The Bottom Line: Not Created Equal

By Todd Martin Aug 11, 2021


Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Never has a UFC championship felt so pointless. We knew going into last Saturday night that the interim title captured by the winner of Ciryl Gane vs. Derrick Lewis wasn’t going to have a ton of meaning even by the standards of interim titles. Still, when Gane had a piece of gold strapped around his waist at the end of the night, it felt like the ultimate manifestation of championships being used for promotional games rather than to symbolize the undisputed best of each division. Hopefully, it will be some time before a championship is again created in such a cynical manner.

There are of course times when an interim title is justified and beneficial for a division. The most clear-cut example is when a champion suffers a significant injury and an interim title serves to sort out the division until the champion is ready to fight. This was the case when Frank Mir suffered his motorcycle accident in 2004 and Andrei Arlovski won an interim title while waiting for Mir’s return or when Renan Barao was crowned interim bantamweight champion as Dominick Cruz was recovering from a severe ACL tear.

Not quite as easy to justify but still understandable is the interim title created when a title fight is scheduled and the champion has to pull out late. This has been the most common reason for interim titles in the UFC. The promotion hasn’t wanted to lose the hook of a title fight main event on pay-per-view and so it has created interim titles with the understanding that the champion will fight the interim champion as soon as the injured champion is ready to return. Fabricio Werdum vs. Mark Hunt, Jon Jones vs. Ovince St. Preux, Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes 3, Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz, Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje and Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes are among the many examples of this pattern.

A third category of interim title fights has been when a champion isn’t badly injured and doesn’t pull out from a scheduled bout but isn’t ready to fight at a specific time and so an interim title fight is made as a promotional gimmick. This has generally produced the most dubious interim title fights. What made Gane-Lewis particularly questionable is that Francis Ngannou wasn’t exactly hiding out. He won his title less than five months ago and said he’d be ready to fight in September. That’s an eminently reasonable timeframe.

The attempts to vilify Ngannou and frame him as undedicated or even cowardly at UFC 265 were grossly unfair given the circumstances. It wasn’t his fault that the UFC had limited options for a scheduled August pay-per-view date and decided that Lewis challenging for the heavyweight title couldn’t wait one month. Still, he was the chosen scapegoat and his title was watered down as a result.

Just because the circumstances leading up to the Gane-Lewis title fight were suspect didn’t necessarily mean that the fight itself couldn’t overcome that history. Sometimes a memorable fight elevates the fighters and thus whatever they are fighting for in the process. That excitement can then enhance interest in the unification bout. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen with the UFC 265 headliner.

Derrick Lewis has always had the tendency to look unimpressive until he lands the fight-changing blow, but even by those standards his performance in his hometown was listless. Gane, to his credit, prevented Lewis from ever getting going. However, the fight felt as much about Lewis’ struggles as Gane’s triumph, if not more so. That isn’t ideal for any title fight and it doesn’t help Gane heading into presumably fighting for the undisputed crown next time out.

There’s one final factor working against this particular interim title and it’s not a minor detail: Gane still isn’t the most interesting challenger for Ngannou’s title. While the story of two excellent strikers who used to train together in Paris is interesting enough, it can’t compare to the ostensibly unbeaten light heavyweight king and arguably the sport’s GOAT moving up in weight class to take on the most feared knockout artist and heavyweight champ. The creation of an additional heavyweight title gets us no closer to the fight that will draw by far the most fan interest: Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones.

It’s unfair to Gane that he’s placed in this position. He’s done nothing wrong and has taken care of business every single fight. However, that doesn’t make the championship he now holds feel any more meaningful. It was a gimmick from the beginning and never felt like anything else. Luckily for Gane, he’s going to have the opportunity to prove he’s the real deal in the not too distant future. If he does, UFC 265 isn’t likely to loom large in proving that reality.

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