Every sports league needs a symbol, whether it be a logo, player or something distinct.
For the UFC®, there are two images that stand above the rest — that of The Octagon® and the UFC title belt.
In anticipation of the UFC's 25th anniversary in November, the history of The Octagon was on full display, but it wasn't until the promotion announced its new 'Legacy Championship Belt' in January that the title strap was thrust back into the spotlight.
With this being the third official version of the UFC's highest prize, we're stepping into the cage and looking back at the history, transformation and evolution of the UFC belt over the last 25 years.
First UFC Belt (1995-2001)
To the surprise of some, the original UFC belt didn't debut until the promotion's fifth event, UFC V: Gracie vs. Shamrock 2.
The UFC planned to give out two belts during the 1995 event, one to the winner of an eight-man tournament, and the other to the victor of the "superfight" between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock.
The eight-man tournament was won by now-UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn, who was awarded the first ever UFC championship belt after a submission victory over Dave Beneteau.
However, here is where the weird bit of history kicks in.
In the main event of UFC V, Gracie and Shamrock were to compete in a 30-minute fight to determine the winner of the other belt. The two titans of the sport went to war for the half-hour, but neither were able to gain an advantage.
The match was officially clocked at 31:06 before referee John McCarthy separated the two fighters.
With the UFC's rules still in their infancy, there wasn't a direct ruling to point to in the case of no definitive decision, so a five-minute overtime was granted.
Gracie and Shamrock embraced again, and as was the case in regulation, neither were able to take over the other.
The contest was called a draw, or rather just no winner was named, so the second belt was never given out. In fact, nobody in attendance even saw the belt, resulting in a mystery after the event about its whereabouts.
As part of the UFC's 25-year celebration, it was finally revealed about what happened to the belt. UFC founder Art Davie told the story about how he held onto the belt for roughly two years following UFC V, eventually selling it to a collector.
Variations of this belt design were used for years to come, but the general logos and iconography on the face of the belt remained the same.
UFC 2.0 Belt (2001-2019)
So to start off — this section is titled with a bit of a misnomer, but it's the best way to describe the era of the belt that most people associate with the UFC.
This version of the UFC belt had several variations, but a timestamp can be put on the final version of it arriving at UFC 32 on June 29, 2001.
The belt's introduction came hand-in-hand with the introduction of Zuffa, LLC as the parent company of the UFC in January 2001. Under new ownership, the UFC wanted a belt that could drive them into a modern era. With the help of belt designer Dave Millican, a new championship title took over as the face of the organization.
The final version of the new title was awarded to Tito Ortiz at UFC 32 after successfully defending his light heavyweight championship against Elvis Sinosic.
With an almost two-decade long history, it's hard to think of any UFC champions who haven't had their career-defining moment with this belt, whether it be Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Conor McGregor, etc. Three layers of solid gold became the standard that fighters tried to live up to and the one that took you from a competitor to a member of history.
Legacy Championship Belt (2019-Present)
To usher in a new era, you have to make bold changes.
While the imagery of the Zuffa-era UFC belt had become cemented in the minds of mixed martial arts fans, the UFC was ready to make a change with new ownership under WME and a new digital broadcast distribution deal with ESPN.
In honor of the promotion's first event on ESPN+, the new 'Legacy Championship Belt' was introduced to audiences around the globe on January 18, 2019.
The first recipient of the Legacy belt was current flyweight champion Henry Cejudo, who defeated T.J. Dillashaw in just 32 seconds to retrain his title.
The belt itself does contain an incredible amount of detail, and the name legacy didn't come out of thin air. The center plate of the championship features colors representing the first eight countries that were represented by UFC champions:
- USA — Mark Coleman
- Canada — Carlos Newton
- Brazil — Murilo Bustamante
- Netherlands — Bas Rutten
- Poland — Joanna Jedrzejczyk
- Belarus — Andrei Arlovski
- UK — Michael Bisping
- Ireland — Conor McGregor
Grab a Pic with the Legacy Belt
With an Official Ticket Package from the UFC VIP Experience, you can get your hands on the new UFC Legacy Championship belt and take a photo op. That's right — you don't need to be a champion to grab a photo with the biggest prize in the sport.
An Official Ticket Package also gets you access to fighter meet & greets, premium hospitality and much more at select UFC events. Pick your fight from our calendar of events: