In the tumultuous world of the UFC heavyweight division, where title bouts are both highly anticipated and often delayed, a new layer of drama has unfolded. Former bantamweight titleholder Aljamain Sterling has added his voice to the chorus of opinions surrounding the recent developments in the heavyweight landscape, particularly the fate of the interim champion, Tom Aspinall.
UFC 295 marked a pivotal moment as Tom Aspinall clinched the interim heavyweight championship with a decisive victory over Sergei Pavlovich. This triumph came in the wake of the reigning heavyweight king, Jon Jones, being sidelined due to an injury, leading to the postponement of his much-anticipated clash with Stipe Miocic.
With the interim belt now adorning Aspinall’s waist, questions loom about the path that lies ahead. The newly minted interim champion wasted no time in voicing his desire for a showdown with Jon Jones or, if circumstances dictated otherwise, for Jones to relinquish his title. Yet, as Sterling points out in a recent video on his YouTube channel, the UFC seems to be charting a different course.
In the typical narrative of the UFC, when an interim champion emerges, the expectation is that they will face the original champion upon their return to competition. However, the Jones vs. Miocic bout, once Jones is cleared to compete, seems to be the organization’s priority, potentially leaving Aspinall in limbo.
Sterling, known as “Funk Master,” expressed empathy for Aspinall’s predicament, describing it as frustrating. In his analysis, he questioned the very essence of introducing an interim belt if a unification bout isn’t the immediate next step upon the original champion’s return.
“That’s where it kind of doesn’t sit right with me,” Sterling remarked. “I feel for Aspinall on that because I’m just like ‘What the heck is the point of the interim championship if I’m here, I’m ready to go, and when the champ gets back I’m not going to unify the belts, I’m going to have to wait.'”
The sentiment Sterling articulates captures the essence of the collective confusion among fans and fighters alike. The purpose of an interim championship, traditionally, is to ensure the division keeps moving forward in the absence of the reigning champion. It serves as a placeholder, awaiting the return of the undisputed champion for a unification bout.
In Aspinall’s case, the young and dynamic interim champion finds himself in a situation where the established norms of the UFC might be set aside in favor of a high-profile clash between Jones and Miocic. The irony lies in the fact that while Aspinall is healthy, active, and eager to prove himself against the best, the traditional path of a unification bout seems to be in jeopardy.
As the dust settles in the heavyweight division, fight fans are left grappling with the uncertainty surrounding the future. Will the UFC prioritize the unification bout, or will Aspinall be relegated to the sidelines, awaiting his shot at the winner of Jones vs. Miocic? Only time will reveal the course the UFC chooses and whether the interim belt will serve its intended purpose or become a symbol of the unpredictability that defines the sport.