The YAMMA Heavyweight Title: A Lineal History

By Ben Duffy Dec 29, 2020
“To be the champ, you’ve got to beat the champ.”

That quote has been thrown around in conversations about MMA for many years, and boxing for many more, in a variety of different contexts. While some of the arguments it’s used to prop up are specious—please spare me the idea that an incumbent belt holder should receive the benefit of the doubt in close fights—I do have an appreciation for the historical heft and unassailable validity of a lineal approach to championships. With that in mind, here is the first of a series of infographics tracing the wanderings of famous belts long thought defunct.

YAMMA Pit Fighting was a mixed martial arts promotion created by Bob Meyrowitz, founder of Semaphore Entertainment Group and onetime owner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. For his triumphant return to MMA, Meyrowitz introduced the “YAMMA Pit,” a fight enclosure with raised edges, which was intended somehow to encourage exciting standup fights in the middle of the cage. The design backfired, to put it mildly; the bowl-like shape instead made takedowns against the fence ridiculously easy. Combined with the eight-man heavyweight field, which consisted mostly of journeymen and aging pioneers, it made for a grueling watch at times. When the dust settled, 60-fight veteran Travis Wiuff was the inaugural YAMMA champ. The organization, of course, never put on another show, but that doesn’t mean the belt can’t soldier on.

The rules of this series will be few, and based on a simple principle: To the extent possible, the title can only be passed from one fighter to another in the ring or cage. The belt cannot be stripped or abandoned, and there’s no such thing as a “non-title fight.” Fedor Emelianenko, the man basically synonymous with the Pride heavyweight belt, only notched five official title defenses despite winning 18 straight fights (with one no-contest) after becoming champ, which was silly even in the real world. Promotions don’t matter; if Emelianenko had lost one of his one-off fights in Inoki Genome Federation or Rings…well, that would have been a problem. If a fighter retires while holding the lineal belt, the belt is retired.

Here is a lineal history of the YAMMA heavyweight title, from its inception in April 2008 until the present day or, more accurately, until it merged with the UFC heavyweight title in 2018. It’s interesting to note how much of a hot potato the lineal belt was, even after it fell into the hands of Top 10 contenders. It almost feels as though there was a “YAMMA belt curse” for a couple of years—except of course there was nobody crazy enough at the time to track this and point it out.

Ben Duffy/ illustration

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