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‘They’re meaningless’: UFC on FOX 30 fighters sound off on interim titles

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Eddie Alvarez at a media day event on Thursday for UFC on FOX 30 in Calgary, Alberta
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

CALGARY, Alberta — Eddie Alvarez has won several titles in his career, so he knows better than most which belts are worth their weight in gold. That leaves him uniquely qualified to discuss the current trend of UFC interim titles being handed out and then seemingly reduced to symbolic trinkets at the drop of a hat.

The issue isn’t going away anytime soon, with interim welterweight champion Colby Covington being passed over for a shot at undisputed champion Tyron Woodley in favor of Darren Till (as of this writing, Covington is still recognized as the interim titleholder), and an interim title bout nearly being made at UFC 226 in the absence of current champion Max Holloway.

Never one to mince words, Alvarez — a former UFC and Bellator lightweight champion — was brutally honest about how the proliferation of prizes has zero value in his eyes.

“They’re meaningless,” Alvarez said Thursday at the media day for UFC on FOX 30 at the Hyatt Regency Calgary. “They’re used as a point of leverage for the promotion. They mean absolutely nothing, it’s proven. The media should talk about it a little more, it’s proven that an interim title means zilch. They give ‘em to a fighter, they take it from them. It’s a way for the promotion to leverage, that’s it.

“They mean nothing. And for a fighter to put any value behind it is foolish.”

Alvarez meets Dustin Poirier in the main event on Saturday in what will be a rematch of their controversial UFC 211 bout that ended in a no-contest after Alvarez struck Poirier with an illegal knee. He has said repeatedly that his focus is entirely on righting that wrong, and should the call ever come to compete for an interim championship, it will be the least of his worries.

“I’m more concerned with the opponent,” said Alvarez. “I don’t care about titles. Interim, world title, it doesn’t mean much. If the promotion doesn’t hold it as valuable, then why should the fighters?”

MMA Fighting spoke to several other fighters about the topic, including Poirier, who echoed the sentiment of his rival.

“I want to fight for the real belt, not the interim title,” said Poirier. “I want to beat Eddie and fight for the real belt. I believe interim titles are necessary when a champ is out for a long period of time, but giving them out like they have been, I think that’s kind of crazy. If a champ has to take a long layoff then I think that’s the only time interim titles should be introduced to the division.”

“I’m not trying to be second best, I want the real thing,” he added.

Of the eight fighters competing on Saturday’s main card, only one actually knows what it’s like to carry an interim title: Two-time featherweight champion Jose Aldo.

Aldo competes in his first non-title fight since June 2009, having won the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight belt (which later the UFC belt after the WEC folded and its weight classes were absorbed into the UFC) the following November, then competing solely in five-round championship bouts since. After losing his title to Conor McGregor, he won an interim belt with a second win over Frankie Edgar and was later granted undisputed status when McGregor went off to pursue a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather last year.

Though he’s no fan of Covington, Aldo believes it’s unfair for the interim welterweight champion to be passed over and that fighters need to be given a clearer understanding of what they have to do to make it to the very top of their division.

“It is extremely frustrating that you don’t really have the control of where you are going or what path you have to take to get where you want to be, but I guess it’s a little bit more about what you do outside of the cage on top of what you do in there,” said Aldo in Portuguese, via a translator. “So the sporting side of things isn’t necessarily going to get you to where you want to be.”

Main-card fighters Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Tecia Torres were also lukewarm on the idea of unnecessary belts, with Aubin-Mercier suggesting that if the UFC insists on manufacturing title fights, at least make more weight divisions so that more fighters have a chance to compete for the real thing.

“I think it’s time to have a 165 and a 175 category right now,” said Aubin-Mercier ahead of his upcoming bout with Alexander Hernandez. “It would do a lot of good for the UFC. First, it would get rid of a lot of fake champions — it’s not because they’re not good, it’s because they’re not real, it’s not the real champion.”

Torres could be in line for a strawweight title opportunity herself should she knock off former champion Jedrzejczyk at Saturday’s show, and she’s planning to deal with interim talk if and when the time is right.

“I’m not quite sure about the whole interim titles, I’m not sure they’ve really had that for the girls’ divisions yet, so I haven’t really put much thought into it,” she said.

All that said, there was one fighter who was fine with the idea of being recognized as an interim champion, so long as that also means he gets a champion’s paycheck.

“Interim titles, I think you get paid the same as you would the regular title, so any chance I get to make that type of money, bring it on,” said Jeremy Stephens, who fights Aldo on Saturday. “I’ll accept the challenge.”