To be the man, you've got to beat the man.
Such is the path of a world champion. Often times, however, champions choose to leave their organization and forfeit their title without ever actually losing. In this case, how can someone be the man, if the man has already left?
In come linear titles.
Linear titles take the concept of beating the man to the extreme, making unofficial titles that are passed on when champions, who have been stripped of their title for one reason or another, fight and lose.
In short, the title is split into the true title that remains with the organization and the linear title which follows the holder.
These titles can be passed on even when fighting outside of the original organization, but are often restricted to the title's original weight class.
Do these unofficial linear titles matter or is all just a bunch of fluff concocted by fans as a point of debate?
Let's take a look at some of the linear titles that have been created throughout UFC history and find out.
Current Holder: Alistair Overeem.
Holders (in order): Randy Couture, Enson Inoue, Mark Kerr, Kazuyuki Fujita, Mark Coleman, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Fedor Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem.
Fate: To be contested at UFC 141 between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem.
The heavyweight title is the oldest title in the UFC. It only follows that it has been split more than any other title. This one will be broken down into four slides, starting with the oldest.
The original linear title was created when Randy Couture left the UFC due to a contract dispute. He then entered Vale Tudo Japan 98 and lost the title. This title has been passed around through several organisations including Vale Tudo Japan, Pride and Strikeforce.
At UFC 141 the linear title is returning to the UFC when Alistair Overeem fights Brock Lesnar. The winner of that fight will go on to face Junior Dos Santos and unify the linear title with the true title.
Final holder: Bas Rutten.
Holders: Bas Rutten.
At UFC 20, Bas Rutten defeated Kevin Randleman and won the vacant UFC heavyweight title. Rutten, who had suffered many training injuries during his long career retired after that fight.
Rutten came out of retirement seven years later for one last professional fight at WFA: King of Streets in 2006 where he defeated Ruben Villareal.
The title, along with Rutten, retired permanently after that fight.
Last Holder: Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović.
Holders: Josh Barnett, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović.
Fate: Unified with first linear UFC heavyweight title.
Josh Barnett defeated Randy Couture for the heavyweight title at UFC 36, but tested positive for steroids in a post fight drug test. He was stripped of the title and booted from the UFC as a result.
Barnett would lose the linear title two years later at Pride 28 to Mirko Cro Cop.
At Pride Final Conflict 2005, Fedor Emelianenko who held the first linear heavyweight title and Cro Cop who held the third would fight to unify the titles. Emelianenko won and took the unified title.
Last Holder: Jeff Monson.
Holders: Frank Mir, Maracio Cruz, Jeff Monson.
Fate: Unified with true UFC heavyweight title.
The final heavyweight linear title never left the UFC. It was created when Frank Mir suffered a motorcycle accident and relinquished his title because he could not compete. He lost in his first fight back to Maracio Cruz at UFC 57 and Cruz lost it to Jeff Monson in his next fight to Jeff Monson.
Monson challenged Tim Sylvia for the heavyweight title at UFC 65 and unified the two titles with a loss.
Last Holder: Frank Shamrock.
Holders: Frank Shamrock.
The UFC light heavyweight title was only ever split once when Frank Shamrock left the UFC due to lack of competition. Shamrock went undefeated as a light heavyweight and never suffered a loss until a drop to middleweight.
Since all of Shamrocks losses came as a middleweight, he never relinquished the title and it was retired when he left the sport in 2009.
Last Holder: Chael Sonnen.
Holders: Murilo Bustamante, Dan Henderson, Kazuo Misaki, Paulo Filho, Chael Sonen, Demian Mia, Nate Marquet, Chael Sonnen (2).
Fate: Unified with true UFC middleweight title.
This title is tricky if you're not careful. Murilo Bustamante created this title when he left the UFC for Pride. Though he lost in the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix to Quinton Jackson, that fight was contested at 205 according to pride rules.
Bustamante would lose the linear title in the Pride Welterweight (185 lbs.) Grand Prix Final to Dan Henderson. This title would change hands several times in Pride, the WEC and UFC.
Chael Sonnen held the title twice, gaining it versus Paulo Fiho in the WEC and again against Nate Marquet at UFC 109. The title would be unified with the true middleweight title in the infamous main event of UFC 117 against Anderson Silva.
Last Holder: Georges St-Pierre.
Holders: BJ Penn, Georges St-Pierre.
Fate: Unified with true UFC welterweight title.
When BJ Penn left the UFC for K-1 he took the linear welterweight title with him. Penn lost an openweight bout to Lyoto Machida at K-1 Hero's 1 but since it was out of his weight class, he retained the title.
Penn would return to the UFC at UFC 58 in a title eliminator against Georges St-Pierre where St-Pierre in a very contested decision.
St-Pierre defeated Matt Hughes at UFC 65 unifying the true title and the linear title.
Last Holder: Gray Maynard.
Holders: Jens Pulver, Duane Ludwig, Tyson Griffin, Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard.
Fate: Unified with true UFC lightweight title.
Jens Pulver was the first UFC lightweight champion and left the UFC due to a contract dispute, taking the title with him. He would lose the title to Duane Ludwig at UCC 12: Adrenaline.
The title would make it's way to Strikeforce and then back the the UFC with Tyson Griffin and eventually off to Frankie Edgar and then Gray Maynard.
When Edgar and Maynard closed their trilogy at UFC 136 they unified the linear title and true title.
Last Holder: Sean Sherk.
Holders: Sean Sherk,
Fate: Unified with true UFC lightweight title.
Sean Sherk was the man to claim the lightweight title when it was reinstated in 2006. After failing a post-fight drug test in 2007, Sherk was stripped of the title but remained in the UFC.
His next fight was a chance to reclaim the title against BJ Penn. With Penn victorious the shortest lived linear title was unified with the true title.
Linear title will always be a point of debate among fans. Even though most of the UFC titles have been unified with their linear counterparts, fans will continue to draw back to these linear titles.
And this article doesn't even dive into the Pride belts.
So what's your take on linear titles? Are they an important part of history or are they just fools gold?