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Interim problem taking some of the steam out of Saturday's Barao-McDonald title fight

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

In the 504 days between Oct. 2, 2011, and Saturday, there will have been exactly one UFC bantamweight title fight.

That was an interim title fight won by Renan Barao against Urijah Faber on July 21, 2012, in Calgary at UFC 149, one of the three worst cards of the Dana White Era.

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Renan Barao, left, goes on the offensive against Urijah Faber. (Getty Images)

Barao will, finally, put the interim belt on the line Saturday when he faces Michael "Mayday" McDonald in the main event of UFC on Fuel 7 at Wembley Arena in London.

One title fight every 504 days isn't the way to invigorate interest in one of the UFC's newest divisions.

The culprits were a pair of knee surgeries suffered by the great champion, Dominick Cruz, as well as the crutch that an interim belt provided UFC executives.

Interim championships are a blight on the professional fighting landscape. Particularly in boxing, they're frequently abused. The World Boxing Association has gone so far as to once have an interim champion for its interim champion.

The UFC hasn't been nearly as bad as the boxing sanctioning bodies in doling out interim belts, although it's been creeping in the wrong direction.

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The purpose of an interim title is simple: When a champion, through illness or injury, is unable to defend the belt, an interim championship is created. That way, the division doesn't get put on hold while awaiting the champion's return to competition, and the challengers for the title can make the increased money that comes as a perk of a championship match.

Barao hasn't been the UFC's only interim champion in the last year. Welterweight Carlos Condit won the 170-pound division's interim belt at UFC 143 on Feb. 4, 2012, because champion Georges St-Pierre was sidelined by a knee injury. But Condit never defended the interim belt and chose to wait until St-Pierre returned on Nov. 17, 2012.

It's understandable why Condit opted to wait, given the opportunity by the UFC. A match against St-Pierre brings a life-altering payday along with it. The UFC gave Condit the option to defend the interim title or wait for St-Pierre because Condit had been a good soldier.

He was to have fought St-Pierre at UFC 137 on Oct. 29, 2011, until St-Pierre had to pull out of that match with injury.

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Dana White should clean up the way interim titles are handled. (MMA Weekly)

 

Condit had originally been expected to fight B.J. Penn at UFC 137. But when Nick Diaz skipped a series of news conferences for his planned fight with St-Pierre on the main event of that card, White briefly yanked Diaz off the show. He then moved Condit into the main against St-Pierre, but when St-Pierre was hurt in training, White asked Condit to step aside and made Diaz-Penn the main event of that card.

Condit went well out of his way to accommodate the UFC and so White did him a solid and didn't force him to defend the interim belt until St-Pierre was ready.

The upshot of it, though, was that there was only one title fight, an interim one, at that, in 568 days. That's clearly not fair to the remainder of the division.

The bantamweights have a similarly sad story to tell. As a result of two knee surgeries, Cruz last defended his belt on Oct. 1, 2011. In the 504 days from that fight with Demetrious Johnson until Saturday, the only title bantamweight championship match was Barao-Faber.

After Barao throttled Faber at UFC 149, he immediately announced plans to sit on the interim title and wait for Cruz's return.

It was stunning that the UFC was initially going to go along with that plan. But in December, when Cruz needed another surgery that would keep him out another nine months, the UFC ordered Barao to defend the belt against McDonald.

It's a potentially great fight that has gotten totally overlooked, falling between the Feb. 3 high-profile featherweight title victory of Jose Aldo over Frankie Edgar at UFC 156, and the historic women's title match between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 on Feb. 23.

Barao is one of the great fighters in the world. He's 10th on the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound list and has gone 29-0 with a no-contest since losing his April 14, 2005, pro debut.

But he's not widely known outside of the hardcore fan base, a tragedy considering his electrifying ability and charismatic personality.

He is culpable, though, in that he initially said he wanted to wait for Cruz.

"I felt that a fight with Dominick would have been the best fight for me and that's why I chose to wait," Barao said. "But when he got hurt again, I had to think about it some more."

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The UFC should take the issue out of the fighters' hands. If a fighter wins an interim belt, he should be forced to defend it on a regular schedule, as if he were the sole champion.

Once the champion is ready to return, the interim champion can then be paired with the regular champ.

White conceded he's no fan of the interim belts.

"I agree with you; I hate them, too," White said.

White, though, must do more than hate them. He needs to take a tougher stand and order the interim title-holders to defend their belts.

He was trying to do the right thing for Condit and Barao by allowing them to wait. Ultimately, though, he needs to think of the greater good: The fan base that loves to see title fights, and the rest of the fighters in a division who deserve the opportunity to fight for a belt.

Having one title fight in 504 days does no good for anybody.

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