Interim Titles: A History Lesson

AEW’s path to crown an interim world champion is clear. Last Wednesday on Dynamite, #1 contender Jon Moxley beat Casino Battle Royal winner Kyle O’Reilly in a good back and forth contest. O’Reilly’s battle royal win was surprisingly damned with faint praise in the crowd and online. He’s a good wrestler, but some find the Undisputed Elite member boring.

NJPW was in a similar situation with their half of the interim title equation. Hiroki Goto is a good wrestler, but some find him dull as a character. No one expected Goto to beat Hiroshi Tanahashi at Dominion on Sunday, and they were right. Tanahashi pinned Goto in a highly engaging match despite the result never really being in question.

Jon Moxley will face Hiroshi Tanahashi to determine the interim AEW World Champion at Forbidden Door on June 26 in Chicago. CM Punk’s injury put a damper on things, but hopefully, the interim title will begin to right the ship. Of course, the end game down the line is the interim titleist colliding with Punk to determine an undisputed champion.

Does anyone know how the interim concept got started in the first place? I do, I do (eagerly raising my hand in class). So, here’s a history lesson.

In the 90s, boxing incurred an increasing problem of champions being unavailable to defend their titles for one reason or another. The sport’s contractual 120-day title defense stipulation was easy to circumvent.

At an executive committee meeting in April 1998, the World Boxing Association (WBA) first introduced and approved the practice of interim belts to fill the void left by the recognized champion.

When the recognized champion is ready to return, the interim title holder becomes the mandatory number one contender. However, if the real champion cannot return, the interim champion is promoted to full championship status.

The first-ever interim championship fight occurred in Caracas, Venezuela, in October 1998. Olympian Carlos Barreto beat Dominican champion Hector Acero-Sanchez for the interim WBA World Super Bantamweight Title (122 lbs.) The following year, Barreto lost his bid to unify the belts against the official champion, Nestor Garza.

While the interim concept started in boxing, UFC made it famous. The promotion first administered the concept when Frank Mir broke his femur in a horrific motorcycle accident in 2004, two months after winning the heavyweight crown.

Andre Arlovski submitted Tim Sylvia to capture the interim heavyweight title at UFC 51 in February 2005. Seven months later, Arlovski was promoted to full championship status due to Mir’s 14 months of inactivity due to the injury.

WWE initially used the concept in 2020 with the now-defunct NXT Cruiserweight Championship. Jordan Devlin could not enter the U.S. due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Santos Escobar won the interim title and beat Devlin to become the undisputed champion.

AEW had to jump into the interim pool in January as Sammy Guevara’s interim TNT Title run was born out of necessity. Cody Rhodes’ COVID-19 diagnosis while wrestling without a contract presented the real possibility that he might not return without dropping the belt. Cody returned, and Guevara beat him to become the undisputed TNT Champion.

Heck, I even used the concept back in 2009. “The Golden Greek” Alex Arion beat Sid Reeves to win North Shore Wrestling’s interim TV Title.

Hopefully, AEW doesn’t take a page out of UFC’s playbook and start abusing the concept when they feel like spicing up a card. Some feel CM Punk should have been stripped of the title instead of going the interim route. No matter how you slice it, AEW has a big-money match on the horizon when it’s time for two titles to become one.

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