February 11, 2013

"Never Wait" Championship: Barao-McDonald Illustrates Why Interim Title Defenses Should Be Mandatory

By Raphael Garcia

The second of three events in the month of February for the Ultimate Fighting Championship won’t be featured on Pay-Per-View but still includes a number of big fights across multiple weight classes. At the top of the docket is a match for the interim bantamweight title, as Renan “Barao” Pegado squares off against Michael “Mayday” McDonald. This fight is important, not only for the weight class, but for the organization as a whole, for a very important reason.

Back in July of 2012 at UFC 149, Barao defeated Urijah Faber to extend his seven-year winning streak. Barao was stepping in on short notice to face Faber in place of champion Dominick Cruz, who suffered a torn ACL that would leave him sidelined for an extended period. The Nova UniĆ£o fighter defeated the fan favorite Faber, and took hold of the interim championship.

At first it was announced that he would elect to wait for Cruz’s return instead of face challengers at 135. However, fate would intervene, as Cruz’s body would reject the treatment given to his ACL, forcing him out for potentially another six months. To remedy the situation, the UFC has brought in McDonald to serve as the interim title challenger, instead of allowing Barao to wait out the return of Cruz. While it is unfortunate to see the reigning champion sitting on the sideline for such a long time, the UFC made the right call by having Barao defend the title.

Interim titles are meant to keep storylines and important fights flowing in a division in the unfortunate circumstance when a champion is forced on the shelf. However, we are currently seeing interim champions elect to wait for their shots to unify the belts rather than take on all challengers. Carlos Condit did this when he won the interim welterweight title, and it created a logjam in the division. The same could have occurred at bantamweight if Barao was allowed to do the same. When Cruz’s injury was first announced, some fans were calling for McDonald to be the fighter that faced Faber instead of Renan, and now the 22-year-old will get his opportunity to win gold.

Going forward, the UFC should implement a policy that requires mandatory title defenses for the individual who wins an interim championship. Professional boxing uses mandatory defenses, and strips champions of titles if they do not comply. A similar standard should be imposed within the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With the way injuries are affecting fighters in training, it is not such a shocker when a champion is forced out of a title defense due to being unable to fight.

If the UFC has to step in and create an interim championship, that individual who wins the stand-in belt should not be allowed to stall the weight class. It’s an understandable business move for an interim champion to elect to wait, but that defeats the purpose of that fighter being offered the opportunity in the first place. Being a champion opens up a multitude of financial opportunities for fighters, and this is why many of them elect to wait to face the champion. Larger paydays, bigger events, and so many other benefits await when you hold the belt over your shoulder. Yet the UFC needs to step in and avoid any confusion before the situation gets out of hand.

Since they are not truly considered “true” champions at the time, why should any interim champion be allowed to clog up a weight class? The answer is that they shouldn’t. Mandatory defenses would keep everyone active instead of causing the line behind the champion to get longer and longer. McDonald vs. Barao is a step in the right direction, not just for the bantamweight division, but the promotion as a whole.


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