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Robert Whittaker says interim title means he’s filling benched Michael Bisping’s seat

LAS VEGAS — Interim titles have taken on less and less meaning in the UFC in recent years. When the addition of those belts were rare and only used when champions were out for a long duration of time, they were almost as significant as the actual titles.

Not so much anymore. Max Holloway admitted after winning the interim title against Anthony Pettis back in December that all it really meant was he got to fight Jose Aldo next. Interim titles have been called “fake” and a “toy belt” and everything else in between.

Robert Whittaker, though, will leave T-Mobile Arena after UFC 213 on Saturday night reveling in his unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47) victory over Yoel Romero and the interim middleweight title that came with it.

“Mate, I had to fight a five-round war with Yoel Romero,” Whittaker said at the post-fight press conference when asked about the title. “I think if you fight a five-round war with Yoel Romero, you deserve a medal of your own. He’s one of the most dangerous people on the planet. No one wants to fight him — and for good reason.”

The UFC middleweight champion, Michael Bisping, entered the Octagon after Whittaker’s win and said it made him sick that he was wearing a belt that wasn’t real. Bisping took his middleweight strap, threw it on the ground and told Whittaker to fight for it.

“See you soon, mother f*cker,” Bisping said.

Whittaker laughed that off at the press conference, chalking it up to Bisping being Bisping. The two are likely to meet next, according to UFC president Dana White. But Bisping was initially supposed to face Georges St-Pierre in his second title defense sometime this year. That “ship has sailed,” White said.

Bisping has not defended the title since beating Dan Henderson at UFC 204 last October. So it hasn’t been a gigantic gap in time. But interim titles being introduced into the fold is becoming more and more common in today’s UFC. Whittaker is more than fine with that, he said, especially in this case.

“I worked hard for that belt, for that bit of shiny metal there,” he said. “That’s what that is a symbol of, that I’m now the No. 1 contender. While the current champ is on the bench, I’m filling in his seat at the moment. I’m taking on the head honchos, I’m taking on those killers. I’m taking on the responsibility of being champion.”

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