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Am I The Only One Confused About The “Interim Lightweight Title?”

By Ben Fowlkes

My brain hurts. It’s tired of trying to sort this mess out, and it’s getting nowhere. But it’s not my brain’s fault. At least, not this time.

If you’re on the UFC’s mailing list, as I am, you received an email alerting you that B.J. Penn and Joe Stevenson will be fighting for the “interim” lightweight title at UFC 80 in January. And if you also compulsively follow MMA news, as I do, you know that Dana White has said he will not strip lightweight champion Sean Sherk of his title because of the way the California State Athletic Commission has bungled his appeal of a positive steroid case.

But if Sherk isn’t being stripped, why is there an interim title at all?

This feels like one of those situations that only gets more confusing as you try to sort it out. I almost understand the reasoning. White seems to feel that Sherk is innocent when it comes to steroid use. From what I’ve heard, the levels of nandrolene detected in Sherk’s system were so low that it’s not unbelievable to think this might be a false positive.

So, okay, I get it. White feels that the CSAC, which has a reputation as the most difficult commission for MMA organizations to deal with, by far, is screwing this thing up. They postponed Sherk’s appeal hearing because they didn’t read all the material submitted by his lawyer, which makes them seem more like the Mayberry Athletic Commission than the California one. White was angered by this, as was Sherk, and understandably so.

That’s why White announced that Sherk (who White says he considers a friend) will not be stripped of his title. Okay. That makes a certain kind of sense. It seems like he might be blowing off the CSAC, and maybe somebody should.

But now I have to ask again. Why is there an interim title?

I understand that Sherk is stilll under suspension pending his appeal, but if the UFC’s position is that Sherk is going to hold onto that belt unless the CSAC can produce photos of a needle going into “The Muscle Shark’s” arm, there shouldn’t be any interim title. It’s meaningless. The winner of the interim title has essentially just earned number one contender status, only he’s got a belt to show for it.

I’m not going to pretend I don’t know why the UFC is doing this. They don’t want the belt to be out of circulation while they wait for this appeal, because a title fight always makes for an instant main event on a pay-per-view card. They already have a heavyweight title with no one to defend it after Randy Couture’s “resignation”, and they’ve kept their welterweight title in reality TV land lo these many months.

But they can’t have it both ways. They can’t refuse to strip the title-holder and also have two other guys fight for his title. That essentially creates two champions in one weight class, which defeats the purpose of having a champion at all.

Do you see now what I’ve been going through? Maybe it’s my fault for even trying to understand this, or for assuming that it’s supposed to make sense. As it is I feel like I’m standing in the mall and looking at one of those magic eye pictures that has an image of a sailboat somewhere in it, only I can’t see it and I just keep staring while old people and children pass by me with pity in their eyes.

Much like those magic eye pictures, this situation will leave me with nothing but a headache and a nagging sense of failure. I just know it. And at the end of the day, we’ll still have two guys walking around claiming to be the UFC lightweight champion.

Ben Fowlkes is the writer of the blog The Fighting Life and the editor of IFL.tv, the official website of the International Fight League.

17 COMMENTS
  • Danny says:

    I disagree. If this isn’t the perfect situation for an interim title, what is? The sole purpose of an interim title is, as you stated, to keep a certain flow going in the weight class.

    Now, if you were to argue that interim titles should be done away with altogether, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. But to say that this situation does not warrant an interim title fight goes against the very definition of the term.

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  • garth says:

    the junk in Sherk’s blood may have been low, but it was still a LOT higher than the highest athlete tests the regs cite. This has been gone over before. The only chance for Sherk is to prove a tainted test. “I didn’t know what was in it” don’t work.
    and you’re right, what the hell is dana getting at? I bet the only way he could get BJ to fight was if it was for a belt.

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  • Evan says:

    This whole thing to me just seems like a way to allow Sean to save face since the CSAC have been messing around.

