In two weeks’ time, Tony Ferguson takes on Kevin Lee for the interim UFC lightweight title and, more importantly, the possibility of a lucrative unification bout against undisputed champion Conor McGregor.
It’s the second time the UFC have tried to crown an interim lightweight champion this year, with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s last-minute withdrawal scrapping a previously scheduled showdown of his own with Ferguson back in March.
There’s been a lot of talk about interim titles lately, with many criticising the UFC’s eagerness to introduce these temporary belts whilst the ‘undisputed’ champions, like McGregor, pursue glamour ties and money fights.
I thought I’d take a look at the history of interim titles in the UFC, starting with the 14 men who have held interim UFC belts.
Andrei Arlovski (def. Tim Sylvia in February 2005)
- This was the first of four career meetings between the two men and the only victory for Arlovski.
- Arlovski successfully defended this interim belt on one occasion and is one of only two men in UFC history (the other being Renan Barão) to successfully defend an interim UFC title.
- Arlovski was promoted to undisputed champion without a unification bout after reigning undisputed champion Frank Mir’s motorcycle accident.
Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira (def. Tim Sylvia in February 2008)
- Nogueira lost this belt to (non-champion) Frank Mir later in the year- the only occasion in UFC history where an interim belt has changed hands amongst contenders.
Frank Mir (def. Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira in December 2008)
- After winning the belt from Nogueira, Mir was defeated in a title unification bout against undisputed champion Brock Lesnar in July 2009, losing via second-round TKO.
Shane Carwin (def. Frank Mir in March 2010)
- Like Mir, Carwin was unsuccessful in his attempt to unify the belts against the still-reigning undisputed champion Brock Lesnar.
- No fighter has ever held an interim UFC title twice, with Mir coming closest in this losing effort.
- Brock Lesnar’s two successful UFC title defenses both came against interim heavyweight champions and he remains the only champion in UFC history to thwart unification attempts from two interim challengers.
Fabrício Werdum (def. Mark Hunt in November 2014)
- Werdum defeated Hunt via second-round TKO to claim the interim belt before successfully unifying the division with a third-round submission win over undisputed champion Cain Velasquez.
Randy Couture (def. Chuck Liddell in June 2003)
- This was the first time the UFC introduced an interim title.
- Couture went on to successfully unify the belts with a victory over longtime undisputed champion Tito Ortiz.
Jon Jones (def. Ovince Saint Preux in April 2016)
- Jones was later stripped of this belt following a 1-year USADA suspension in 2016- the second of three instances where the UFC have stripped a title from Jones.
Robert Whittaker (def. Yoel Romero in July 2017)
- Whittaker became the first interim champion in UFC middleweight history when he defeated Yoel Romero earlier this year.
- He has not been booked in a unification bout as of yet, with undisputed champion Michael Bisping set to face Georges St-Pierre in November.
Georges St-Pierre (def. Matt Hughes in December 2007)
- ‘GSP’ went on to successfully unify the belts in a rematch with Matt Serra in April 2008, going on to defend that unified title 9 times before voluntarily vacating it.
Carlos Condit (def. Nick Diaz in February 2012)
- Condit was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempt to become the undisputed champion, losing via decision to Georges St-Pierre later that year.
Conor McGregor (def. Chad Mendes in July 2015)
- McGregor defeated Mendes via second-round TKO to claim the interim title before successfully unifying the belts against undisputed champion José Aldo later that year.
José Aldo (def. Frankie Edgar in July 2016)
- Aldo was later promoted to undisputed champion once again when McGregor was stripped of the title due to his commitments in other weight classes.
Max Holloway (def. Anthony Pettis in December 2016)
- Holloway went on to successfully unify the titles against José Aldo in June this year, meaning Aldo is 0-2 in title unification bouts.
Renan Barão (def. Urijah Faber in July 2012)
- Barão successfully defended his interim title on two occasions, becoming the only man to successfully defend an interim title twice in UFC history.
- Barão was later promoted to undisputed champion as a result of Dominick Cruz’s persistent injury problems.
The UFC has never crowned an interim champion at lightweight, flyweight, or in any of the women’s divisions.
Total interim belts introduced: 13
Total interim champions: 14
Average interim title reign: 202 days
Shortest interim title reign: 98 days- Shane Carwin
Longest interim title reign: 534 days- Renan Barão
Total title unification bouts (undisputed champions vs. interim champions): 8
It turns out the interim champions dethrone the reigning undisputed champions 62.5% of the time. With interim titles in-play in two weight classes at the moment, it’s likely we’ll see some more unification bouts in the near future.
Tony Ferguson takes on Kevin Lee for the UFC interim lightweight title at UFC 216 on October 7th, 2017.