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UFC championship belts are the most coveted in the sport of mixed martial arts. Only ever given to their champions, the question has arisen as to whether or not UFC fighters are allowed to keep their belts when they win?
Whether when they win a championship for the first time or are defending their title, UFC fighters would get to keep their belt. That all changed in 2019 when the new UFC legacy belt was enacted and the champion now gets to add a new ruby to it following each successive win.Shop Best Selling Fighter Apparel and Merchandise
Today at this time of writing things have now changed. With the champion no longer being given a new belt after each win. The UFC now has in place a new system of awarding championship belts called the legacy system.
We will go into that in more detail later on in this piece. But for now, let’s take a look back at the original and what many believe is the better of the two in the classic pre-2019 version.
The Classic UFC Belt
Sometimes referred to as the classic or original UFC championship belt. This is the belt that long time fans of the UFC will be familiar with. It’s the belt that that was front and centre in the old Face the Pain music intros. And it’s the belt that has been worn by everyone from Chuck Liddell right up to Demetrious Johnson.
The UFC debuted the first championship belt back at UFC 5 in 1995. The first fighter ever to wear UFC gold is heavyweight legend, Dan Severn who had won the belt after winning that night’s tournament.
Then in 1997 at UFC 12, the era of the divisional champions began. With a new champion being crowned for each of the new divisions. And another old school legend, heavyweight Mark Coleman being the first of those to receive the new belt.
How Much Is A UFC Belt Worth
As we will discuss in the coming segment, the change in the belts that the fighters were awarded may have had a lot to do with the cost involved. And with some variation in the estimated price, the rough prices given were somewhere in the region of $300,000 to $333,000 per belt. Perhaps depending on the price of gold at the time.
So not a small investment for the promotion and pretty prohibitive longer-term as over the years as the UFC added additional events. Meaning more regular title defences, ergo more rather expensive belts to be handed out.
And if there’s one thing we know the UFC is good at, it’s saving those dollars and cents. So with that in mind let’s take a close look at the latest iteration and see how it stacks up to the one’s that came before.
Zuffa Take Over in 2001
So before Zuffa took over in January 2001, under SEG who were the owners of the UFC. The awarding of new belts for champions was inconsistent, to say the least. As the fortunes of the promotion were fading, the owners were more concerned with keeping the company afloat rather than handing out new championship belts.
But under Zuffa, all that changed (or so they say) as both new and defending champions were given a spanking new belt. After capturing the title and then with each successful defence.
But as you can imagine the costs were no doubt beginning to stack up. And while the UFC was raking in the cash. The little matter of forking out a cool $300k plus each time for a championship fight was no doubt jarring to the UFC’s accounts department.
Especially when it came to a certain champion who had a habit of not generating as much revenue as some of his peers. Even as many people’s pound for pound, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. Widely regarded as one of the greatest pound for pound fighters to ever compete.
Mighty mouse was not a huge success in terms of PPV numbers. And so you had a champion who would not lose, bringing in below parr numbers across the board. Yet owed a new belt after each rather easy title defence.
Perhaps the reason the UFC was a little slow in giving him any of his additional belts outside of the first one he had won. An issue that came to the fore when he attempted his tenth title defence. Voicing his concern at never having received his other nine belts.
But his words had not fallen on deaf ears, or perhaps the UFC were caught off guard. As one of their greatest champions felt he had to go public in order to claim what was rightfully his. UFC president Dana White would comment following the Kansas city event saying;
“I’m going to get him his belts, he’s definitely getting his belt from tonight, and then I guess I’ve got some catching up to do.”UFC president Dana White told UFC.com
A tough pill to swallow if the UFC had thought they would get away with not awarding the champion the belts he had won. And White added that handing out new belts with every title defence was not, in fact, the way things went saying;
“That’s not he way it works, people don’t win belts every time. You defend your title, you keep your belt. If we are handing out belts with every single defence here, its a lot of money.”UFC president Dana White at UFC Kansas
However, former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw can attest to that statement not being true. As the proud owner of five UFC championship belts. Dillashaw was given one for each time he captured the 135 titles, along with the three subsequent title defences.
So there are without a doubt holes in White’s explanation of how the belt system worked. And not really a small issue champions could have simply misunderstood. When in reality it would no doubt have to be written down somewhere in black and white in their respective contracts.
The New UFC Legacy Belt
Weighing in at ten and a half pounds, the new UFC legacy gold belt is the latest iteration of the championship strap to be created. The major change, of course, is that champions will not get a new one after each successful title defence.
As with the new belt, there is a plate containing placeholders for a series of ruby stones. Allowing for a new stone, along with an inscription for the event to be inserted following their win.
So a far cry from handing over a brand new one-third of a million dollars right? The UFC has got its head screwed on and no doubt could not wait to find a reason for the changeover. Which just so happened to align with their new ESPN+ deal, woohoo.
In a tweet published on Jan 18, 2019, the UFC announced that the coming Saturday night at Kansas city for Cejudo vs Dillashaw. Would be the first time the new Legacy belt would be put on display.
And Dana White would later show off the belt for the very first time in a rather unceremonious daytime chat on ESPN’s GET UP morning show.
Why Did UFC Change Belts
So a valid reason for the change of belts could be easily be mustered by UFC brass. Something which would maintain the integrity accrued by its predecessor. Allowing the latest version to carry on the lineage with its head held high.
But let’s actually be honest and realistic about it. The UFC was spending a small fortune on issuing a new belt each time either a fighter own or defended.
So fighters such as Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson with 10 and 11 championship wins. Could be looking at several million dollars worth of gold sitting gathering dust in their TV room cabinet.
There can be little doubting the new owners WME ING, who had already made some big cuts across the board. Didn’t also look at the bill for issuing new belts and thought, we need to put a cap on this and fast.
And with some quick thinking and good marketing, the all-new Legacy belt was born. One belt to rule all others, ten and a half pounds of gold handed out to each new champion, but one time only.
Add a little bit of glitter following each successful title defence and you end up saving the company a small fortune.
The UFC champion belt is widely regarded as one of the greatest in all combat sports. And being able to become a UFC champion and capture it even time is the stuff of dreams. And holding on to it even after losing your championship is one of those huge pluses.
However, the change from the classic to the new legacy belt has meant that fighters will no longer be able to amass a collection following each title defense. No doubt when it comes to the company balance sheets it makes plenty of sense.
But now with the new belt being issued. The UFC is able to stem the haemorrhaging of cash when having those new belts minted. Something which could well have left the UFC president with a tear in his eye when it came to fulfilling the flyweight champions request.
And regardless of what anyone thinks of the new system, it is nowhere to stay. And like it or not the legacy belt is the one future champions will be bringing home for the foreseeable future.
Hi, I’m Ross, at 40 years plus, I have been involved in the Martial arts for most of my life. Along with my first pet Collie dog named Tyson, RIP. My journey in the world of Martial Arts is something I want to share. So that others too can learn from my experiences.