I am sure you can hear Bruce Buffer’s voice in your head ardently announcing the winner of a championship bout as the new or still-undisputed champion. But what exactly does that mean?
An undisputed champion in the UFC is the current title holder in the respective weight class. Only one fighter can be an undisputed champion per division. Meaning the UFC can have 12 of them unless a title is free or there is an interim champion in a division.
The term “undisputed champion” comes from boxing, but things are a bit more complicated. There are some more details that you should know about the undisputed and interim champions, both in MMA and in combat sports in general.
What Is An Undisputed Champion in the UFC?
Each champion in the UFC and other MMA organizations becomes undisputed when they win the title by beating the previous title holder. This term means that the fighter is the true and legitimate champion of a weight division, and each division has its undisputed champion.
A champion can lose his undisputed status in two ways. The first and most common is losing his title, whether through defeat by a challenger, vacating the title for various reasons, or having the belt stripped as a form of punishment by the organization.
You can also lose the undisputed status if an interim champion in the weight class appears and contests the regular champion’s claim. But more on interim champions a little later in the article.
MMA is structured differently than boxing, and fighters are almost invariably contracted to the promotion they fight for, for example, the UFC. As the UFC is its own governing body, no one can dispute the title, and each champion becomes undisputed the moment he wins it.
So each UFC champion is an undisputed one. The same goes for other organizations like Bellator, ONE FC, etc. Each organization has its fighters, rankings, and titles, as well as its undisputed champions.
Undisputed Champion in Boxing
The term “undisputed champion” is widely used in MMA to bring relevance and weight to titles. Still, it comes from boxing, where things are different and more complicated. Currently, there are four major sanctioning bodies in boxing, each of which awards a world title. These are:
- WBA (World Boxing Association)
- WBC (World Boxing Council)
- WBO (World Boxing Organization)
- IBF (International Boxing Federation)
A boxer who holds a title given by one of the four organizations at a given weight class is considered a world champion. You see, boxers are not contracted to a single organization.
They can compete with every other professional boxer on the planet if their management can agree and one of the organizations mentioned is willing to sanction their bout.
This means each major title holder has a legitimate claim to call himself the best in the world. Thus, the term “undisputed world champion” is earned only when a boxer wins all four world titles. It holds much more significance than in other combat sports.
He is called a unified champion when a boxer holds two or more titles but not all four of them. The current era of four major belts makes becoming an undisputed boxing champion very difficult. At the end of 2022, only 3 of them are across all boxing weight divisions.
If you are confused, I will give you an example in MMA terms. If the UFC welterweight champion defeats the Bellator champion and then the ONE FC and Rizin FF champions, he will become the undisputed welterweight champion of MMA.
Of course, this scenario is impossible because MMA fighters are not allowed to fight for other organizations. Still, it can be given as an example if MMA had a similar structure to boxing.
What is The Difference Between Interim and Undisputed Champion?
An interim champion is crowned when the regular champion cannot defend his title for extended periods. This can happen for many reasons, but the most common is an injury that keeps them on the sidelines for months or a year.
Other times the champion may be inactive for different reasons, but promotions are interested in moving the divisions forward. This is why an interim title is introduced, and the top contenders fight for it.
Once an interim champion is crowned, the main title holder’s position is no longer undisputed, as the interim champion now disputes his claim.
The interim champion gets all the benefits, money, and media attention of a real champion. But in the eyes of fans and fighters alike, the status is not the same.
While the interim belt is a legitimate title, no one truly considers the wearer the one true champion in the division. Despite the absence that necessitated the creation of an interim title, the regular title holder is always considered the real champion, a sentiment also strongly supported by the fighters.
Title matches and grudge matches sell the most tickets and allow PPV events. This fact makes the existence of interim belts welcome for the UFC because the division does not stay stagnant, and championship fights can be made more often. This is where unification bouts come in.
A unification bout is a fight for the undisputed title between the regular and interim champions of a weight class.
These fights always have great magnitude and charge, as both champions claim they are the “real” top dogs in the division. This creates extra friction between them and makes the story of the fight more interesting.
The UFC is a master at promoting such fights. As evidenced by the iconic clash between Connor McGregor and Joe Aldo at UFC 192 when McGregor was the interim champion, and Aldo was the reigning champion returning from an injury layoff.
Months of thrash talk and an emphatic finish will go down as one of the most memorable moments in UFC history.
Another prominent interim champion in the UFC is Tony Ferguson. He was on a 13-fight winning streak and won the lightweight interim belt, only to lose it against Justin Gaetje and never get the chance to unify it with the regular title.
Another success story for an interim champion is when Israel Adesanya became interim champ in the absence of Robber Whitaker. Adesanya later defeated to become the undisputed champion and reign over the division for a long time.
We have witnessed both interim and regular champions become the undisputed king of a division. The unpredictability and narrative of unification bouts are what make them so popular and eagerly anticipated.
An undisputed champion in MMA is the title holder of a weight division, and he earns this title the moment he wins the belt. He stops being undisputed if he loses the title and when an interim champion is crowned.
In this scenario, the two champions must face each other to determine who the undisputed king is. The term originates in boxing, where more governing bodies award world titles. A boxer can become an undisputed champion only when he captures all the belts, currently four of them.