The championship belt is a prized possession in the martial arts world. MMA, boxing, and wrestling all offer a belt as a trophy for their champions. However, can a boxer retire with a championship belt and not fight anymore?

When a fighter retires with a boxing belt, they keep the belt that they’ve earned. The boxing organization will make a new belt, and the next top two contenders will have a fight scheduled to achieve the title. This means that if a boxer retires while still a champion, their belt goes with them.

This article will go over what happens when a champion retires and examine several points in the boxing history that champions retire with their belts.

What Is a Championship Belt?

To understand what happens when someone retires with the belt, you need to understand what a championship belt is.

A championship belt is a physical belt granted to a fighter upon winning a martial art championship. In boxing, a new belt is made each time a new winner is crowned. That also means a championship belt doesn’t get passed around, so a fighter who previously won can keep their belt infinitely. 

In other words, a championship belt can mean two things:

  • A belt that was given to a current champion (one belt per champion crowned).
  • A belt that was earned by a previous champion (the previous champion gets to keep the belt they previously won).

Take a look at Floyd Mayweather. He held the World Boxing Council (WBC) Super Welterweight title or belt from 2013-2015. When he retired, he vacated his title as champion, giving up his “belt,” but got to keep the physical belt.

Other martial arts sports such as MMA and wrestling also have a championship belt that follows a similar set of rules. 

The championship trophy is the belt, and whether you are a current or former champion, you will always keep your belts once you’ve won one. 

3 Known Boxers Who Retired With Their Belt

In the history of boxing, there have been a few memorable retirements from boxers who still had the champion title. Below are 3 examples: 

  • Floyd Mayweather retired from the WBC super welterweight division in 2015. 
  • Vitali Klitschko retired for the second time from the WBC heavyweight division in 2013. 
  • Lennox Lewis retired from the WBC heavyweight division in 2004.

It can be confusing to understand what is supposed to happen once a champion retires. These specific examples show the simple process.

First, the current champion decides to retire, keeping their belt but giving up the title of champion. Second, the number 1 and 2 rank fighters face off to win the now vacant title. 

Floyd Mayweather

Floyd Mayweather retired several times throughout his career in boxing, but his most recent was in 2015 when he held the super welterweight (light-middleweight) belt. When he retired, this left a vacancy for a champion of this division. The World Boxing Council scheduled a fight between Jermell Charlo and John Jackson the following year in 2016. 

Jermell Charlo won this title by knockout and became the new champion of the light-middleweight division. Charlo now holds the “belt” for this weight class. 

In 2015, Mayweather also held the welterweight belt. This title needed to be filled as well. Danny Garcia and Robert Guerrero battled for the title, with Garcia winning via unanimous decision to take the welterweight championship.

Vitali Klitschko

Like Mayweather, Vitali Klitschko retired more than once and completed many belt defenses. Klitschko’s most recent retirement was in 2013 after 9 title defenses. A few months later, in 2014, Bermane Stiverne knocked out Chris Arreola to claim the WBC heavyweight title.

When Klitschko retired, the WBC granted him “Champion Emeritus,” which meant that if he chose to fight again, he would instantly challenge the current heavyweight champion for the belt. This is not done for every champion who retires, but the WBC deemed it appropriate with someone with a history as storied as Klitschko. 

Vitali initially retired in 2005 while still holding the belt. He was granted “Champion Emeritus” status at that time as well. He returned in 2008, 3 years later, dominating the current champion to win back the heavyweight belt.

Lennox Lewis

Just before Vitali Klitschko came to be champion, Lennox Lewis was enjoying a long unbeaten streak and the heavyweight championship belt. Klitschko was the number one contender for the belt, so Lewis and Klitschko faced off in 2003. 

Klitschko was winning on the judge’s scorecard, but the officials stopped the fight due to a cut on Klitschko’s eye. Lewis retained his belt via technical knockout (TKO). This was a highly debated decision that warranted a rematch.

Lewis was supposed to fight Klitschko for this rematch, but Lewis repeatedly refused. After several attempts to schedule this fight, Lewis retired from boxing. At this point, Klitschko was able to fight for the belt and earn his place on the throne.

Why Does It Matter To Retire With a Belt?

The logic for retiring with a boxing belt is simple.

Retiring a champion with a belt means no one can take that championship away from the boxer. This way, the boxer’s legacy will live on forever. A championship belt will eventually become a significant trophy with sentimental value to the boxer.

The competitive itch never completely goes away for many boxers, and then they end up un-retiring to win the championship belt again. Mayweather, Klitschko, Lewis, and many others all did this. 

Injuries are also a reason why someone may retire while they’re on top. Injuries are a frustrating part of being an athlete. If somebody accumulates enough injuries, it may be frustrating enough to quit the sport entirely. This is what usually happens with older boxers when they realize they can’t deal with the wear and tear of the sport any longer.

Final Thoughts

The belt symbolizes the championships you’ve won in the past while also signifying the current champion of the respective weight class. Once you’ve won a belt, you will always be considered a champion. Retiring with the belt gives you the satisfaction of finishing your career at the top of your sport and ending on a high note. 

While retiring takes away your title of “current champion,” you will always be able to hold on to the fact that you left boxing as one of the best.