What’s a UFC Interim Champion? 6 Great Fighters & More

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Welcome to your guide to everything, UFC interim champion. 

We’re gonna get into all sorts of interesting topics:

  • From the difference between an interim belt to an undisputed one
  • To fighter pay and pay-per-view points
  • The main causes of interim belts
  • And some of the best interim champions and unification bouts in history…

We’ve got you more than covered!

What Does Interim Champion Mean in the UFC?

Picture this: an unfortunate scenario where the reigning UFC Champion is temporarily unable to defend their title due to injury, contract disputes, or other unforeseen circumstances.

In such instances, the UFC will create an interim title for a temporary champion for that weight class until a unification title bout against the current undisputed champion can occur. 

It sets the next title shot in stone.

And although it’s still technically a championship belt with champion status, it’s rarely viewed as highly, and it’s often seen as a promotional gimmick for a promoter to say things like ‘2 champions collide’. 

But I recommend you keep reading to see some of its benefits for the fighters. 

What Is The Difference Between Interim and Undisputed Champion

Here are the differences to keep in mind.

Interim Champion

An interim belt is introduced when the current undisputed champion cannot compete for a while due to injury, personal issues, or contractual disputes.

An interim championship bout is held between top contenders in the weight class, and the winner becomes the interim champion.

This serves multiple purposes:

  • Keep the division active and the title scene moving without the undisputed champion.
  • To build a bigger title fight in the form of a unification bout to determine a sole world champion. 
  • And particularly if due to a contractual dispute, to undermine the current champ’s reputation by introducing a discussion on whether or not they are the best in their division. 

So, when the undisputed champion is ready to return, they usually face the interim champion in a title unification bout, and the winner becomes the undisputed champ.

Undisputed Champion

The Undisputed Champion is a title is given to a fighter when they win a championship bout against another top contender (if there’s a vacant belt) or the existing champion.

They are considered the top dog and must defend it against top contenders in their respective weight classes. 

The “undisputed champion” title implies no other legitimate claimants to this title in the weight class.

Unlike an interim champion, the undisputed champion usually takes the belt from the previous reigning champion. 

So there’s something of a clear timeline of title lineage. 

And this changing of the guard, so to speak, helps to highlight the ongoing evolution of the sport.

It’s one of the beautiful things about combat sports.

Think Rich Franklin vs Anderson Silva.

When Silva fought for the Middleweight Championship in his second UFC fight, he introduced a new era of MMA. 

People will often follow the leader, and since the champion is considered the best in a division in a certain time period, they can set the tone for how those below train and fight. 

You can follow the timeline throughout UFCs history to see when belts changed hands and different styles became dominant within weight classes.

Do Interim Champions Get a Belt And Make Champion Money?

Of course, Interim Champions receive a belt. And it even looks the same as the undisputed belt.

It’s not even silver or another color for distinction.

As for the financial aspect, it can vary based on contracts and agreements.

But while they might not receive exactly the same compensation as an Undisputed Champion, Interim Champions typically do receive a larger payout for their fights compared to non-title bouts.

This is because a championship fight usually draws more attention, which can lead to higher ticket sales, pay-per-view buys, and overall revenue.

Do Interim Champions Get Pay-Per-View Points?

Exact financial details often depend on individual contracts and negotiations. Some fighters might negotiate for “champion’s pay” if they are fighting for an interim title, while others might not.

UFC fighters get a “show” purse for competing in the bout, a “win” bonus for winning it, and the potential for discretionary bonuses whenever UFC executives feel like it. 

But Championship bouts typically also come with pay-per-view points, which allow fighters to earn a percentage of the pay-per-view revenue. This can significantly increase a fighter’s earnings.

Again, these details can vary from fighter to fighter, and they are often kept private, making it hard to make blanket statements about the exact financial differences between interim and undisputed champions.

However, UFC President Dana White has been reported to say that in unification bouts, they share in the pay-per-view revenue, whereas in regular contender-title fights, they don’t.

Common Causes For Interim Champion Belts

Here are some of the most common reasons an interim title fight takes place. 

The Undisputed Champion is Injured

This is perhaps the most common reason.

Mixed martial arts is a physically demanding sport, and injuries are a regular occurrence.

If the undisputed champion gets injured and is expected to be out for an extended period, the UFC may decide to introduce an interim title.

This ensures that the division remains active and contenders continue striving for a championship goal.

The Undisputed Champion is Suspended

Suspensions in the UFC can arise for several reasons.

Fighters might fail a drug test, which could lead to a suspension by anti-doping agencies.

They could also be suspended for violations of the code of conduct outside of the cage.

Or even a mix of both for one of the greatest and dirtiest UFC fighters ever.

During the suspension period, if it’s long enough, the UFC might find it appropriate to have an interim championship bout to keep the division going.

The Undisputed Champion is Busy

While it’s rare, there are instances where a champion might be engaged in activities outside of MMA.

