During a meeting of the Executive Committee of the WBA in April 1998, both the concept and practice of interim titles was introduced.
Recognizing the problem posed by a world champion temporarily unable to defend his title for reasons beyond his control — e.g., injury or illness — the WBA decided that two highly ranked contenders would challenge for a particular weight division’s interim title. When the world champion returned to the ring, the interim titleholder would be his mandatory challenger, with the winner of that bout recognized as world champion. That’s the ideal scenario, but there are indeed other possibilities. For example, should the world titlist be unable or unwilling to face the interim titleholder, the latter would be declared world champ.
Prior to the introduction of interim titles, a world champ was given up to 120 days to return to the ring. Should he have failed to do so, the title would have been declared vacant. Both promoters and boxers objected to the rule, considering it rigid and arbitrary in the context of how regularly and frequently, and sometimes seriously, fighters are injured.
The first challenge for an interim WBA title took place in Caracas, Venezuela, on October 3, 1998, when Carlos Barreto fought Hector Acero-Sanchez for the interim WBA World super bantamweight title, Barreto winning by unanimous decision. The first such title challenge in the United States took place in Fort Worth, Texas, on February 20, 1999, when Antonio Hernandez stopped Justin Juuko by 11th-round TKO for the interim WBA World super featherweight title.
Over time, the reasons for interim title matches have become increasingly flexible. One objective, for instance, is to create or develop opportunities in diverse markets around the world. Interims also serve to ensure stability and continuity within weight divisions.
Several world champs were one-time interim titlists, including middleweight phenom Gennady Golovkin, currently WBA Super World middleweight champ, while Chris Eubank Jr. is the interim WBA World middleweight titlist.
Truly international, interim title-holders have come from such countries as Germany, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Cuba, and Russia.
In addition to the WBA, the WBC, WBO, and IBF, as well as the sanctioning bodies of other combat sports, have all introduced interim championships.