Former UFC and Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez made headlines earlier this week when, at a ONE Championship open workout, he ripped into the UFC’s habit of crowning interim champion at a more frequent pace than most fight promotions.
Alvarez called the belts a ‘sick joke’ and claimed the company uses the belts as a way to avoid giving fighters raises.
These comments come as the UFC gets ready to present a pay-per-view card featuring a pair of interim title matchups: UFC 236 on April 13 in Atlanta, which will be headlined by an interim lightweight championship fight between featherweight champion Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier, and co-featured by an interim middleweight title fight between Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum.
At a press conference promoting UFC 236 on Friday in Las Vegas which featured all four interim title bout participants, UFC president Dana White had an answer for Alvarez without even being asked about him.
“Everybody who is up here today, whoever wins that belt, they move into the title fight, White said. “And I saw some talk the other day from Eddie Alvarez. I like Eddie, I have a great relationship with Eddie, but he was talking about how, you give interim titles so you don’t have to pay the guys so much or some weird comment like that.”
White sees this as a cut-and-dried issue: If you’re an interim champion you get pay-per-view points, whereas if a fighter went into a title fight as a challenger, they don’t get a cut of the PPV revenue. So to White, Alvarez’s idea an interim champ makes less money doesn’t add up.
“When you win the interim title belt, you’re looked at as the titleholder,” White said. “So when you go into a title fight, both guys share in the pay-per-view revenue. If you’re a contender without the interim title, you don’t. So, there’s nothing bad about holding an interim belt going into a title fight.”
Still, this leaves us with a pair of interim title matches at UFC 236 which features at least one instance of a fighter who had vocally proclaimed he wouldn’t accept an interim title fight, just a matchup for the full championship.
And yet, Adesanya, who indicated he’d fight Gastelum, but only for the real belt, said when the opportunity came knocking, he wasn’t about to say no.
“I think people are taking notes now,” Adesanya said. “People are taking notes from last year. I fought February. I got my debut February last year, to February this year, that’s five fights in one year, and, Dana even said, if you want to stay relevant, stay active. ... People are taking notes now. Jon Jones said he wants to maybe fight four times this year. He’s the champ. People were fighting like twice. I think Robert Whittaker fought once in the last year, so yeah, I’m keeping that same energy, I’m going to stay active.”
Holloway, meanwhile, is in an unusual circumstance, as a reigning champion going after an interim belt. The champ said he didn’t mind taking the fight if that’s the route to getting a bout with lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is currently out due to suspension.
“Khabib said he wanted to fight me, but he wanted me to prove myself,” said Holloway, whose fight with Poirier gets top billing due to Holloway’s champion status. “I got Dustin, and, April 13, I decided to prove myself. I’m going to go out there and prove myself and when Khabib comes back I’ll be ready.”
All this leaves Tony Ferguson — a former UFC interim lightweight champion on an 11-fight win streak — on the outside looking in, as he reportedly turned down bouts with Poirier and Holloway.
“I don’t know,” White said. “I said all the time when there’s an opportunity, take it. Everyone sitting up here today is proof of that. You take the opportunities and you get the shot. You know? I don’t know where this leaves Tony. Tony doesn’t want the fight.”
As for Alvarez’s comments on interim belts, Poirier, who finished Alvarez in the final bout of Alvarez’s UFC contract last summer, has his own theory.
“Eddie hasn’t been right since I hit him with that last left hand either,” Poirier quipped. “So, give him a break.”