The History of Wildcat Championship Belts

A ‘Mark’ from the Start…

“In order to get from Point A to Point B, you need to map out each step that you will need to take to get there. The hardest part is taking the first step.” - Tony Robbins

Growing up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in the 80’s and 90’s, professional wrestling was a huge part of my life. It wasn’t exactly considered ‘cool’ to be a wrestling fan in those days, but I never let anyone else tell me what I should or shouldn’t like. I made that decision for myself. I was — and still am — a huge pro wrestling fan. From the first time I saw Andre The Giant on late-night TV Wrestling, I was hooked. From Hulk Hogan beating The Iron Sheik for the championship, into the explosion of wrestling’s popularity of the 80’s, I was into all of it. When wrestling started losing its popularity in the early 90’s, it didn’t lose popularity with me. I never missed a Saturday morning, a Monday night or the occasional Friday and Saturday Night. During this time, my fascination with championship belts began. It was February 5, 1988 and Hulk Hogan was wresting Andre The Giant on national TV in the rematch of the century. Hulk did a prematch interview wearing the heavyweight belt, but when he came to the ring, he had a brand new, completely redesigned belt which has become known as The Winged Eagle. Earl Hebner (posing as Dave Hebner) prominently displayed the championship up for grabs. Myself and best friend Michael would rewind and pause this part of the show a hundred times to check out the new design. This was definitely the point for me when I became a “belt mark.”

Humble Beginnings

Circa 1990-1991

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Early belts, made with roofing rubber and scrap siding; painted to resemble real belts I liked.

My aunt worked for a bank and she would bring me the scrap computer paper, which in those days was basically 100 feet of paper, perforated and folded every 11 inches. If I could find 3 sheets that were still connected, I was golden… just the right size to draw a Heavyweight Championship belt on, cut out and fit perfectly around my 11 year old waist! I’ve searched and searched, but I don’t seem to have any of these original creations anymore. Gone but not forgotten.

At some point in the late 80’s, my parents decided we needed some new aluminum siding and a new roof on the house. Little did I know that one person’s scrap would be my treasure. The scrap siding could be sanded down and have a silver look to it. The rubber roofing that goes on the roof before the shingles was a PERFECT simulation of leather (at least it was to me back then). I started cranking belts out left and right. My first belt was patterned after the then World Wrestling Federation® Tag Team belts. I picked that one because Ax & Smash were the champs at the time and they were on the cover of a magazine posing with the belt, a perfect picture to emulate. To me, this was the ultimate; a belt, not made out of paper, with a metal plate attached (with hot glue, which I found out doesn’t stick to rubber very well. this was just like the real thing. John’s Roofing in Latrobe, PA, who had replaced our roof, was kind enough to frequently drop off scraps to me to use for more belts.

Circa 1995-1996

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Evolving materials, evolving results. Better metal plates, engraved and painted.

I eventually moved up in the world and would use brass door kickplates for the metal which gave the belts an even more “authentic” look. Instead of just painting on the artwork, I would use a handheld metal engraver and engrave the art by hand. I went through about 4 engravers a year, and needed to wear ear protection because of the noise they would make. My parents probably wished they had ear protection as well! As you can see most of my belt designs were not very original, just replicas of the King’s creations.

As my high school years ended and college years began, my love of pro wrestling did not change. I still never missed a Saturday, Sunday or Monday of quality wrestling programming. I majored in Graphic Design which would later play a HUGE role in being able to create my belts. During my freshman year of college, although I may not have chalked it up as ‘fate,’ I experienced how God works in our lives by intertwining our experiences to eventually combine into what He has planned for us. I tell everyone this phrase, “God makes everything happens for a reason, Even if you don’t know why or don’t even consider why.” Of all the colleges that I had to pick from, my college chose to have an indy wrestling show as a fundraiser.

Learning the Ropes

Circa 1998

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A very young Joey Mercury with the Steel City Wrestling Junior Heavyweight Belt. T. Rantula with the Steel City Wrestling Heavyweight Belt.

I knew about the indies, but up to this point, I never knew they were prevalent in the Pittsburgh area. Now, if this weren’t good enough, a good friend of mine lived next to a kid who was best friends with the referee for the wrestling show coming to our college. (Another important lesson in life - It’s not as important WHAT you know as it is WHO you know!) This referee introduced me to the promoter Rob Mazzie. Rob wrestled briefly in Smokey Mountain Wrestling as The Mummy. Rob is a great guy. This show was my first meeting with some guys that would become very good friends to this day. Lord Zoltan – Ken Jugan, a ‘preliminary star’ from 81-83 WWWF, T. Rantula, Cody Michaels (former USWA Tag Champ w/Jeff Jarrett), Preston Steele and others. Also appearing on this show were Superfly Jimmy Snuka, the always undertaining Virgil and a masked star know as The Ninja-Turtle who later gained fame by becoming WCW referee Mark Curtis – Brian Hildebran. I talked to Rob about breaking in to the business. I’d always wanted to be a manager. He told me of couple shows that were coming up in the area. I never knew there were so many indy shows just in Pittsburgh!

I went to the shows that Rob told me about, where I met fellow wrestling manager Notorious Norm Connors (former promoter of IWC wrestling out of Pittsburgh). Norm and I hit it off right away. We became great friends. He and Lord Zoltan took me on the road with them to West Virginia, Ohio and every po-dunk town in between. We had a great time and I broke into the wrestling business. I was still wanting to make belts and always took the time to marvel at any belts that the wrestlers that I got to meet on the road would have.

I was able to commentate, manage, referee, ring announce and eventually promote shows. This spawned another business — www.ProWrestlingPosters.com — While I promoted wrestling shows for many years, I was able to easily make all of my own posters, tickets and flyers because I worked in the printing industry. Most promoters don’t have that luxury and it can be a major pain and expense. I streamlined the process for promoters so they can easily purchase quality posters and tickets without the hassle they previously had.

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With the WWE Universal Championship Belt.

The Main Event

I had done a little bit of everything in the business. I still wanted to make belts though. A very good friend of mine once told me, “You can talk about wanting to do something forever and never do anything, or you can stop talking and just do it.”

“When someone tells you that you can’t do something, use that as motivation to prove them wrong.” - Andrew Lazarchik

It wasn’t easy, I had to do months of research and make a lot of mistakes along the way, but I eventually came up with a streamlined process of making my championship belts. The relationships that I built over the 10 years that I had been in the wrestling business definitely helped. Thanks to people like The Blue Meanie, Steve Corino and Beth Phoenix; their word-of-mouth advertising afforded me the ability to kick-start my business and have it grow to where it has today.