I have seen the same question on many MMA forums for years. Many times people try to answer it in a few words. On some sites, former fighters chime in as well. Overall, the answer is not as simple as it seems, and even the fighters themselves might not know what actually goes on. I have spoken to many people over the last 7 years in regards to this, and have tried to put together what I feel is the most complete answer to a complex question.
The best answer is, yes and no, depending on the time. It has changed many times depending on various circumstances.
I would like to take some time and expand on the answer, by further investigating what was going on during different periods of UFC history.
SEG Days: Back in the early days of the UFC, J-Mar made new belts for each event. Belts were made for each tournament and SuperFight. The winner kept the belt. The SuperFight belts had the fighters name, event title and date eventually added to the belt, by adhering an engraved, trophy shop plate to a blank area in the side plates. The Tournament belts, usually had the unique logo of the event on them.
Dark Ages: These boxing style belts had the same look for each weight class. The only way to distinguish them, was the wording. Again, new belts were made for every title fight. Each belt had the event name, date and fighter names on the side plates. This is why you see guys like Tito Ortiz and Frank Shamrock with 3-4x of the same looking belt.
(The “Dark Ages” is a term commonly used by MMA fans to classify the period of UFC history, where they were kicked off PPV in most parts of the United States.)
Early Zuffa: New belts were made by J-Mar right before the SEG sale of the company to Zuffa. These belts were used at UFC 30 in Atlantic City. All of the champions were given the new belts, although only Jens Pulver and Tito Ortiz appeared with them on TV. Randy Couture also has one. This style of belt featured the weight class on the main plate.
Those belts were replaced quickly at UFC 31, by the v1 octagon belts. These J-Mar made belts, look similar to the ones used today, but most distinctly, had the octagon painted black. Again, all current champions received a new belt. The side plates had the weight class name on it, but nothing specific about name, event, etc. There was a blank part, to later add this like the SEG belts, but it was not done.
Mid Zuffa: Octagon v2: These were the first belts made by Reggie Parks and Dave Millican (referred to together as Midwest) for UFC. These were similar to the first octagon belts, but now had a 2nd layer on the main plate (UFC and the Octagon were stacked on top of the base plate). The side plates also had a slight modification to them, and displayed the weight class name. Current champions were given a new belt. When you won the belt, you kept it. According to Dave, they were not giving new belts for title defenses around this time. UFC, as well as numerous other MMA companies were ordering numerous belts, many rush orders, and on top of that, there was the normal work load of fan and wrestling belts. I don’t believe it would be possible for Midwest to produce new belts to be given away on a constant basis. Also factor in, that these new belts were much more expensive than the previous J-Mar made belts.
The v3 Octagon belts, now had “UFC” as a 3rd stacked layer on the main plate and no longer mentioned any weight class. The same belt could be awarded to anyone. These belts were even more expensive. Wait times continued to get longer as well. Still, new champions were given the new title design. Win the belt, keep it. Defend it, not guaranteed to get a new belt, depending on how many were on stock. Dave did say that Zuffa was always ordering belts, but they also liked to keep many on hand.
I personally do not believe they had a “set” system for this. For title defenses, a new belt was on hand near the cage, to be presented to a new champion. Many times, the champion wore out their own belt. I have seen some events where the champion who retains, has their own belt put back on them. Other times, I have seen Dana White put the new belt on them. A few people have mentioned that when this was done, they were supposed to give the new belt back after leaving the cage, but who really knows if this always happened.
Current Zuffa: UFC 107: Penn vs Sanchez was the first time I noticed the change in the belts. They looked like toys. After asking around, talking to people, and weeding through tons of drama, I started to see what was happening.
Earlier that Summer, Zuffa had new toy belts made overseas, and sold on their website (UFC, WEC, and PRIDE) for $399. They had this done without letting the belt makers know, and also modified the artwork without approval. The artwork is copyrighted by the belt designer (Rico Mann). Nothing has ever been said, but I have to assume there was a problem between sides over this. I’m not sure if it was due to royalties, copyright violation or what?
Many years ago, J-Mar mentioned that Figures Toy Company, who sell the replica WWE belts (and the first runs of UFC replicas), have many times, purposely misreported sales numbers to WWE, in order to keep from paying royalties to the belt makers.
Could it be possible, that with the production of new replicas, the business relationship dissolved?
Either way, at 107 they stopped using the REAL belts made by Dave Millican. At first, I thought these were the new replica belts. At publicity events promoting the Abu Dhabi event, they used the replicas, as you could see the vinyl strap, and screw posts in the back. They also used the replica belts after the WEC merger, where they had all champions on stage with belts. At least 2 were replicas, as you could see the stiffness in the strap, and the screws showing on the back, when they put them over their shoulder.
I made a few threads on the MMA Underground about this trying to get an answer. Dana White responded, saying nothing changed with the belts, they were the same belts they always used, I’m blind, etc.
After UFC 111 I asked Shane Carwin about his belt, and he described some features of it to me. It was NOT a real Millican made belt, but it was not a $399 toy replica. Best way to describe it would be a “modified” replica.
After enough research, it turns out, Zuffa is just having the belts made by someone else. But why do they look so much different than the top end belts? Tracking down leads, it seems the plates are coming from Pakistan. In a future blog, I will go into much greater detail on Pakistani belts. Many of you collectors are already aware of this though. Pakistan has been making piss poor, illegal copies of many well known wrestling, boxing and MMA belts for years, and flooding the market with them.
From what I could tell, it looks like they made a cast copy of one of the real belts, and are using that to make these new versions. These belts are cheaper, lower quality, but quicker, and easier to produce. I would estimate these belts cost between $500-$1,000. I’ve been offered them for less by co-workers of the main manufacturer, who are trying to branch out on their own. These guys are scumbags and have no integrity. I would highly advise to never purchase a belt made by any Pakistani plate maker, and to boycott any American belt company, that outsources their plate production to Pakistan. Again, another argument for another time.
Obviously, with these belts being so much less expensive, they appear to become more liberal with them, as proven by numerous interviews conducted with UFC champions that show multiple title belts, despite them not losing.
Former WEC Operations Manager and current UFC and StrikeForce Director of Operations, Melissa Henricks, maintains that they do not give out new belts for title defenses. On the other hand, it seems all you have to do is ask. Tim Sylvia mentioned receiving a new belt after the Jeff Monson fight, simply by asking Dana White for it.
Sooooooo……… As you can see, the answer is not cut and dry. There are periods where the answer is yes, other times, they did not. While the official stance from Zuffa is no, it seems you might be able to sweet talk your way into an extra one as numerous sources have shown.
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