The Epic Debate – Of Interim Titles, The Middleweight Division and Anderson Silva, Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort

As always, sometimes a quick email between friends who also happen to write for a website together can often turn into a fiery, epic debate. This week the question of whether or not an interim title needs to be awarded if Anderson Silva doesn’t defend it until this time next year.

Scott Sawitz, Managing Editor and Featured Columnist: Dude, you don’t know how much pain I’m in now.

Shawn M Smith, Editor in Chief: What did you do this time?

Sawitz: I tried Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu … figured why not give another sport besides soccer or wrestling a try, you know? Took a couple classes at a local place; guy actually was trained by Relio Gracie and rolled with Royce and the gang before BJJ became popular. Really nice but my body just can’t take this tish anymore, you know. I’m hurting now. Not just sore; painful. You’d think after wrestling at a fairly high level for almost a decade my body would just shrug it off BUT NO.

Smith: Welcome to your mid-30s, man. Nothing you do out of the ordinary will leave you walking and pain-free. I ran for a little longer than normal yesterday and I’m hurting, too.

Sawitz: I wish all things could be like the A Capella group I was a part of during college. That was easy and nobody got hurt.

Smith: You were a part of a singing group? You don’t exactly have a singing voice, dude.

Sawitz: True, but when it’s a dozen guys you don’t stand out. Plus our choice of music made it easy. We just sang songs that were featured on “Family Guy” … we called ourselves No Giggity.

Smith: Sigh … and you write for me. So what’s your boggle?

Sawitz: Michael Bisping vs. Vitor Belfort. With Anderson Silva not wanting to fight until the end of 2013, he wants an interim title. Your thoughts on the matter at hand?

Smith: I’m inclined to hear him out, provided he defends the title between now and before a title fight against Silva. If Silva’s going to wait until the end of 2013 to defend the middleweight title an interim belt should happen with over a year of inactivity in defending it and such.

Sawitz: See, I‘ve always thought of interim titles as fairly useless; either strip the champion or wait it out. MMA interim champions rarely defend their titles, instead choosing to wait, and as such I tend to think you shouldn’t award them unless you have to defend the title.

Smith: If this were the mess that occurred a few years back with the heavyweight title, I would understand your trepidation in allowing an interim strap. This, however, really might be extenuating circumstances. We might be getting the super fight that we’ve been clamoring about for years. Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre is right there for the taking now. Both parties are talking about it in some capacity and it would be too big of a fight to turn down. So what if Silva doesn’t defend until the end of 2013? He’ll still kill whomever he’s facing, so why does the belt and the greatest fighter of all-time need this kind of disservice? He shouldn’t need to “win back” his own belt by placating Michael Bisping with the middleweight title, for crying out loud.

Sawitz: At the same time if a champion is going to sit back and chill for over a year, it’s sporting to defend the title. You know I’m jonesing for the Super fight BUT if Silva isn’t going to fight at all for over a year and he’s not hurt the division needs to move forward. I’m taking Silva t his word at this point; if he doesn’t want to fight because he’s making a movie then he needs to be a champion, not a flunkie in a Z-level direct to video action film he stars in for like 20 seconds. Anderson Silva is in that air where he can pick his spot, and I’m all for it, but interim titles shouldn’t be glorified #1 contender straps either. Last interim champion to defend their title was Big Nog, if memory holds correct, and Carlos Condit didn’t defend his title before GSP. Renan Barao might not either. Titles should be titles, not placeholders for rankings.

