View Comments The holidays are fast approaching, bringing with them a glut of openings across the spectrum, from a seasonal entertainment with an Oscar winner in the lead to new sightings of iconic titles and a fresh glimpse of one of literature’s best-loved characters. For further information on a busy month ahead, read on!NOVEMBER 30 – DECEMBER 5She’s the Greatest Star: Sheridan Smith continues her unstoppable trajectory by stepping into the formidable shoes of Barbra Streisand when she plays Fanny Brice in the first London stage revival of Funny Girl since Streisand herself led the U.K. premiere. Tony winner Michael Mayer is directing the Menier Chocolate Factory revival with the redoubtable Harvey Fierstein on hand to tweak the book. Opening night is December 2 and a West End transfer to the Savoy has already been announced.Also: A busy week at the Royal Court kicks off with the opening December 1 of Noma Dumezweni playing the title role in Linda, a new play from playwright Penelope Skinner of The Village Bike renown. The same night sees the first preview of the commercial transfer to the West End of the Court production of Martin McDonagh’s wonderful Hangmen while Mia Chung’s Royal Court Theatre Upstairs entry You For Me For You starts previews December 3.DECEMBER 6-12Rabbit Hole: Alice in Wonderland has received the musical theater treatment at least once when a young Meryl Streep took the part over 30 years ago, but the National Theatre’s eagerly awaited production of wonder.land promises to be something else again with music by Damon Albarn from Blur and book and lyrics by Moira Buffini. Newcomer Lois Chimimba plays the teenage Aly, the character formerly known as Alice. Opening night is December 10 in the Olivier auditorium.Also: Tom Stoppard’s espionage-themed play Hapgood fared better first time around at Lincoln Center than it did on the West End, but its new Hampstead Theatre revival, directed by Howard Davies and opening December 9, may prove second-time lucky. Lisa Dillon inherits the title role originated by Felicity Kendal in London and Stockard Channing in New York. The same night sees the Apollo Theatre opening of Peter Pan Goes Wrong, a further exercise in japery behind the team of The Play That Goes Wrong.DECEMBER 13-19Dangerous Games: Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses was one of the defining plays of the 1980s, but it has fared less well in subsequent revivals both on Broadway and in London. That should change with the director Josie Rourke’s fresh production, which opens December 17 at the Donmar and boasts the leading players of one’s dreams: Dominic West, the stage veteran currently heating up TV’s The Affair, and Tony winner and two-time Oscar nominee Janet McTeer in the roles originated onstage by Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan.Also: With fast-rising director Max Webster at the helm and Tony-winning designer Rob Howell (Matilda) in charge of the visuals, Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax should be that seasonal entertainment suitable for children of all ages. Simon Paisley Day and Simon Lipkin head a large cast at the Old Vic. Opening night is December 16. The previous night finds Mike Bartlett’s short but powerful Bull returning to the Young Vic with a heavyweight cast that includes Nigel Lindsay and Susannah Fielding.DECEMBER 20-26Ho Ho Ho: It’s Christmas week so what better time to welcome the return to the London theater after too long an absence of Oscar winner Jim Broadbent playing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Noel Coward Theatre. Toby Sedgwick (War Horse) is on hand as movement director and the director is Olivier Award-winner Phelim McDermott, who staged Broadbent’s last London stage venture, Theatre of Blood, in 2005.Also: First post-opening week of the U.K. premiere at the new Found111 venue on Charing Cross Road of Richard Greenberg’s off-Broadway play The Dazzle, here starring Andrew Scott, better known as Moriarty on Sherlock. Daggers will be drawn and the wit will be flying when the National Theatre hosts its annual Christmas quiz on December 22. Want to see whether your favorite thesp is also his or her team’s smartest? Now’s your chance!
