MMA Barometer: The Age of the Interim Belt
MMA Barometer: The Age of the Interim Belt

This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.

Apparently, the new fad in the UFC is the interim title fight. In the last week alone, announcements have been made for interim title fights in both the UFC featherweight division and UFC light heavyweight division. It was revealed that Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar will fight at UFC 200 for the interim featherweight title and, after an announcement of an injury to Daniel Cormier, Jon Jones will fight Ovince Saint Preux for the interim light heavyweight title at UFC 197.

In the past, the UFC has not had many interim title fights. In the UFC today, it is generally viewed as a success if champions defend their belts twice in one year. Conor McGregor won the featherweight title in December, making it less than six months since he defended his title. This does not seem to be a long enough layoff to warrant an interim title. Cormier has not defended since October, but a four-to-six week leg injury does not seem severe enough to create an interim title that could possibly be held by a lower-ranked fighter like Ovince Saint Preux. Even though these interim belts might not make the most sense, they present two new interesting matchups.

The most intruiguing of the interim title fights is definitely Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar. These two met in a fight-of-the-night featherweight title bout in 2013 which Aldo won by unanimous decision. Since that time, Edgar has won five in a row and Aldo has won three of four, with his only loss coming to Conor McGregor. At this point, it seems like Edgar has kept improving while Aldo has been through a few wars and seems to have diminished slightly in his ability. This should be a great fight, and the winner will supposedly get a shot at Conor McGregor. Edgar has been denied a title shot for too long and I expect his cardio and insane pace will be too much for Aldo at this point, and Edgar will finally get a chance to get his hands on McGregor.

The less exciting matchup is Jon Jones and Ovince Saint Preux. This fight will not even be close. Saint Preux is a big, athletic light heavyweight, but he will have no chance against Jon Jones. He may be able to be somewhat competitive in the standup, but once the fight hits the mat it will be over quickly. The only chance Saint Preux has is catching Jones and landing a lucky punch. Making this an interim title fight is puzzling because Saint Preux was submitted by Glover Teixeira in the third round just two fights ago, and beat Rafael Cavalcante in his last fight. Cavalcante was recently cut by the UFC. That does not sound like somebody who is worthy of being an interim champion, which is a possibility if he beats Jones. However, this seems like a warmup fight for Jones to set up a future fight with Cormier to determine the real UFC light heavyweight champion.

As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.

Rising


Cris "Cyborg" Justino
The time has finally come! Cris "Cyborg" will make her UFC debut at UFC 198 in her home country of Brazil. Since losing her mixed martial arts debut in May 2005, Cyborg has reeled off 15 wins in a row, with 13 of those victories coming by way of KO/TKO. Her first contest in the UFC will come at a catchweight of 140 pounds against an always game Leslie Smith. This is a horrible matchup for Smith, who has been known to choose to stand and bang with her opponents, and that led to her ear literally almost being ripped off in her fight against Jessica Eye. If Smith plans to exchange on the feet with Cyborg, it is a very dangerous game to play. The likely outcome in that scenario is Cyborg destroying Smith inside of one round. However, even if Smith decides to go to the ground it will be no picnic. Cyborg holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is more than capable of grappling with any woman in the world. The only hurdle Cyborg has to get over is the stringent performance enhancing drug testing administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Cyborg has had issues in the past with drug testing, but it has been a number of years since she failed a test. If she is able to pass all of the USADA tests, Cyborg will most likely make a big splash in the UFC women's divisions. However, one potential problem is that this fight will be contested at 140 pounds, but the UFC does not have a 140-pound women's division and Cyborg has claimed it is impossible for her to make the 135-pound bantamweight limit. This leaves the major question of what will happen after the Leslie Smith fight. Will Cyborg actually be able to make 135 pounds? Will 135 pound fighters continuously come up to 140 pounds to challenge Cyborg? Will the UFC create a new women's division? These are all major questions that need to be answered. However, for the time being Cyborg's stock has never been higher, as she will finally make her UFC debut, and there is a good chance the fight will end in spectacular fashion – no woman has been able to come close to beating Cyborg in over 10 years.

Next Fight: Leslie Smith, UFC 198: Werdum vs. Miocic (May 14, 2016)

Neil Magny
Neil Magny has won three fights in a row since losing via submission to Demian Maia. In his last fight against Hector Lombard, he displayed the heart and cardio of a true championship contender. Almost all MMA fans know that the key to beating Lombard is to withstand his initial attack in the first round, which is exactly what Magny did. Magny weathered the storm, and even though the argument could be made that the fight should have been stopped, he survived until the second round. Once the second round began Magny's trademark cardio was on display as he picked apart Lombard and eventually got him to the ground and landed over 40 unanswered strikes, but Lombard was able to survive until the third round. Magny got the TKO victory early in the third round because Lombard was so fatigued. This shows how dangerous Magny can be because of his cardio. Any fighter who is dragged into the later rounds will be at a distinct disadvantage. An 80-inch reach in the welterweight division does not hurt Magny either. Magny is riding high on his winning streak, but once again he will be thrown in with the elite of the division. Each time he gets to this point, Magny has lost fights. He is still searching for that signature win that can make him a title contender, and hopefully he will be able to achieve that in his next fight.

