The UFC has done it again. No sooner could I type out my belief that they weren’t desperate enough to invent a match for Matt Hughes to replace the one he was supposed to have with a now-injured Matt Serra, than they proved me wrong. Not only will they have Hughes meet Georges St. Pierre for a third time at UFC 79, they’ve created yet another “interim title” for them to fight over.
Matt Serra said it best on UFC.com: “I can’t believe the position this puts me in.”
Neither can I, Matt. On one hand, the fight itself should be a good one, and I’m looking forward to this rubber match between two top contenders. On the other hand, an interim title? Why?
I understand that Serra, the champion, is injured. It’s unclear when he’ll be able to fight again. It could be six months, or it could be more than a year. But what message is the UFC sending to Serra — who claimed the title back when there was only one in each division — by marginalizing him the instant he has to sit one out?
It’s not that I don’t understand why they came to this decision. They want a main event for UFC 79, and they feel like a title needs to be on the line to make that happen. It’s as if they’re as adamant about having a title fight for this event as they were about trying to convince us that the non-title fight between Bisping and Evans was worth our money last weekend.
Even so, interim titles are not the easy answer to every problem. Just because a champion can’t make the first date you set for him doesn’t mean you can just create a new title out of thin air. If you do, then what’s the point of having one champion in each weight class?
I understand that one of the criticisms people will level at my argument is that Serra has not defended his title since winning it seven months ago. But that’s not Serra’s fault. The UFC kept him from defending it so they could use the reality show to pump up a title fight between he and Hughes. Now he’s been injured in training, but that’s a part of the game. You can’t just nullify his title right off the bat.
I’m also against this move because it may cancel out the planned fight between Hughes and Serra. If St. Pierre beats Hughes for a second straight time (which is possible, to say the least), then St. Pierre would fight Serra to unify the fake title and the real one. There’d be no reason to have Hughes and Serra fight after that.
It’s starting to seem as though what the UFC really needs is a stated policy about champions and inactivity. The fighters need to know what’s going to happen if they’re injured or can’t fight for whatever reason, and the rules should be the same for everyone. You can’t just invent a new title because you want to have two people fight for it on a pay-per-view. That defeats the purpose of a championship.
My suggestion is that they institute a one-year rule. If a champion cannot defend his title due to injury, he gets one year to recover and make that defense or else he gets stripped of the title. A year should be enough time to recover from most injuries, while at the same time giving him the respect that a champion deserves from his organization.
What the UFC can’t continue to do is whip up these interim titles whenever they need to boost their pay-per-view numbers. Given enough time, eventually they’re going to run into a scenario where a true champion and an interim champion are both unable to fight at the same time. This is the hurt business, after all. What will they do then, create an interim interim title? It’s madness, I tell you.
The saddest part about this particular case with Hughes and St. Pierre is that we don’t need an artificial title to make it a worthwhile fight. It’s a good match, and one that makes some sense if Serra is going to be out for a while.
But just because one of those guys will get a belt put around his waist at the end of the night, that doesn’t make him champion. Just like how calling a fight between two reality show stars a main event didn’t make it true in New Jersey.