UFC Installing Time Restrictions on Interim Title Belts Is a Good Thing
The Dominick Cruz saga hasn't benefited anyone.
Not Cruz, certainly. The bantamweight champion has been out of action for over two years. Two years and seven days, to be precise, and you can be sure Cruz is painfully aware of the number. He's 28 now, which means he's missed a decent portion of his prime just sitting on the shelf, watching the division he rules swirl around beneath him. He can't do anything about it, though, not with repeated knee injuries preventing him from competing.
Not Renan Barao, the former interim champion who is pretty much considered the real champion by everyone except for Cruz at this point. Barao is still in the midst of the same stunning winning streak he was in when Cruz went on the shelf, except now he's also the owner of a dubious record he'd rather avoid: most interim title defenses in UFC history. He's got two of those, and I'm sure he'd trade both of them for one shot at the real thing.
Not the bantamweight division. Fighters usually compete for one contending spot. They know who the champion is and know they'll be rewarded with a title opportunity if they work their way to the top. Except in the bantamweight division, that is, because there are two champions who must eventually face each other when Cruz returns from injury. That's understandable, but it probably doesn't make things much easier for Raphael Assuncao, who might just find himself waiting on the sidelines for Cruz and Barao to settle things, should he get past T.J. Dillashaw at UFC Fight Night 29 on Wednesday night.
Thankfully, all of this will be over soon. UFC president Dana White noted during a Monday afternoon media conference call that his promotion would soon institute time limits on interim championships.
"We have thought about that. We will do it," White said. "We're probably going to do that soon."
Which means this: If you're a champion and you get injured, you either hope you're able to return quickly or you resign yourself to earning the gold one more time. No longer will you be able to remain in your lofty perch until you're well and healed and ready to come back and defend your belt.
Nobody blames Cruz. He's a likable guy, a deserving champion and someone who has done everything White and the UFC brass have asked of him. It's no surprise that White allowed Cruz to remain champion all this time. If I was in his shoes, I probably would have done the same thing. Because, as White said, you just can't help but feel bad for Cruz.
"It's a combination of me feeling really bad for him, and him being such a good person," White said. "Do I think we let it play out too long? Maybe. But if I look at who the champion is, then I say no. I feel bad for the kid."
But there eventually comes a time when feeling bad for someone just isn't enough to offset the cost of doing business, of keeping a division operating. Cruz is rapidly approaching that mark: If he isn't ready to face Barao by February, it's likely that he'll be stripped of the championship. Barao will find the "interim" tag removed from his belt, and Cruz will have to earn the title he never lost in the first place.
If White sticks to his word, there will never again be a situation where an injured champion is allowed to hold his place while he's on the shelf for lengthy periods of time. This is a good thing. But the truly interesting test of this new policy, if we can even call it a policy, will come when one of White's truly marketable champions is injured and unable to defend his belt for a year or more.
Jon Jones? Ronda Rousey? Georges St-Pierre? Is White willing to toe the line and strip his mercurial and popular personalities of their belts if they can't compete for long periods of time?
That remains to be seen. But it's a good policy, one that's been a long time coming.
All quotes were obtained firsthand. Jeremy Botter is the lead UFC writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.
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