At this point, someone should probably offer a college course on understanding the UFC’s middleweight division.
If you haven’t been paying super close attention, it’s complicated. And trying to catch up can be downright confusing. I’m sorry, but, what exactly is a half-interim title fight again?
Here are the CliffsNotes: Michael Bisping won the title back in June 2016 in one of the “feel good” stories of the year. That story turned into a bit of a charade, as Bisping ignored legitimate title contenders and went on a Money Tour, involving fights against Dan Henderson and Georges St-Pierre.
In order to maintain (or at least portray) some semblance of order, the UFC created an interim title fight between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero last July. Whittaker won and was then elevated to official champion late last year after St-Pierre beat Bisping and immediately dropped the belt.
Things finally appeared to be returning to normal at that point, as Whittaker booked a title defense against former champion Luke Rockhold. But then, Whittaker was forced off the UFC 221 event with adult chicken pox and staph infection, and Romero took his place in an interim title fight.
Then, Romero missed weight ahead of UFC 221, which meant he was ineligible to win the belt. That created the rare and ridiculous sounding “half-interim title fight” situation. The interim belt was on the line last weekend, but only for one of the two men involved.
To complicate things further, of course, Romero won by knockout. So, he’s not an interim champion, but he’s expected to challenge Whittaker next. Whittaker has the unenviable task of defeating Romero for an interim title, and now defeating him again in an immediate rematch in his first defense.
The whole thing is strange, and less than ideal if you’re the UFC. If an explanation as to how this projected Whittaker vs. Romero rematch came to be requires a full-length documentary, that’s not a good thing. But the UFC created this situation in how it handled Bisping’s title reign, so it’s on them.
The rematch, however, is 100 percent the correct fight to make. Yes, Romero missed weight this past weekend for the Rockhold fight, but he took the bout on four weeks’ notice. That doesn’t mean he’s immune from any criticism, but it’s certainly worth taking into consideration.
Some fans are saying Romero should be punished for missing weight — more or less ignoring the fact he already was. Romero was fined 30 percent of his purse last weekend, a substantial chunk of change. He was also ineligible to receive a $50,000 bonus, which he might have won otherwise.
Romero, 40, has won nine of 10 fights in the UFC, and is now coming off a third-round knockout over the former, clear cut No. 1 contender. He has no history of missing weight, other than last weekend.
This 185-pound division needs to move forward. And even though a second fight between Whittaker and Romero — less than one year after the original — might feel like a move backward, it’s the only next step the UFC should consider.