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Another UFC Interim Title? Thanks, But No Thanks

Well, that didn't take long. With the recent news that UFC light heavyweight champ "Shogun" Rua will likely be out until March of 2011, already the calls are coming for the UFC to create another interim title belt for the healthy 205-pounders to fight over in the meantime.

As if fans haven't had enough of "fake" titles lately. As if any fight becomes instantly more important as soon as there's some chunk of hardware at stake.

The latest MMA figure to ask for an interim title fight is manager Ed Soares, who suggested this week that while Rua heals up from knee surgery, Lyoto Machida should fight Rashad Evans for the interim belt, with the winner to take on Rua once he's ready to return to action.

To put that in perspective for you, Soares would like his fighter (who is coming off a first-round KO loss) to fight for a belt (created out of thin air) against Evans (who Machida already beat once, decisively) so that the winner can fight Rua (the real champ).

In other words, he'd like to see a number one contender fight. Only, you know, one where the winner gets a belt of some sort to hang on to for a little while, presumably so his trophy case doesn't get lonely.

Sorry Ed, but that's a terrible idea.

For one, we're not talking about a champion who's been lost at sea here. We're talking about one who injured his knee and is expected to be back in March, a little less than a year from when he first won the title. Is that such an insanely long time to wait?

Second, Evans already won the right to fight for the (real) title when he defeated "Rampage" Jackson. Why should he have to fight the former champ just to get the top contender status he already earned?

But finally, and most importantly, interim titles hold no actual value. A championship belt is like one of those antique armoires you see on PBS: it's only as valuable as other people think it is, and that value is inextricably tied to how rare it is.

It's that uniqueness that makes it special. There's only one for each weight class (in theory, anyway) and whoever holds it has thus proved himself to be the best fighter in that division, at least for the moment.

Fans aren't dumb. They aren't raccoons that go crazy for any shiny object. If a fighter wins a belt that has no meaning, fans don't care. They know who has the real belt. All the interim title-holder has is a non-functional accessory that's not even good for keeping his pants up.

In a way, the UFC has itself to blame for this kind of talk. In the past the UFC has been far too eager to create interim titles just so it can claim that each new pay-per-view has a title fight on it. However, if you go back and look at the various interim title fights, it's not clear that a phony belt ever helped to create any more interest than the match-up itself had already generated.

Let's just forget about interim titles altogether for a while. They are the participant ribbons of MMA. They mean nothing, and they're a little condescending. If a champ's going to be unavailable for an unreasonable amount of time – and no, less than a year is not unreasonable – and the organization feels it needs to move on without him for the time being, fine. Strip him of the title and put it up for grabs.

Otherwise, wait for him to come back. After everything he had to do to get that belt, he deserves at least that much respect.

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