Smith: I think you just made my point re: interim straps, but that is neither here nor there. Frankly, Silva is champ. He shouldn’t be stripped if it’s the “big one” and that training is what ties him up for the majority of 2013. That’s a statement of fact. If he’s doing that direct-to-DVD film with Lyoto Machida that you speak of or some other dumb film project, then Bisping has a gripe, but not a direct claim to the belt. He needs to beat the other top contenders first

Sawitz: Interim titles are just a waste of time and effort, though. If Bisping wins he should be in line for a title shot anyways but one man, and I don’t care if it’s the greatest fighter who’s ever graced the sport, should hold up a division. If the superfight happens I have no problem but just deciding to take time off to “do your thing” without a major injury isn’t cool either. There comes a point when being mercurial is one thing but not fighting when you can and should is another. But giving an interim title out so Bisping can sit at home in England, drinking his tea, until Anderson Silva deigns to defend his title isn’t cool either. Interim titles are useless; what’s the difference if he beats Belfort, then beats the Philipou-Boetsch winner, and then faces Silva in 12.2013 without a belt? NOTHING.

Smith:And there’s still the legitimate claim by Tim Boetsch to the potential strap as well. Here are the middleweights that sit between Tim and the title: Chris Weidman (hurt), Chael Sonnen (who is off to Light Heavyweight now) and Bisping. Belfort is coming off a loss to Jon Jones at light heavyweight, which does not a contender make, and certainly not at the weight class below. I say that if Andy Silver wants to take a powder, let’s find the best four fighters at 185 that aren’t dead or hurt and have a mini-tournament. We just did it for the flyweight strap, why not let the winners of Bisping-Belfort and Boetsch-Philippou fight it out for the strap and give Silva the first shot when he feels like fighting? That might be fun.

Sawitz: But it’d be a paper championship until the real champion decides to fight; in the sheer amount of time it’d take to get a #1 contender between the Barbarian and the butter-toothed Brit, et al, you’d fall into a perfect timetable anyway. Giving out an undeserved title doesn’t do much for me; the division would be better served by having whoever comes out of Bisping/Boetsch/Philippou/Belfort take on Silva with Weidman vs. someone like Brian Stann (or some equivalent) directly underneath it after he gets a tune up fight this summer when he comes back. Giving out a fake title alongside adds zero to the equation.

Smith: But that’s boring. Silva clearly isn’t into defending the belt at 185, he’s only done so twice a year for the past three years. As he’s aged, his defenses have become fewer and far between and rightfully so. Dude’s great and deserves the right to be treated like a champion. That being said, I like my plan. It gets the strap off Silva, not temporarily, but permanently, unless he decides to fight at middleweight again. Dude, he has nothing to prove against these guys and while watching Bisping get picked apart by Silva would be beyond rad, there’s no sport to it.

Sawitz: There is plenty of sport to it; from a sporting perspective it’s a matter of doing things in that fashion. If Silva doesn’t want to fight at middleweight anymore then he shouldn’t seemingly hold the division hostage either. An interim title doesn’t do anything but muddy the waters. Carlos Condit gained nothing from being an interim champion, neither did Shane Carwin, just by holding the belt.

Carwin got respect by playing “Whack a mole” with Frank Mir’s face.

If Silva is bored by being champion then he should relinquish the belt, fight GSP or walk away. I think he has the right to pick and choose his spots but just not fighting isn’t good, either. Just when the middleweight division is flush with new faces he’s not interested in taking a fight in the division. As Ric Flair said to be the man you have to BEAT the man. And so far Anderson Silva is the man. Plenty of guys want to challenge him for that title, though, and I think a champion should feel a sense of obligation in that regard.

Smith: But he doesn’t feel that obligation to the division. Sure, he feels obligated to the UFC and its fans, as evidenced by his saving of the recent UFC show, but in all honesty, I can’t say that I think he wants to be in there any more. Get his super fight and get him some other big money deals but get the belt off him. Okay, we can use him to make a star in Bisping or Boetsch, but those guys aren’t going to drive the division forward like Silva has. They just prove that there’s a wealth of talent there. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Silva needs to decide what he wants to do. He deserves the benefit of the doubt and if he wants out, the mini-tournament is the way to go, I think.

We’ve had our take on the subject. How about yours? Let us know your thoughts below.

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