Saturday, August 20, 2022

Orville Brown and the First NWA Title Belt (1948)

by Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway

The NWA's early history with the various belts that represented their world heavyweight title is a bit odd, because even though the organization was formed in 1948, they didn't actually own their own title belt until 1959, as outlined in the book Crown Jewel (available on Amazon and from the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store.) Before that, they used various belts that belonged to others.

In an earlier article, I wrote about my pilgrimage to the Hotel President in Waterloo, Iowa, and the historic events of July 18, 1948 at a wrestling card in that same city.  July 18, 1948, is a day that holds a special place in pro wrestling history, as a group of five Midwest wrestling promoters led by Iowa promoter Paul "Pinkie" George met at the Hotel President to forge the documents that chartered the National Wrestling Alliance. Later that night, they all attended a card at Waterloo's Electric Park that featured a heavyweight title defense by Orville Brown against Joe Dusek, a match which I argue was the first de facto defense of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

The first belt used as the NWA Heavyweight title belt was actually a modified belt created in 1936 that had been used to recognize an earlier claim to the world championship. It was the Midwest Wrestling Association (MWA) belt, and it was the belt worn into the ring in Waterloo on July 18, 1948 when champion Orville Brown defended against Joe Dusek. Brown was the MWA Heavyweight Champion at that time as recognized by the MWA based in Kansas City. But because of the events at the Hotel President earlier in that day, it was in a practical sense the first defense of the new National Wrestling Alliance title.


Screen capture /

The MWA championship belt (seen in this late 1930s photo above with champion John Pesek's photo) was modified to represent the name of the new NWA organization by placing new plates that said "National" and "Alliance" over "Midwest" and "Association," the the original words cast on the belt.

Screen capture /

If you look closely at the image above, you can see the two new National Alliance script plates attached where Midwest and Association were. That's champion Orville Brown's photo in the center oval.

Brown wore this modified belt as NWA World Champion until his career was tragically cut short by an automobile accident in late 1949, just weeks before a scheduled title unification match with Lou Thesz, who was also a claimant to the world title out of St. Louis. At that point Thesz was recognized as NWA champion. He began using his own world title belt that he had been presented by St. Louis promoter Tom Packs in 1937 (known commonly now as the "Thesz belt") to represent the NWA world title belt from that point forward. 

The "Thesz belt" was recognized as the NWA title belt until 1957 when Thesz stepped down as NWA kingpin, losing the title to his handpicked successor Dick Hutton. Thesz owned his belt and did not allow the NWA to keep using it as their title belt, taking it with him on tour of the far east. Hutton, known as the champion without a belt, briefly used promoter Al Haft's WLW-TV title belt as his championship belt during his reign. The NWA finally had their own belt made in 1959 (the belt covered in my book Crown Jewel), the first belt the NWA actually owned, presented to then champion Pat O'Connor.


For more on the Midwest Wrestling Association / National Wrestling Alliance belt, see this feature from the Antiques Roadshow on PBS.
  Thanks to William Murdock for his assistance with this article. And thanks as always to Tim Hornbaker and his book "National Wrestling Alliance."

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Waterloo: The First Ever NWA World Heavyweight Title Defense

by Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway

It certainly wasn't official, but I enthusiastically put forth the argument that the first ever defense of the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight championship was on the very evening following the formation of that alliance.

In an earlier article, I wrote about my pilgrimage to the Hotel President in Waterloo, Iowa, while attending the 2022 Induction Weekend of the Tragos/Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. The Hotel President holds a significant place in pro wrestling history.  On July 18, 1948, a group of five Midwest wrestling promoters, led by Iowa promoter Paul "Pinkie" George, met there where they forged the documents that chartered the National Wrestling Alliance. But that wasn't all the group did on that historic day.  

That very Sunday evening, this group attended a wrestling card in Waterloo promoted by Pinkie's brother, Andy George. That card featured a world heavyweight title defense (Midwest Wrestling Association version) by Kansas City's Orville Brown against the top contender, Nebraska's Joe Dusek.  

The Waterloo Courier newspaper had several mentions in the week leading up to July 18 of the gathering to attend the matches at Warerloo's Electric Park, but no mention was made of the real reason they gathered along the shores of the great Cedar River, which was the meeting to discuss forming an official alliance.

On the Friday before the Sunday wrestling card, the Courier reported that attending the matches would be a group of distinguished promoters including Fred Kohler of Chicago, Pinkie George of Des Moines, Max Clayton of Omaha, Sam Muchnick of St. Louis, George Simpson of Kansas City, and Wally Karbo representing Tony Stecher of Minneapolis. Karbo got a booking out of the trip, too, as the referee for the world title tilt between Orville Brown and Joe Dusek.

As it turned out, Simpson was not at the Waterloo combine, but Orville Brown was. Brown, while as champion, was also a partner in Simpson's Kansas City office. It isn't clear why Simpson wasn't there, but he would later be a signatory at the second meeting of these same promoters in Minneapolis in September.  

Fred Kohler also did not attend due to a prior commitment, but consented to the agreements made that day by telegram.

