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‘Undisputed’ UFC titles in 2023 are anything but

There’s plenty to dispute about the current UFC light heavyweight and future heavyweight titles

Jamahal Hill won the UFC light heavyweight title at UFC 282
Jamahal Hill won the UFC light heavyweight title at UFC 282
Photo by MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP via Getty Images

The MMA world willingly suspends disbelief whenever the UFC calls one of its titles the “undisputed” world championship.

The term “undisputed” champion was originally picked up from boxing, where it holds a more specific meaning and rare accomplishment, when a fighter simultaneously holds every single major belt in his division (WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO).

In MMA, the UFC belt is one of many promotional titles, and at the end of the day, it’s “simply an award they bestow on the best fighter that night.”

In the earlier years, PRIDE, and to some extent Strikeforce, had clear say on having some of MMA’s best champions. These days, many of us have been guilty of just accepting whenever the UFC uses the undisputed descriptor. The logic behind this is with the UFC now being by far the most prominent MMA organization in the world, often — but not always — it has the top fighters under its banner, and usually the “best” fighter in the division holding their belt.

Although in 2023, when the UFC tries to promote its current light heavyweight champ and future heavyweight titleholder as “undisputed,” it should give us all pause.

It didn’t take the UFC long to tag Jamahal Hill as the “undisputed light heavyweight champion” after he defeated Glover Teixeira at UFC 283. I won’t denigrate what Hill did that night in Rio de Janeiro. He put a beating on Teixeira that became uncomfortable to watch as the fight wore on. The contest was so one-sided that Teixeira’s longtime coach John Hackleman tried to end the carnage that was unfolding in the octagon and throw in the towel before the start of the final round.

Hill won the fight cleanly and without dispute, but to call him the undisputed UFC light heavyweight champion is a stretch. Remember, the Teixeira vs. Hill fight only came to be because the UFC 282 light heavyweight title fight between Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev ended in a draw that bored UFC president Dana White so severely that he disqualified either man for competing for that vacant title.

The titles vacancy is another reason to question the UFC’s proclamation that Hill is the undisputed champ. The man who vacated that belt, Jiri Prochazka, relinquished the UFC light heavyweight title because of a shoulder injury that prevented him from defending the title as he was originally scheduled to do — against Teixeira — at UFC 282.

If one wants to look deeper at the situation at light heavyweight, there are also those of the opinion — and I count myself among that group — that Hill isn’t even the second-best light heavyweight in the world.

So yes, Jamahal Hill is the UFC light heavyweight champion, but undisputed? Not at this time. At the very least, Hill has to beat Prochazka and even then, there will be some doubt to his undisputed status with Bellator light heavyweight champ Vadim Nemkov competing in the 205-pound weight division.

The idea that the UFC is trying to sell the winner of the upcoming UFC 285 heavyweight title fight between Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane as “UNDISPUTED” is, frankly, laughable.

That belt is vacant because the UFC could not come to contractual terms with Francis Ngannou, the man who won the title in March 2021 and then defended it in January 2022. When the UFC stripped the free-agent fighter of the title in January 2023, Ngannou had won six straight fights — five by knockout — and was coming off a decision win over Gane.

There’s no way that the winner of the Jones vs. Gane fight will be the undisputed heavyweight champ, as the actual “undisputed” champion never lost his belt. If Gane wins, fans will point to his loss to Ngannou. If Jones claims victory at UFC 285, the win will be his first at heavyweight, and only beating the number two (or three) heavyweight. Either way, the shadow of Ngannou will rightfully hang over the victor of that fight.

What I’m getting at here is that now is the time we stop suspending disbelief when the UFC makes a sweeping, patently untrue declaration and start seeing things more dispassionately. And objectively speaking, the current UFC light heavyweight champion and the soon-to-be UFC heavyweight titleholder are not undisputed — even if the promotion wants to proclaim them to be in bold and all caps.

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