Fan Questions | Martial Arts History

Do UFC Fighters Get To Keep Their Belts?

Every time a UFC fighter wins a championship fight, we see them get a belt wrapped around their waist inside the Octagon. However, there has been speculation surrounding whether or not fighters actually get to keep this belt, or if they simply hold on to one belt after each defense never getting a new one.

So in this post, I’m going to explain exactly how the belt system works in the UFC. Do UFC fighters get to keep their championship belts?

In short, yes, former UFC champions get to keep their old belts. With the original UFC belt, fighters competed for a new belt each time, even if they were defending champions. With the current legacy belt system, fighters receive one belt, and get a new ruby to place on the belt after each title defense.

The new belt system differs considerably from the old one, and there is some history that explains why that is. In the rest of this post, I will cover the differences between the two systems, how the belts work today, and why it changed.

The Classic UFC Belt System

So for the majority of the UFC’s existence, they have used what is now know as the “classic” belt. If you’re not sure what it looks like, I’ve included the image below, where Tony Ferguson is being awarded the classic belt at UFC 216.

Tony Ferguson winning the classic UFC belt after defeating Kevin Lee at UFC 216.
Tony Ferguson winning the classic UFC belt after defeating Kevin Lee at UFC 216.

Later in the post, I’ll include an image of the newer legacy belt. However, what’s important now is the different systems used to administer these belts.

So how exactly did the old belt system work?

Basically, under the old system, every time a fighter won in a championship fight, they were awarded a new belt. For example, TJ Dillashaw is the former UFC Bantamweight champion, during the old system. In a Q&A video he did on his YouTube channel (seen below), he explains that he has five belts, even though he has only won it twice (with three defenses).

In the video, after getting asked if champions keep the belt, Dillashaw says: “You do, and actually every time you defend it you get a new belt too, so I’ve got five of them.”

So this is the part some people get confused about. Under the old system, you got a new belt even if you were the current champion defending your title. So in Dillashaw’s case, he is a two time champion, meaning he had two reigns as champion.

For his first reign, he beat Renan Barao for the belt, and then defended it twice (before losing it to Dominick Cruz), equaling three belts for Dillashaw. In his second reign, he beat Cody Garbrant to reclaim the title, and then won the rematch to get another two belts, five belts in total.

TJ Dillashaw first won the belt against Barao at UFC 173, and has wins in five title fights.
TJ Dillashaw first won the belt against Barao at UFC 173, and has wins in five title fights.

Although this is commonplace in boxing, and seems like the most reasonable way to award championship belts, Dana White has had issues in the past with not awarding a fighter a new belt after every win.

Back in 2017, then-Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson was set to make his 10th consecutive title defense. However, Johnson had an issue with the fact that other UFC champions had continued to receive new belts, while he still only had one.

However, Dana White surprised everyone when he claimed that this was never the policy in the first place. When talking about the issue, Dana said, “That’s not the way it works. You don’t get a new belt every time. You defend your belt, you keep your belt. If we were handing out belts with every single defense, that would be a lot of money. And to be honest with you, we don’t even have eight more belts. They bring them, we order them as we do events. There’s going to be a backup on his belts, but he’s going to get them.”

Demetrious Johnson  eventually received all of his belts, which he wanted so that he could take this Floyd Mayweather-inspired photo.
Demetrious Johnson eventually received all of his belts, which he wanted so that he could take this Floyd Mayweather-inspired photo.

However, this is the only time a UFC has ever publicly had an issue with the UFC not awarding them a belt after a title defense.

In the end, Johnson received his belts, and it seems that every champion has received a belt after each defense ever since. Or at least, until the new Legacy Belt era.

The UFC Legacy Belt System

At the start of 2019, the UFC revealed that they had redesigned the UFC Championship Belt. They introduced it on their website on January 17th, and Dana presented it in person the next day.

Henry Cejudo was the first fighter to win the Legacy Belt after defeating TJ Dillashaw on January 19th, in Cejudo’s first defense of the Flyweight title.

Henry Cejudo wins the first UFC Legacy Belt after defeating TJ Dillashaw at UFC Brooklyn.
Henry Cejudo wins the first UFC Legacy Belt after defeating TJ Dillashaw at UFC Brooklyn.

With the introduction of the new design also came a new system for awarding belts. The Legacy Belt features two plates on the sides of it, each bordered with eight white stones.

According to the UFC website, upon winning their first championship fight, a fighter receives a Legacy Belt that will be used throughout their UFC career. This is the only belt the fighter will ever be awarded, unless they win a championship fight in a different weight class.

Instead of awarding the fighter a new belt after every title defense, the UFC will update the fighter’s belt by replacing one of the white stones on the plates with a ruby. The ruby signifies a successful defense of their title.

This is the belt plate where the rubies are added. The plate also features engravings of the date and location of each win, with the fighter's name and weight in the center.
This is the belt plate where the rubies are added. The plate also features engravings of the date and location of each win, with the fighter’s name and weight in the center.

After winning their title fight, the fighter is to mail their belt’s plate to the UFC. The UFC will return the plate with a ruby added, as well as engraving the date and location of their title defense.

It seems that the system was updated by the UFC to reduce cost, although this has never been confirmed. This idea was seemingly shared by Henry Cejudo after winning the belt, when he joked about budget cuts.

“It sucks because the only thing I would complain about, is they used to give us a new belt every time you fight”, said Henry at the post-fight press conference. He jokingly added, “So now they got a little smarter, ‘We’re just gonna add a little crystal now’. Little budget cut, but I see you!”

Check out Henry’s full reaction to the new belt below.

So to sum up the Legacy Belt era, fighters do not receive a new belt each time they win a championship fight. They only receive a belt upon their first championship win, and receive a ruby on the belt plate after each title defense.

Conclusion

So that’s pretty much it for the two belt systems that have ever existed in the UFC. In the early days of the UFC, they also handed out tournament belts, but those were only given out once to the tournament winner, and these belts were never defended.

Here’s a summary of the two belt systems and how they pertain to fighters keeping their belts:

In short, UFC fighters do keep their belts after winning a championship. Under the classic belt system, fighters received and kept a new belt every time they won a championship fight. Under the new Legacy Belt system, a fighter only receives one belt for their career, and receive a ruby on their belt after each title defense.

I hope this post helped you understand how the UFC’s belt system works. If it did, please consider checking out similar posts on the Fan Questions page. Thanks for reading!

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