(Note: I say he because there have been no female interim champions to date in the UFC).Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a yearPrior to 2014, there had only been six instances where interim titles were created and because it happened so infrequently, fans acknowledged the value of winning an interim belt and held the achievement out as a fairly serious and meaningful accomplishment in a competitor’s career.Andrei Arlovski’s heavyweight title reign began with an interim title fight victory over Tim Sylvia after Frank Mir’s horrific motorcycle accident and remains arguably the greatest accomplishment of his professional career.Renan Barao entered the pound-for-pound discussion after claiming the interim bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 149. The Brazilian standout defended it twice before being promoted to undisputed champion at the start of 2014.Over the last five years, the UFC has crowned eight interim champions — three in the featherweight division and one in each weight class from heavyweight to lightweight, inclusive.Unlike in previous years, the promotion has gotten a little fast and loose when it comes to the reasons behind rolling out an interim title over the last five years. While some have fit the familiar criteria of a champion being sidelined due to an injury or dispute with the promotion, there have also been times were it has felt like the sole reason an interim title was introduced was in hopes that a second championship fight would help bolster the appeal of weaker pay-per-view events.While the extent to which interim titles have been introduced in recent years has been exaggerated to the point of absurdity at times, there have been some legitimate issues and causes for concern when it comes to the creation of these hold-over belts and how they have been handled by the organization.Of the eight fighters to win interim titles over the last five years, only three have gone on to compete in title unification bouts. The same number were stripped of their belts, while two others — Robert Whittaker and Jose Aldo — were promoted to being undisputed champions when the previous titleholder relinquished their claim to the throne.Having the same number of interim champions stripped of their belts for one reason or another as they have gone on to compete in title unification bouts over the last five years, while having two others simply elevated into “undisputed” status has sucked the value out of what it means to hold an interim UFC title.As much as they have always been “hold-over” titles, winning one used to mean something, but now they’re viewed as nothing more than a bit of costume jewelry sprinkled into the mix to add a little more shine on the fight poster and introduce increased stakes into a matchup.For the most part, fans are no longer swayed by interim titles and that creates a much larger issue for the UFC. This weekend at UFC 236 in Atlanta, two more interim titles are up for grabs, as Kelvin Gastelum and Israel Adesanya square off one in the middleweight division, while Max Holloway moves up to face Dustin Poirier for another at lightweight.Both are outstanding fights, though neither really needs there to be an interim title on the line to make them compelling.Additionally, the reigning champions in each weight class — Robert Whittaker at middleweight and Khabib Nurmagomedov at lightweight — have each successfully defended their respective titles in the last 10 months and are on track to do so again within the next six, meaning that neither division is going to go for too long a stretch without the champion putting their belt on the line, which used to be the sole reason for introducing an interim title.Even if you want to make the case that it will be more than a year since Whittaker’s last title defense by the time he returns to action in the late summer or fall, it’s not like “The Reaper” didn’t try to defend his title. He was scheduled to face Gastelum in the main event of UFC 234 back in February, but was pulled from the bout at the 11th hour after getting rushed into emergency surgery to repair a collapsed and twisted bowel and internal hernia.The thing that makes the introduction of two more interim titles a little messy is that the last two fighters to win interim championships have both been stripped of their belts.Tony Ferguson won the interim lightweight title in October 2017 and was stripped of the belt six months later when an injury forced him out of his scheduled title unification bout with Nurmagomedov at UFC 223.Two months later, Colby Covington won the interim welterweight title at UFC 225, defeating Rafael dos Anjos by unanimous decision. When he was unable to compete against Tyron Woodley in a unification bout at UFC, he was stripped of the belt he just won three months earlier.Given the way things have played out with the two most recent interim champions — and the sloppiness that has accompanied the roll out of interim titles in general over the last five years — it’s easy to understand why fans would be a little hesitant to get heavily invested in this weekend’s twin interim title fights when it seems like there are no guarantees that the winners will hold onto their belts long enough for these victories to be truly meaningful.Which is why the UFC has to bite the bullet and have Saturday’s winners face their returning counterparts next, no matter what.Regardless of whether those fights take place, as they’re currently penciled in for later this year or we have to wait several more months in order to make them happen, Whittaker and Nurmagomedov’s next championship assignments need to be against whomever wins the interim belts in their divisions this weekend, otherwise, what was the point of all this?Unless something truly catastrophic happens (knocks on wood) and one of these guys is sidelined indefinitely (read: for more than a year), this is the only way the UFC can operate going forward.Interim titles are basically just tickets to title fights, so if this weekend’s winners aren’t the next two to challenge for championship gold in their respective divisions, it renders Saturday’s festivities meaningless.Sure, two fighters will emerge with massive victories, but two additional standouts will also get saddled with losses that were an acceptable risk when a future title shot was on the line, but become a little harder to swallow if the guy that beat you ends up getting passed over and forced to face another top contender before fighting for championship gold.Ferguson’s injuries and now personal issues preventing him from fighting for gold thus far is somewhat understandable — although it’s also becoming one of the saddest stories in MMA — but Covington getting skipped over in favor of both Darren Till and Kamaru Usman is laughable. It not only stripped his interim title win of all value, but it has also tanked his momentum as a contender, even though he’s won six straight and has been the most obvious title challenger in the division for nearly a year.Creating a similar situation with any of the fighters competing this weekend would be inexcusable.All four are worthy contenders and deserving of title shots right now, without victories on Saturday night in Atlanta. Whomever emerges with championship gold around their waists will only further solidify their standing and make their case for being next in line to fight for the undisputed title that much more undeniable. Interim titles used to be a means of creating continuity within a division where the reigning champion was going to be sidelined for an extended period of time.It was a way of identifying the top active fighter in that weight class and keeping a shiny gold belt in circulation, while the injured titleholder was convalescing, with the understanding being that once the champion was ready to return, he would square off with the interim titleholder in a unification bout that would establish a new undisputed champion. Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a yearNo matter what other options present themselves or the unforeseen circumstances that pop up, Saturday’s new interim champions have to face their sitting counterparts in title unification bouts next or else the UFC should just do away with interim titles entirely.Unify or Bust!