What is the Meaning of Interim Champion in the UFC?

If you've watched a UFC event, chances are that you've seen the term 'Interim Champion'.

In this page we will explain what interim champion in the UFC means, how it differs from a normal champion, and how one can become an interim champion.

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What is a UFC Interim Champion?

A UFC Interim championship fight is created when the champion of that weight class is unable to defend the belt due for an extended amount of time due to injury, timing or even contract disputes.

Whoever wins this fight becomes the Interim champion, and becomes scheduled to fight the champion for the undisputed title.

A fighter is not considered a 'Real Champion' until they become the Undisputed champion.

Interim Champions in History

In the history of the UFC there have been many Interim champions.

Almost all of them had gone on to fight for the undisputed belt, with the exception of Tony Ferguson.

Tony Ferguson

Tony Ferguson would defeat Kevin Lee for the Interim Lightweight championship.

He would be scheduled to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed Lightweight championship, however Ferguson would trip on a cord while wearing sunglasses inside and rupture his LCL.

Ferguson would never have the opportunity to fight for the UFC Undisputed Lightweight championship again.

Robert Whittaker

Whittaker would defeat Yoel Romero to become the Interim UFC Middleweight champion for the belt, however in a weird sequence of events he would not fight Michael Bisping to unify the belt.

Bisping would choose to defend his belt against MMA legend George St-Pierre instead. GSP would come back from a 4 year lay-off, to go up a weight class and face Bisping.

GSP would defeat Bisping, but then would be diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis which would lead him to vacate the UFC title.

Whittaker was then promoted to Undisputed champion of the Middleweight division, as he would not be able to fight St-Pierre for the title.

Dustin Poirier

Poirier would defeat Max Holloway to win the Interim UFC Lightweight belt, but would then lose to Khabib Nurmagomedov when attempting to unify the belt.

Ciryl Gane

Gane would outclass Derrick Lewis for the Interim UFC Heavyweight belt, but would lose in a decision to Francis Ngannou when attempting to unify the belt.

Conor McGregor

McGregor would defeat Chad Mendes for the Interim UFC Featherweight belt, as his original opponent Jose Aldo pulled out of the fight last-minute citing a rib injury.

Ironically after McGregor would win both the Featherweight and the Lightweight belt, the UFC would create an Interim Featherweight championship, as McGregor opted not to defend the Featherweight belt, or give it up.

Interim Champions Due to Timing

Recently Francis Ngannou's situation has caught the attention of all MMA fans. The UFC wanted Ngannou to headline a bout against Derrick Lewis in Lewis's hometown of Houston.

However, Ngannou would explain that he would be at an oversea trip in his native country of Cameroon, and the timeline did not work for him.

Rather than push the fight back, the UFC opted to create a fight for the Interim Heavyweight championship with Derrick Lewis vs undefeated (at the time) and rising contender Ciryl Gane.

Ngannou was equally confused and he explained his thoughts here:

“We were quite surprised about that,” Ngannou said. “It was just like two-and-a-half months after I won the fight, and the past month was so much pressure. At this time, I shouldn’t be surprised anymore about anything. At the end of the day, I’m the UFC heavyweight champion of the world. I’m still the champion. It’s not like somebody give it to me. I earned it. It’s my title. What they are doing now out there, it doesn’t matter to me. … If somebody say I don’t want to fight, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Interim Champions Due to Contract Disputes

BJ Penn would move up in weight class and defeat Michael Hughes for the UFC Welterweight belt.

However, Penn wanted a better contract and the UFC and Penn could not come to terms.

Rather than fighting out his contract, Penn would decide to sign with K-1 and would make the UFC furious.

The UFC responded by creating an interim belt instead, and Penn would fight 4 fights at K-1 before returning to the UFC.

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