldo or Edgar.
The interim featherweight title wasn’t the only interim belt recently announced. When news broke that UFC light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier pulled out of his UFC 197 fight with former champ Jon Jones due to injury, Jones was left to fight No. 6-ranked Ovince Saint Preux. The UFC put an interim title on the line for that tilt.
While not as egregious as the UFC 200 situation, that interim title may have been added prematurely. Cormier isn’t expected to be out long term. In fact, many reports suggest his leg injury is expected to completely heal in four to six weeks. This interim belt appears to be nothing short of a marketing ploy.
With these latest interim title fights, the UFC is clearly gearing up for two future “champion vs. champion” matchups, which could bolster PPV sales. These recent matchmaking decisions makes it painfully obvious that titles are becoming nothing more than marketing tools for the UFC — especially if the UFC continues to allow one of its champions do as he pleases at the expense of his obligations as a title holder.