Why Does UFC Have Interim Champions?

Why Does UFC Have Interim Champions

UFC has interim champions because the organization can’t wait long for the injured champion to play. They can’t hold up the title contention as it would be unfair for other fighters. However, if a fighter will be sidelined due to injury or for some other reason for a longer period, the organization will not hold interims anymore.

Why Does UFC Have Interim Champions?

Injuries are common in combat sports. And since combat sports is the foundation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), many of its fighters aren’t excepted to it.

When this happens, needless to say, injured fighters cannot fight until they’re completely healed. Remember, you have to be your best when you’re fighting. This is when interims occur.

Since a fighter can’t defend their title while on recovery, it would be unfair for other athletes to wait until they get better. And so, the UFC must hold the interim championship.

Other medical issues and situations may also be the reason for a champion to hold up the title contention. This may also be another reason why the organization needs to hold interims.

However, if you’re the injured fighter, for instance, you can’t simply hold up your title for a long period of time. In case of injuries and other issues, the organization may decide to strip you of your title without holding interim championships.

When an undisputed fighter recovers, though, they will fight against the interim champion. This is called the unification bout. The one who wins becomes the only champion in their division.

What are the UFC Interim Titles?

The Ultimate Fighting Championship creates an interim title in situations when the current champion is unable to defend their title. This could be due to various reasons, such as injuries, pregnancy, and other medical issues.

Because of valid reasons that hold you back from defending your title, you don’t have to give up your title. Instead, the UFC will hold an interim title. This way, your division can have a new (temporary) champion and, at the same time, keep the show running.

However, note that the organization doesn’t just pick any fighter for the interim titles. Typically, the UFC chooses the two highest-ranked contenders in your division.

But, there may be times when the promotion company chooses fighters who ranked below the highest-ranked contender.

For instance, you are the current heavyweight champ but you got injured. The UFC may choose the two highest-ranked contenders or the ones ranked below them in the heavyweight division.

Once you get better, you must unify the title. Fighters do this by fighting the interim champion. Note that you cannot avoid this.

When the UFC Champ Gets Injured

Injuries are hard to avoid when you’re doing combat sport. And UFC, being the promotion company that promotes such a sport, has to create a solution to keep the show going while still making things fair for its fighters. Hence the interims.

Injury is the common reason why a UFC fighter can’t defend their title. It is also the reason why the organization has to create interim belts.

The reason behind this is that the UFC has to keep the show running. At the same time, it would be quite unfair for other fighters to wait long for them to fight for the title that’s on hold.

In the history of UFC, there have been numerous champions who couldn’t defend their titles due to injuries. One of them is Cain Velasquez. In 2013, he got injured while holding the UFC heavyweight title.

At that time, he suffered from many injuries, which kept him from playing for more than two years. Of course, the UFC couldn’t wait that long for him. Hence, they created an interim title. This way, they can still continue with the division.

Fabricio Werdum won the interim belt for Velasquez’s division. After some time, Velasquez returned for a unification bout. Unfortunately, Werdum choked him out and won as the undisputed champion.

Interim Champ Can Be Created By Contract Dispute

Interim Champ Can Be Created By Contract Dispute

Not all is well between the UFC and their champions. In most cases, fighters want more for their pay but the UFC is unable or isn’t willing to meet their demands.

Contract disputes are very common, especially in today’s times where fighters are more vocal about how the management treats them.

There are some cases where UFC fighters refuse to defend their belt because of a contract dispute. This might be because the fighter wants higher pay. Alternatively, it can also be because the fighter no longer has any fights left in his contract and he wants to renegotiate.

Instead of letting the belt stand idly by, the UFC can create an interim champ between the two next contenders instead.

The current champion will have to settle the contract dispute before they are able to defend their belt completely. Contract disputes can take longer as these often result in legal battles between fighters and the brand.

A good example of this is former UFC champ and UFC Hall of Famer, BJ Penn. After defeating Matt Hughes for the 170 lbs. title at UFC 46, Penn refused to defend the belt. In fact, he even signed a deal with Japanese promotion, K-1. 

The UFC went to court with  Penn at one point. During Penn’s absence, the UFC decided to have an interim champion for his position instead.

This can be a more common occurrence in the future. A lot of fighters have become more outspoken about their contracts and they demand higher pay.

Even champions like Francis Nngannou have spoken up about this problem as well. Nngannou himself was the cause of the interim belt won by Cyril Gane but it was for injury reasons.

When The UFC Champion Refuse To Fight The Next Title Contender

This rarely happens but it does happen still. One example of this was when Tito Ortiz took the 205lbs. belt from Ken Shamrock in UFC 40.