For example, they might be filming a movie, participating in a different sport (like boxing), or any other commitment that prevents them from defending their title.

If such commitments take up a significant amount of time and they hold enough popularity and power within the promotion, the UFC might introduce an interim belt.

Contract Disputes Between the Undisputed Champion & UFC

MMA involves contracts and business negotiations. And sometimes, there can be disagreements between the champion and the UFC, be it over pay, fight frequency, or other terms of their contract.

Suppose these disputes lead to a prolonged period where the champion isn’t competing. In that case, the UFC might decide to have an interim title bout to add further pressure to the negotiations.

Notable UFC Interim Champions (Who Didn’t Become Undisputed)

There have been some truly excellent interim champions who, in any other eras, would/will make great undisputed champs.

Dustin Poirier

Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier is an American mixed martial artist.

He won the interim UFC Lightweight Championship by defeating former Featherweight champion and legend Max Holloway at UFC 236 in April 2019.

Poirier’s interim championship set up a title unification bout against the undisputed champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, at UFC 242. 

Khabib is a well-rounded Sambo expert. And although Dustin Poirier almost had a guillotine choke, he was submitted by the Russian legend via rear naked choke.

Tony Ferguson

Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson is an American, Mexican UFC fighter celebrated for his unconventional and high-paced fighting style.

He defeated Kevin Lee in an interim UFC Lightweight Championship in October 2017.

Though he was scheduled for a title unification bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov, injuries, and other obstacles prevented the bout from happening multiple times.

Shane Carwin

Shane Carwin was an American heavyweight fighter known for his devastating knockout power.

He won the interim UFC Heavyweight Championship by knocking out Frank Mir at UFC 111 in March 2010.

He then faced Brock Lesnar in a title unification bout where he was super close to winning via TKO ground and pound in the first round.

But Lesnar proved incredibly tough, making it through the round and submitting an exhausted Shane in round 2.

Colby Covington

Colby “Chaos” Covington is known both for his aggressive, high-output fighting style and his controversial trash-talking.

He won the interim UFC Welterweight Championship by defeating Rafael dos Anjos in June 2018.

He eventually faced Kamaru Usman for the undisputed title but was unsuccessful, despite putting up a great fight against the Nigerian Nightmare.

Justin Gaethje

Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje is known for his exciting fighting style and incredible resilience.

He captured the interim UFC Lightweight Championship by defeating Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May 2020.

He then faced Khabib Nurmagomedov for the title unification, where he fell victim to Khabibs dominance in what would turn out to be the Russian’s retirement fight. 

Carlos Condit

Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit is a veteran of the sport.

He won the interim UFC Welterweight Championship by defeating Nick Diaz at UFC 143 in February 2012.

Condit then faced Canadian UFC legend Georges St-Pierre in a unification bout. And despite a head kick that dropped GSP, he eventually lost via decision. 

Best Interim vs Undisputed Champion Unification Title Fights

These title unification bouts listed below were either significant moments in the history of the UFC and the respective weight divisions or simply exciting, must-watch fights.

In my humble opinion…

Conor McGregor vs Jose Aldo

At UFC 194 in December 2015, interim Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor faced long-reigning Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo.

After a very long build-up for the fight, it ended dramatically with McGregor knocking out Aldo just 13 seconds into the first round, making it one of the fastest finishes in UFC title fight history.

Shane Carwin vs Brock Lesnar

At UFC 116 in July 2010, interim Heavyweight Champion Shane Carwin squared off against Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar.

After an dominant first round by Carwin, Lesnar mounted a comeback in the second round, securing a submission win via arm-triangle choke.

Georges St-Pierre vs Carlos Condit

UFC 154 in November 2012 saw interim Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit challenge the legendary Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre.

After a drag-em-out, back-and-forth battle, St-Pierre secured a unanimous decision victory, unifying the titles.

Isreal Adesanya vs Robert Whitaker

At UFC 243 in October 2019, interim Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya took on Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker.

Adesanya defeated Whittaker via cool walkout and knockout in the second round, marking his ascendancy as the undisputed champion.

Fabricio Werdum vs Cain Velasquez

UFC 188 in June 2015 featured a clash between interim Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum and Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez. The bout took place in Mexico City, 7,350 feet above sea level, where cardio, even for cardio kings like Velasquez, drains quickly!

Werdum submitted Velasquez via guillotine choke in the third round in a stunning upset, unifying the heavyweight titles.

UFC Interim Champions in Closing

As you can see, there are times when an interim champion proves they’re the best in the division – often in exciting fashion.

Other times the undisputed champ comes back to claim their crown.

Either way, the UFC interim champion belt can add an exciting element to a title bout, and hopefully, a win-win opportunity for both the promotion and fighters.

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We're a team of fight fans and martial arts practitioners. Many of us have been involved in martial arts our entire lives.