Interim titles are back in vogue in the UFC as two of them will be on the line in one night at UFC 236 in Atlanta on April 13.
UFC officials announced the creation of interim titles in the lightweight and middleweight divisions for the event, which has been slow to materialize just over a month out.
Featherweight champion Max Holloway will move up to 155 pounds for a rematch against Dustin Poirier in the main event, with Israel Adesanya taking on Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight belt in the co-main.
The purpose of the interim belt in the lightweight division is the suspension of current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. He is out until July for his role in a postfight brawl at T-Mobile Arena in October, but could return as soon as April should he help produce an anti-bullying PSA. Nurmagomedov, however, is unhappy with the one-year bans imposed on his training partners for their involvement and has said he is unlikely to return before those are lifted.
That opened the door for an interim belt to be created, an opportunity top contender Tony Ferguson turned down, according to UFC president Dana White, because he believed he had earned the right to wait for Nurmagomedov or fight for the outright title.
Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have been booked to fight on four occasions in the past, with each bout falling through.
The champion believes Ferguson made a mistake in not accepting the interim title fight.
“Tony, you had your chance and you missed it, and that’s your fault only,” Nurmagomedov posted on Sunday night. “You know that I’m disqualified and can’t fight, but it’s not fair to strip me of the title. I fought three times in nine months. I won and defended my belt.”
Poirier owns a previous win over Holloway, registering a first-round submission win over the future champion in his UFC debut in 2012.
Gastelum was scheduled to fight Robert Whittaker for the middleweight belt earlier this month in Australia until the champion fell ill and had emergency hernia surgery on the day of the fight. He is expected to be out several more months, clearing the way for Gastelum to instead fight undefeated striking phenom Adesanya.
A light heavyweight bout between Eryk Anders and Las Vegan Khalil Rountree has also been announced for the event.
Danis fined, suspended
Bellator MMA welterweight Dillon Danis was suspended seven months and fined $7,500 by the Nevada Athletic Commission on Monday for his role in October’s UFC 229 post-main event brawl.
Danis, a close friend and training partner of Conor McGregor, was the target of Nurmagomedov’s attack outside the cage.
He is alleged to have triggered the incident with his taunts and gestures and was charged with unsportsmanlike conduct by the commission for his actions. Commission officials indicated he was restrained by security personnel on several occasions.
The ban is retroactive to Oct. 6.
PFL lands ESPN deal
The second season of the Professional Fighters League is headed to ESPN in a deal announced on Monday.
A multi-year agreement calls for PFL, which features a regular season and playoff format, to air on ESPN’s family of networks and ESPN-Plus in the United States and TSN in Canada.
Regular season events will air on Thursday nights.
Fans will have the opportunity to check out the stars of UFC 235 at Thursday’s open workouts, which are free to the public on the casino floor of the MGM Grand from 1 to 3 p.m.
Champions Jon Jones and Tyron Woodley will be in attendance, along with challengers Anthony Smith and Kamaru Usman. Promotional newcomer Ben Askren and former welterweight champ Robbie Lawler will also participate.
The event airs on pay per view from T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night.
Dern to take maternity leave
Undefeated grappling phenom Mackenzie Dern announced she is pregnant and will not make her return to the UFC next month as expected.
“God makes everything so perfect,” the 25-year-old wrote on Instagram. “I am so happy to be able to share this news! I’m going to be a Mom! I love so much our family and now I have one more HUGE motivation for inside and outside the ring!! Thank you God for this blessing. I also want to thank all my fans and sponsors for the support during all the life phases and I can’t wait to be back in the ring!”
■ Saturday: UFC 235 (ESPN/PPV), T-Mobile Arena
■ March 9: UFC Fight Night 146 (ESPN-Plus), Wichita, Kansas
■ March 16: UFC Fight Night 147 (ESPN-Plus), London