The “Champ-Champ” is soon-to-be no more and it’s looking like that’s the way it’s going to be in the modern UFC.
Twice in the last two years, a UFC champion has won a second belt. Conor McGregor was the reigning featherweight champion, though he’d never defended the belt, when he stopped Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 on Nov. 12, 2016, at Madison Square Garden.
On July 7, 2018, Daniel Cormier added the heavyweight championship to the light heavyweight belt he already owned when he dramatically knocked out Stipe Miocic in the first round of their bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
On Wednesday, the worst secret in the business became public when it was reported that a rematch for the light heavyweight title between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson would be the main event of UFC 232 on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas. To be for the belt means that Cormier will have to be stripped.
UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports that Cormier would remain the light heavyweight champion until the first bell of Jones-Gustafsson II rings, meaning Cormier will be introduced as the “Champ-Champ” when he fights Derrick Lewis on Nov. 3 at Madison Square Garden in the main event of UFC 230.
It was obvious that he was going to lose the belt as soon as the fight with Lewis was made, because Cormier has insisted he’ll retire on or before his 40th birthday on March 20. He has a mega-dollar match with Brock Lesnar that will take place next year if he wins.
The circumstances show, however, just how difficult it is for a fighter to keep two belts simultaneously in the UFC.
One of the titles inevitably goes on the shelf when a champion attempts to win a second one. Cormier last defended the light heavyweight title on Jan. 20 in Boston when he finished Volkan Oezdemir.
But when Cormier was tabbed to coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” and then challenge Miocic for the heavyweight belt, all of the top light heavyweights knew they’d have no shot at a championship for a while.
Championships are where the fighters make the most money, which is why title opportunities are so treasured. There wasn’t an obvious, slam-dunk challenger for Cormier’s light heavyweight belt, so that made the wait somewhat more tolerable.
Cormier, though, admits while it was a life-changing experience for him, it will be difficult for any man to hold both belts and successfully defend them.
“It will be tough; it will be very tough,” Cormier said when asked if he felt another fighter could replicate his feat and then defend the belts. “I do believe if anyone is going to do it, it’s going to be in these two weight classes, heavyweight and light heavyweight. That’s just because some of the bigger light heavyweights are heavyweights when they start training camp … we can go up and fight. But you saw what happened with Rory [MacDonald] when he tried that.”
MacDonald is the Bellator welterweight champion, who on Sept. 29 attempted to wrest the middleweight title from Gegard Mousasi at Bellator 206 in San Jose.
“Those 15 pounds can make such a massive difference,” Cormier said of the 185 to 170 difference between middleweight and welterweight. “That difference shows itself more as the weight classes go down. [MacDonald] is a great fighter, one of the best in the world, and you saw what happened to him. It’s not as easy to do as it seems.”
Cormier is at peace with the decision to fight twice at heavyweight and surrender the light heavyweight belt. He injured his hand in his July 7 win over Miocic, and said it took two months to heal.
While he was rehabbing, he said he was called and asked if he could fight at Madison Square Garden. No opponent was mentioned.
“I suspect it was Stipe, because Stipe had been saying he was offered a fight,” Cormier said. “But I don’t know. At that time, they asked me if I could go [on Nov. 3] and I said no.”
He was able to say yes when they offered Lewis, though it probably didn’t hurt when they offered him double the salary he made for fighting Miocic.
The company was struggling to come up with a main event that would be attractive to MSG officials as well as the discerning New York fight fans, and a main event of Valentina Shevchenko vs. Sijara Eubanks for a vacant women’s flyweight belt wasn’t going to cut it.
Cormier-Lewis isn’t exactly Ali-Frazier, but it will fit the bill. Cormier is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and one of the most popular. You won’t meet a better person, either. By matching him with Lewis, the UFC is striking while it has momentum.
Lewis scored a dramatic last-second knockout of Alexander Volkov on Saturday at UFC 229 that sent the crowd at T-Mobile Arena into a frenzy. But it was Lewis’ legendary in-cage interview with Joe Rogan which is largely responsible for him adding more than a half-million followers to his various social media accounts.
Taking that fight, though, showed the many hurdles of someone holding two belts. And while the accomplishment is incredible and has led to many opportunities Cormier wouldn’t have otherwise gotten — “My visibility has changed quite a bit and a lot of the really big sports stars around the world know who I am now,” he said — giving one fighter that opportunity puts an entire division, and perhaps two, on hold.
No matter how alluring the opportunity may be, the UFC shouldn’t put as many as potentially 20 other fighters’ careers on hold to give one the opportunity to achieve dual-champ status.
It can lead to muddled divisions for months, and prevent what would otherwise be compelling fights from happening.
If anyone wants to try it again, they should be forced to surrender one title before going after another. It’s the only fair way to do it.
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