One of the covenants agreed to at the Waterloo meeting was that the allied promoters would recognize one single world heavyweight champion, Orville Brown. It is fair then to say that Brown's heavyweight title defense that night can be considered the first ever title defense of the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship. It surely was not declared officially as such, but it was - - in essence - - exactly that. The Alliance had been formally founded and Brown had been named its champion only hours earlier. Brown walked into the ring against Dusek that night at Electric Park with the official recognition of the allied promoters as NWA world champion, even if the five people that met earlier in that Waterloo hotel conference room were the only ones who knew it at that point. 

Brown successfully retained his title that night. The undercard included Jr. Heavyweight champion Billy Goelz of Chicago topping Mashall Estep out of Missouri. Otto Kuss of Minneapolis took the opener from Nebraska's Danny Plechas. 

Promoter Andy George had called this event "a card of national importance" in the hype leading up to the July 18 program at Electric Park. Most of that hyperbole regarded the dignitaries attending the world title event. But even Andy was likely unaware of the significance of the main event that night in Waterloo. 

In my final post in this series, (Orville Brown and the First NWA Title Belt) I'll take a look at the belt that likely was used as the first NWA title belt, modified from the Midwest Wrestling Association belt Orville Brown wore at the time of the chartering of the NWA.

See also: Walking with Ghosts: A Visit to the Birthplace of the NWA

* * * * *

In an unrelated side note, I was delighted to see the name of "Bulldog" Danny Plechas on this card. Pleachas must have been somewhat of a memorable character throughout the years as Blackjack Mulligan would occasionally mention him in his local promos in the Mid-Atlantic area in the 1970s. Occasionally Plechas would sarcastically be included on a list of challengers Blackjack claimed he was willing to face for his U.S. title. Other times he would mention him as someone he'd had a fight with out behind the Mesquite Club at 1:00 AM on a Saturday night. For some reason, I remembered Bulldog Plechas and was happy to come across his name on such a historically significant card, even if the true historical significance really wasn't known at the time.   



Special thanks to Tim Hornbaker and his book "National Wrestling Alliance."

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Flair and Race

The Hotel President

Walking with Ghosts: A Visit to the Birthplace of the NWA

by Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Waterloo, Iowa, stands as a beacon of history for both amateur and professional wrestling. It is the birthplace of the most famous and decorated American amateur and Olympic wrestler Dan Gable, and is the home of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. The Dan Gable Museum is also home to the George Tragos - Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame which recognizes wrestlers with an amateur background that went on to make a substantial contribution in professional wrestling. 

The Hotel President building in downtown Waterloo, Iowa.
Photograph by Dick Bourne

Waterloo is also the birthplace of the National Wrestling Alliance, once professional wrestling's largest coalition of cooperating promoters across the United States and around the world. In 1948, Iowa promoter Paul "Pinkie" George and four other Midwest promoters met in the Gold Room of the beautiful Hotel President in downtown Waterloo and formed the articles that chartered the National Wrestling Alliance. That building, near the banks of the Cedar River, still stands today.

Park Avenue entrance into the Main Lobby of the Hotel President
Photograph by Dick Bourne

There is an ironic link tying the Hotel President to the Dan Gable Museum, and therefore linking both the amateur and professional sides of Waterloo's wrestling history. The manager of the hotel at the time of the promoter's gathering in 1948 was a man named Lark Gable, who was Dan Gable's grandfather. That unlikely connection just blows me away.

Vintage ashtray and promotional tourism flyer from the Hotel President, both circa 1940s.
Notice the hotel manager's name, Lark Gable, grandfather of legendary wrestler Dan Gable.

Photograph by Dick Bourne


The Hotel President, on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1928 and first opened on January 10, 1929. It is no longer a hotel. It has been redeveloped as a federally subsidized apartment complex for senior citizens. Los Angeles based Huntley Witmer, the company that most recently redeveloped the building in 2015, had the wisdom to change the name back to the name of the original building, with restoration of the original lobby, helping to preserve its spot in pro wrestling history, even if that history is largely lost through the sands of time.

The lobby of the Hotel President in the 1940s.
Photo from a vintage promotional tourism flyer.

The lobby looks much as it did in the 1940s, with the lobby atrium largely untouched and the wood railing around the second floor mezzanine thought to be original, standing just as it was on July 18, 1948 when the small group of Midwest promoters met there.

Lobby of the Hotel president after 2015 renovations and restoration.
Photo courtesy


That group in 1948 was led by Iowa sports promoter Paul "Pinkie" George, based out of Des Moines, who organized this meeting and hosted it as well. As a result, he is considered by historians as "the father of the NWA." George was a successful promoter in many different areas, including professional basketball, baseball, boxing, and wrestling. 

Joining Pinkie George that day in Waterloo were:

Max Clayton (Omaha, Nebraska)
Orville Brown (Kansas City, KS)
Sam Muchnick (St. Louis., MO)
Wally Karbo (representing Tony Stetcher, Minneapolis, MN)

Fred Kohler, the promoter in Chicago, IL, was part of the group but did not attend the July 18 meeting, but consented to the agreements made at the meeting by telegram. 

