MITCHELL'S TAKE MITCHELL FEATURE COLUMN: The Glory of the Big Gold
Jul 24, 2014 - 12:56:39 AM
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The following is PWTorch senior columnist Bruce Mitchell's PWTorch Newsletter column published in last week's Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #1363. Mitchell's column was included in the hard copy Newsletter for print subscribers and available for VIP members in the digital edition. Go VIP today by clicking HERE.
The Glory of the Big Gold
By Bruce Mitchell, PWTorch columnist
I always enjoy attending the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend, which takes place in three weeks (Thursday, July 31 thru Sunday, August 3) at the Hilton University Place hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina. There are over a hundred big-name wrestlers available for photo opportunities and autographs this year, including my first time to see the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes since he showed his hand to Stephanie McMahon on Raw all those months ago. (It’s amazing to think that the Dream may never be on TV again because he offended someone else’s ego.)
There’s all-time great and all-time favorite Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Front Row Section D no. 1 favorite Arn “Greensboro is my town” Anderson, Hilton lobby lecturer Ole Anderson, and a ton more head-turning hey-is-that-really greats and near greats and guys who used to be on television. There’s also the Hall of Heroes banquet Friday night honoring the Poffo family (Angelo, Randy, and Lanny, three acts who worked enhancement duty for Jim Crockett Promotions).
I guess Randy Savage never did anything to offend Fanfest promoter Greg Price.
I’ve been to a slew of these things and met a bunch of Torch VIP Members there. It’s gotten to the point that as much as I enjoy hitting the merchandise tables, or listening to Jim Cornette go though his pro wrestling enemies list once again, or hearing the induction speeches, or (Lord help me) refereeing my illegitimate cousin Father James Mitchell’s Karaoke Trivia contest, it’s the hanging out and drinking beer with folks that may have been the most illuminating.
I have to admit, I’m not a belt guy. I’m not as bad as Vince McMahon, who in one of his odd Orwellian moods ordered the word banned from the airwaves he rules, for some reason or another I think I once heard but immediately forgot for the sake of my own sanity. I always liked the U.S. Championship belt that Blackjack Mulligan wore, just because that was the first big deal belt I saw fought for when I became a serious wrestling fan, and I liked the Ten Pounds of Gold NWA Championship belt that Harley Race carried so well when he was the greatest wrestler on God’s Green Earth and there was another big one I liked, but my nostalgia didn’t extend much father than that. I think championship wrestling belts are important props in telling pro wrestling stories and I appreciate that they have turned into merchandising opportunities, both as Wal-Mart toys for kids, and high-dollar recreations (you know, toys) for grown ups.
It was only through going to Fanfests that I came to understand the power of these totems. I watched Ric Flair get into an argument with a fan over whether Kerry Von Erich had scratched his KVE into the NWA Championship ten pounds of gold. Flair was wrong, the fan was right. I saw PWTorch Audio guy Jim Valley salivate over the different WCW and WWE belts, both original and recreations at famed belt-maker Dave Millican’s table. He certainly wasn’t the only one. Millican, who has built a hobby into a lucrative business creating many of the belts or whatever it is that WWE calls them that you see on television, had the most popular memorabilia display at last year’s show.
And then last year I was sitting at the Hilton bar, the same one where “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel said something to a lady that got him invited to never come back, when Torch VIP Member and belt aficionado Conrad Thompson leaned over and offered to buy me a beer. That led to a fascinating and, for me, surprising discussion.
This guy knows his championship wrestling belts, their history, and the stories behind the little cracks and scratches and spray-paints. I came to see that championship wrestling belts aren’t just props to be used by performers to draw out money from fans’ pockets, but living artifacts of pro wrestling, some as beaten and as battered as the wrestlers who carried, or in the case of the Steiner Brothers, dragged them across the world.
Dick Bourne, who with David Chappell runs my favorite website midatlantigateway.com (if you hurry over to the website’s lobby you’ll see the newspaper ad for the first wrestling card I ever attended, an ad I haven’t seen since it ran in the newspaper all those years ago - and I tried to find it) is also a championship belt aficionado, and he has written Big Gold, the definitive history of the most famous championship wrestling belt in the world, the one John Cena wears today as WWE Champion, the one Ric Flair originally took as the Real World Champion to the WWF to the shock of Gorilla Monsoon and WCW’s Jim Herd.
As I’m typing this, WWE Champion John Cena has just put Big Gold around the waist of Ric Flair on Raw.
With the help of Thompson and a lot of folks like J.J. Dillon, Bob Caudle, Dave Millican, Ric Flair, and the family of the original jeweler who designed and created the famed Big Gold championship belt, Bourne traces the who, what, where, when and how of the original Big Gold, even reuniting it with its first love. Who held it, who made it, who dented it, who painted it, the purchase order, the “Rick Flair” nameplate (seriously), the surprising name on the back, The Battle of the Belts debut, and who lied about owning it is all loving chronicled by Bourne, much of it in what we used to call living color. Big Cold is a fascinating addition to the documented history of professional wrestling.
I may or may not try not to roll my eyes the next time I see some fan carrying around a recreated championship belt at a WWE house show, but I learned some wrestling history drinking beer with Conrad Thompson, and I really began to understand the totemic power of these belts through all the fascinating little details Bourne chronicles in this book.
(Bruce Mitchell has been a PWTorch columnist since 1990. He hosts the PWTorch Livecast every Monday night in the hour before Raw with Travis Bryant at www.PWTorchLivecast.com. The weekly two-hour Bruce Mitchell Audio Show with host Wade Keller is a VIP audio staple for years. His column archives dating back to 1990 are available in the Bruce Mitchell Library at the PWTorch VIP website.)
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