Next fight: TBA

Beneil Dariush
Dariush will look to improve his winning streak to six fights after a nearly eight-month layoff. Dariush's last victory was a highly controversial split-decision win over Michael Johnson, but nonetheless, a victory over Michael Chiesa will put the No. 7-ranked UFC lightweight in the title mix. Chiesa, the No. 14-ranked UFC lightweight, is a dangerous opponent in his own right and known for his crafty guillotine choke which Dariush will have to be sure to avoid. If the fight goes to the ground, it should be interesting to see who has the advantage, as Chiesa has multiple submission victories in the UFC and Dariush is a multiple time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion. Chiesa has won four of his last five and Dariush six of his last seven. It will be a very exciting opportunity for Dariush as he looks to break into the title picture.

Next Fight: Michael Chiesa, UFC Fight Night: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson (April 16, 2016)

Check Status


Khabib Nurmagomedov
Even though he has not competed since April 2014, Khabib Nurmagomedov is still the No. 2-ranked UFC lightweight. He holds a professional record of 22-0 and really has not had a competitive fight in six bouts in the UFC. In his last fight, Khabib rag-dolled current UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, and it is difficult to imagine a rematch being any different if Khabib is still the same fighter after his litany of injuries. The majority have been knee injuries, which will make it interesting to see if Khabib can bounce back and maintain the explosive athleticism he has relied on in past fights to land throws from the clinch. He will not have any time to ease back into the octagon, as Khabib's return fight takes place against Tony Ferguson, who has won seven fight in a row. This fight will essentially serve as a title eliminator, with the winner presumably getting a shot at Rafael dos Anjos. If Khabib can pick up where he left off in 2014, it is not hard to imagine him being the UFC lightweight champion by the end of 2016.

Next Fight: Tony Ferguson, UFC Fight Night: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson (April 16, 2016)

Falling


Hector Lombard
After over a year away from the octagon, Hector Lombard was finished by Neil Magny in the third round at UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Mir. Lombard was suspended for that year because of a violation of the UFC anti-doping policy. The big question was whether Lombard would maintain all of his tools after coming back from the suspension, and be able to comply with the new and stricter UFC drug testing policy. It seemed like Lombard still had his old power, but after an opening blitz against Magny which almost finished the fight, Lombard was exhausted. This allowed Magny to dominate the fight in the second round and eventually secure a finish in the third round. Not to say that Lombard only got tired because of stricter drug testing, but it is a possibility. Many fighters would be exhausted after trying to finish an opponent in the manner that Lombard did against Magny, but he was certainly more exhausted than in the past when he tried to press the action. Maybe it was a weight cutting issue as Lombard has announced his intention to return to the middleweight division for his next fight (per MMAFighting.com), but Lombard definitely did not seem like the same fighter. Perhaps a new weight class will be beneficial to Lombard, but after the Magny fight it is hard to believe we will ever see the dominant fighter that Lombard was in Bellator before he came to the UFC.

Next Fight: TBA

Dan Henderson
With only a 2-6 record in the last three years it seems like Dan Henderson's career may be coming to an end. As a legend of the sport, Hendo's heart and experience will always make him dangerous in a fight, but he certainly cannot compete on a regular basis with the elite of the sport at this point. The most concerning aspect of Henderson's game is his formerly granite chin has now become suspect. Against Gegard Mousasi, he was knocked out by essentially a jab in the first round, and in his last fight he was finished one again in the first round by Vitor Belfort. The one tool that Henderson still has is his devastating overhand right, which can change the complex of any fight. His next fight against Lyoto Machida will be intriguing because each athlete is on the downswing of their career and Machida has lost three of his last four. Their fight will likely stay on the feet, so it will be a good opportunity to test Henderson's chin. Each fighter is coming off of a KO/TKO loss. If Henderson is finished early once again, he might have to make a decision regarding what to do with his fighting career.

Next Fight: Lyoto Machida, UFC Fight Night: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson (April 16, 2016)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Evan Dahl
Evan Dahl is a law student who has been a die-hard MMA fan for over a decade. Outside of MMA, he roots for the Broncos, Brewers and Bucks.
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