In the latest unfortunate change to February 10th’s UFC 221 card in Perth, Australia, an interim middleweight title fight between Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero was almost called off after Romero failed to make weight. Initially stepping onto the scale at 188 pounds, Romero managed to get his weight down to 187.7 before everyone just threw their hands up in disgust and started negotiating on whether the title fight would still go down or not.
In the end, a deal was reached with Rockhold getting a percentage of Romero’s purse and who knows how much extra money to still accept the fight. He’ll still have a chance of winning the interim middleweight belt, but Yoel doesn’t get the belt if he wins. He would, however, still get to fight real middleweight champ Robert Whittaker next, which kind of just underscores what a sham this interim belt is.
UFC 221 started out looking pretty good, with the UFC expecting their new middleweight champ Georges St-Pierre to defend his belt against interim champ and Australia native Robert Whittaker in his home country. Then St-Pierre dropped the belt due to colitis. Whittaker was upgraded to undisputed champ and Luke Rockhold was announced as his opponent. Then Whittaker got a staph infection in his colon, knocking him off the card.
In the UFC’s mind, you can’t have a pay-per-view event without a belt on the line, so they brought in Yoel Romero and made Rockhold vs. Romero an interim title match, even though Whittaker is already back to training. Interim belts used to be a last resort when a champion was unable to defend for a year or more. Now they’re little more than an optical illusion the UFC creates whenever a gap in the schedule or injury hiccup derails their matchmaking efforts.
The meaningless nature of this latest belt is underscored by Romero missing weight, and the UFC’s increasingly frustrated fanbase is clearly getting tired of the seemingly never ending interim shenanigans.
Politics and business maneuvers aside, UFC 221 is still worth checking out. Rockhold vs. Romero is as legit of a #1 contender bout as you can get. The undercard features Mark Hunt, fellow Samoan knockout artist Tai Tuivasa, top Chinese prospect Li ‘The Leach’ Jingliang, and the UFC debut of Israel ‘The Stylebender’ Adesanya. There’s a whole lot to like about this card, but the UFC hasn’t done a very good job of promoting it. Instead, they’ve kept the focus squarely on the main event, which in this case was just the latest chaotic mess that’s tested the passion and commitment of the fanbase.