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  • Charles says:

    I know that when Frank Mir got into a crash and Andrei Arlovski won the Interim Heavyweight title and he was champ until Mir could retain the title but time passed and they stripped it from him.From what I gathered they should have a ruling on the case before this fight even takes place but Dana always gets his way.The real reason is so that they can say it is a champion vs champion fight for the real belt to increase sales!!

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  • ossBASHA says:

    It’s a longterm thing… in 2008 they can have a super fight between two champions to show the undisputed blah blah blah, etc…

    Fuck steroid users and I hope BJ shines.

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  • Evan says:

    ossBASHA

    I’m with you. I hope Sean gets dismantled by BJ if that ends up being the fight down the road.

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  • dizzle says:

    UFC is kinda fucked up right now if u ask me. if it aint steriod abusers…it’s pot smokers and cigerrete fiends. I don’t get how Sherk gets to hold on to the belt after being caught doing steriods. This just boggles my mind.

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  • ossBASHA says:

    I guess Dana would rather question the CSAC’s credibility than his own and his fighters’.

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  • Mike Huckaby says:

    They’re also doing it because making it a title fight is really the only way they could make a Penn/Stevenson main event over there passable.

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  • ossBASHA says:

    True.

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  • el boxeo says:

    btw.. the only reason he hasnt been stripped is cause dana sees sherk as a friend… this is bs…. either make it for the #1 contender (which doesnt have same prestige as for a title) and ride with your guy sherk in the appeals process or strip him now regardless and say when this is resolved you have the next fight for the championship…

    anybody really think the csac is just cave in and say all is forgive “we messed up” if any thing or any doubt there gonna reduce his sentence ala baroni (another guy who i guess was really clean) but either way he dana should expidite this and just strip him now…

    im sure sherk didnt knowing take roids but if he has it in his system by any means then its his fault or his teams…

    its not like the guys is getting tagged for coke or meth…. its stuff that can be used, does get used sometimes unknowingly…

    ever wonder why boxing has interm titles / super champions and regular champions in the same organization and weight class… to protect their investments…

    sherk is dana investment professionally and personally..

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  • charles says:

    If you don’t think Sherk takes steriod then you haven’t seen that UFC show.When they show you his training regiment.He is either doing Speed or steriod.Either that or he has a bad case of ADHD.That guys is crazy when he works out but I do agree with you guys on the only reason he still has the belt is because they’re FRIENDS.Thats B.S. big time.It shows to make it in the UFC you have to kiss Dana White’s ass.

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  • Evan says:

    Hearing re-scheduled again………

    The California State Athletic Commission today confirmed the postponement of UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk’s Tuesday, Nov. 13 appeal hearing for a steroids-related suspension. CSAC associate governmental program analyst Bill Douglas cited scheduling conflicts as the reasons behind the delay. The hearing has not yet been rescheduled.

    http://www.thefightnetwork.com/news_detail.php?nid=5333

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  • Cory77530 says:

    All this talk of a interm title is BOGUS!! If Sherk loses his appeal there is NO WAY in HELL he should keep his belt..Dana White is the BIGGEST joke in MMA.. A man that doesnt stand by the rules is a man that has NO HONOR…If UFC continues to run their organization like this then it will become the mockery Boxing has become…Dana has done alot for MMA but now its gone to to his head…Thats my opinion and Im sticking to it

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  • […] on UFC’s Middleweight division. Plus, someone is not buying the creation of UFC’s ‘interim’ Lightweight […]

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  • David says:

    “Ha ha ha, you dumb bastard. Its not a scooner it’s a sailboat.”
    It adds fuel to a Lightweight showdown between Stevenson and Sherk. They can sell BJ Penn/Sherk for the title no problem. Stevenson/Sherk isn’t sexy and needs some controversy.

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  • Sam Cupitt says:

    Kudos on the mallrats reference.

    Lets face it, Sherks suspension is probably going to be reduced if not dismissed completely. Which will give him a 6 month suspension that will allow him to fight in January. Just wait two weeks and give him Penn.

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