Well, that was fun.
The brash, outspoken Conor McGregor made history at UFC 205 and became a dual weight division UFC champion. But after two weeks, that run has come to a screeching halt without McGregor stepping back inside the cage. UFC announced on the Fight Night 101 broadcast and in a statement that McGregor has “relinquished” the UFC Featherweight Championship.
Let’s get one thing straight: Conor McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) does not seem to be the relinquishing type. He’s brash, cocky, and arrogant, but he backs it up. This is the guy who when he won the lightweight championship said he should have an ownership stake in UFC. If he were the one to decide to give up one of his two championships, I would think that we would have heard from the Notorious one himself rather than from UFC.
I guess what stands out to me as I react to the news is the timing of all of this. It’s the timing that seems to make this a very “odd business move.”
Had this happened right on the heels of McGregor defeating Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight championship, I think I could buy into it. If there were an immediate contender in the wings to take on Jose Aldo (26-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC), the current featherweight interim champion, I wouldn’t blink an eye. McGregor holding on to a championship that he may defend at some undetermined time in the future puts the featherweight division in a bind. So, they had to do something.
But I go back to the timing being odd, and here’s why I feel that way.
UFC 206 is slated for December 10 in Toronto, Ontario Canada. The main event of the card was to see Daniel Cormier (18-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) defend the light heavyweight championship against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson (22-5 MMA, 13-5 UFC). That bout was lost due to an injury, and one has to believe that UFC’s promotional team panicked.
With a title fight gone from their card, UFC created one that they didn’t really need. Max Holloway (16-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) will be taking on Anthony Pettis (19-5 MMA, 6-4 UFC) for an interim featherweight championship. On paper, I’m intrigued by this bout just by itself, without the implications of an interim championship assigned to it.
Let’s dissect all of the players in the situation though. McGregor is now a former champion who didn’t lose the title in a fight. Aldo became the genuine champion by a wave of UFC’s magic wand while sitting on his couch. Holloway has won nine fights in a row but can’t get a crack at the real championship. Pettis, if he’s successful at UFC 206, could earn an interim championship after exactly one fight as a featherweight. This seems like a really messed up scenario when you analyze it.
Normally in this kind of a context, interim translates into the title being a “placeholder” prize for two fighters to contend for while the champion deals with some sort of unavoidable delay, such as an injury or illness. But in this particular case, it appears that UFC is now adding the definition of “for a period of time when it’s promotionally convenient.” It feels like UFC is pulling this interim championship together in order to say that they have a title fight on the pay per view, and nothing more.
Was it really going to matter to the buy rate for the pay per view that much if there was no championship match on the card? I feel that the hardcore UFC fan was going to buy this card regardless of whether there would be an interim title fight or not. More importantly to the Pettis/Holloway fight, fans who care about that fight are going to know who the other players (McGregor and Aldo) are, and where they stand in the mix.
This is a business move by UFC, plain and simple, but it’s a very odd one. Casual MMA fans are going to perhaps be more attracted to the idea of a championship being contested than hardcore fans would, so perhaps that’s the reasoning behind all of this. Maybe they felt adding a gold belt to this situation would cure all that ails the card and keep the buy rate up. But to me, I feel this is a patronizing move at best.
Holloway vs. Pettis is a legitimate, interesting fight on its own that doesn’t need the gimmick (to borrow from my pro wrestling background) of an interim title. The company could have simply labeled it as a #1 Contender’s matchup with the winner getting Aldo next year, seeing as they now named Aldo the genuine champion. No interim title would be necessary.
At the end of it all, I can’t help but feel that UFC thinks their fans are dumb enough to not see through all of this. There is a fanbase that is extremely dedicated to following all of the ins and outs of UFC. They dig in, they seek to understand, they follow the news closely. I’ve read some of the other opinion on this situation, and it’s clear that there is a segment of the fanbase that already is reacting to this negatively.
Maybe UFC doesn’t care about all of that in the end. After all, they are counting on people buying the event as a result of this move, and they’ll laugh all the way to the bank.