The contender in line of the belt was Chuck Lidell. Ortiz and Liddell were close friends at the time so Ortiz refused to fight even though Lidell was more than willing.

The UFC created an interim title fight between Randy Couture and Liddell. Couture won the fight and he was eventually able to unify the two 205lbs. belts at UFC 44.

When this happens, the reason that the champion has for refusing the fight is that he feels like the next contender doesn’t deserve it. This often doesn’t sit well with fight fans as it’s looking just like an excuse to duck the opponent.

Another common reason is the same as what Ortiz did with Liddell. Fighters don’t often want to fight their friends or teammates for the belt. 

When A UFC Champion Seeks Multiple Titles

There have been a few multi-division champs in the UFC over the last decade. It’s a prestigious honor that most fighters want to be able to achieve. The problem though is that fighting in two weight classes is often difficult even if the weight discrepancy is only 10lbs.

A good example of this is the UFC creating an interim champ because of this is Conor McGregor.

In 2015, McGregor single-handedly stopped Jose Aldo at UFC 194 for the lightweight title. However, McGregor didn’t stop there. He decided he was going to fight for the welterweight title as well.

He did so and he was able to single-handedly stop defending champ Eddie Alvarez. McGregor wanted to defend both titles but he decided to focus mainly on defending the welterweight belt instead. The UFC created an interim belt between Aldo and Frankie Edgar.

Aldo won the fight but since McGregor wasn’t able to drop down and defend the lightweight belt, Aldo became the undisputed champion. The belt was eventually taken from him by Max Holloway.

The only fighter to ever defend belts in two different weight classes was Henry Cejudo. For most fighters, a 10lbs. difference is very big so it’s hard to juggle two belts at once.

They also have to consider that they’ll need to fight more regularly if they are holding two championship belts as well.

Who Was The First Interim UFC Champion?

The first-ever fighter to become an interim UFC champion is Randy Couture. As we said earlier, the belt was acquired after a grueling fight between him and Chuck Lidell at UFC 50.

When Tito refused to fight Lidell, he also planned a 10-month layoff. For the UFC, this meant almost an entire year without having the light heavyweight champion defend himself. Because of the issue, the UFC decided to adopt the interim belt system from boxing.

It took Couture at least a year before he was able to unify the light heavyweight belts and he was able to become the undisputed champion when he won over Tito Ortiz. 

Who Were The UFC Interim Champions?

Who Were The UFC Interim Champions

While Randy Couture was the first, he definitely wasn’t the last. In fact, there have been quite a number of interim champions in the UFC already.

The number continues to rise with each year oddly enough and most of them are becoming interim champions for different reasons. Here are the most popular interim champions so far.


  • Andrei Arlovski (UFC 51) – won against Tim Sylvia
  • Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC 81) – championed vs. Tim Sylvia
  • Shane Carwin (UFC 111) – won vs. Frank Mir
  • Fabricio Werdum (UFC 180) – fought Mark Hunt

Light Heavyweight

  • Randy Couture (UFC 44) – won vs.Tito Ortiz
  • Jon Jones (UFC 197) – championed against Ovince Saint Preux


  • Robert Whittaker (UFC 213) – won against Yoel Romero
  • Israel Adesanya (UFC 236) – fought Kelvin Gastelum


  • George St. Pierre (UFC 79) – championed vs. Matt Hughes
  • Carlos Condit (UFC 143) – won against Nick Diaz
  • Colby Covington (UFC 225) – fought Rafael dos Anjos


  • Tony Ferguson (UFC 216) – won vs. Kevin Lee
  • Dustin Poirier (UFC 236) – championed against Max Holloway
  • Justin Gaethje (UFC 249) – won against Tony Ferguson


  • Conor McGregor (UFC 189) – championed vs Chad Mendes
  • Jose Aldo (UFC 200) – fought Frankie Edgar
  • Max Holloway (UFC 216) – won vs Tony Ferguson


  • Renan Barao (UFC 149) – championed against Urijah Faber

Due to the intensity of the competition, the most common reason for interim champions is that they become injured. As they get injured, they’ll need some time off to recover and the UFC is required to have an interim champion. If another fighter decides to become a multi-division champ yet again, we might see another interim champion in the making.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is one of the most popular organizations that promote MMA. This means many fans all over the world are tuned into it. Thus, the organization must keep the show running.

However, injuries and other circumstances often hinder champs from defending their titles. Waiting for them to recover while doing nothing is a huge loss and it’s unfair for other fighters. 

Hence, UFC has interim champions. This does not only keep the show running but also makes it fair for other fighters

About Carla

I'm a journalist passionate about extreme sports. I love writing and reading stories about those brave people that are going beyond the limit of their physical capabilities.

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