The group voted approval to several statutes, including recognizing one world champion, Orville Brown (who was also the promoter in Kansas City.) Brown is therefore recognized as the very first heavyweight champion of the NWA. (It's worth pointing out that the NWA traces its title lineage from Brown all the way back to George Hackenschmidt in 1905, generally regarded as the first ever professional wrestling champion.)

Sadly, there is no designation or commemoration on the site of this historically significant event that changed the course of pro-wrestling history. I would imagine that not a single person living or working in that building today has any clue of that history. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

While attending the 2022 Tragos-Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, I took the opportunity to travel just across the Cedar River to see and photograph the Hotel President. I wanted to get inside if possible, but my first attempt made late one evening proved futile, as all the doors were locked. The next day, I, along with my buddy Matty Montcalm made a second attempt and this time we were able to enter the lobby and make our way up a side staircase that led to the second floor mezzanine and the entrance to what remains of the original Gold Room, where the promoters met in 1948.

Looking out through the doors of the only room left that has a connection to the spot
where the NWA promoters gathered in 1948, across the mezzanine into the atrium
of the Hotel President lobby.

Photograph by Dick Bourne


As we entered that room, walking through the large wooden doors, I will admit I got cold chills, thinking about those five men gathering in that very place and making agreements that would literally change the course of professional wrestling history. it was a cool moment.

In Part 2 of the NWA Waterloo History Series (Waterloo: The First Ever NWA World Heavyweight Title Defense), I'll take look at the professional wrestling card that took place later that same evening at historic Electric Park in Waterloo. It was attended by the group of promoters who earlier that day formed the National Wrestling Alliance, which made the local news.



Special thanks to Tim Hornbaker and his book "National Wrestling Alliance"

Monday, August 8, 2022

Worth Its Weight in Gold: Scott Bowden Reviews "Ten Pounds of Gold."

Worth Its Weight in Gold: New Book Examines History of the NWA World Title Belt
By Scott Bowden, Kentucky Fried Rasslin'
July 22nd, 2009 

Edited Excerpts for Archival Purposes Only.

Now...we go to school: The Ten Pounds of Gold has everything you always wanted to know about the NWA belt...but were too much of a mark to ask.

On Saturday, August 15, 1982, teenaged wrestling fan Dave Millican was watching the 90-minute live Memphis wrestling show when NWA World champion Ric Flair appeared, unannounced in advance, alongside Lance Russell in the WMC-TV studio. Wearing sunglasses, a perfectly pressed double-breasted, navy-blue blazer and white button-down and khakis, Flair almost appeared as if he had steered his yacht down the Mississippi River to arrive in Memphis. In Flair’s hands, the famous “10 pounds of gold”—the championship belt of the National Wrestling Alliance.

Millican had originally seen photos of the belt in the Stanley Weston newsstand publications (a.k.a., “the Apter mags”) years ago, and it had been love at first sight. Sure, Nick Bockwinkel, the AWA World champ, played the role so well that most Memphis fans believed him to be the champion, but Apter-reading marks like Millican and me knew that the NWA strap was considered the big one by the wrestling press. Most important, we had seen Flair all over Mid-Atlantic and World Class TV stylin’ and profilin’ and turning back challenge after challenge against the biggest names in the sport. We knew Flair was the real World heavyweight champion.

“Even at a young age, I appreciated the prestige of the NWA World title,” recalls Millican. “From the syndicated shows, I could see that Flair was making the rounds as World champion—he wasn’t just the champion of a single territory. By the time Flair had made it to Memphis, I had been in enough scrapes and scuffles to know that wrestling wasn’t on the up and up, but the wrestlers in those days made it much easier to suspend disbelief. I was watching Flair and Jerry Lawler go at it, and I remember thinking, ‘This is a studio match and it probably won’t happen—but, man, it would be cool to see Lawler get his hands on that NWA belt.’”

“I had already been making cardboard belt when I was a kid—a cardboard box wasn’t safe around me growing up,” he says. “The first one I made was in the style of what we in the business call the old ‘Levy-style’ belt, with the red, white and blue, similar to the old National title [Georgia territory, circa 1983] and our area’s AWA Southern tag belts [1980-81]. The first belt that really caught my eye was the AWA Southern title that was introduced in Memphis in 1981, with the oval chrome-ring side plates that I’m so fond of. My first memory of the NWA World title was when Terry Funk came to Memphis to defend the title and seeing how excited my older brother and his friends were. And Lance Russell had always done such a good job getting over the importance of Nick Bockwinkel’s AWA title that I also held that belt in high regard. I probably tried my best to copy those two World title belts.”

Also known as the “domed globe” because of the dented globe affixed to the gold buckle, the strap was retired after about 16 years of service to make way for the Big Gold championship belt, which Jim Crockett Jr. purchased for titleholder Ric Flair in 1986. As the final holder of the original 10 pounds of gold from the territory days, Flair kept the championship belt, storing it in a custom-made case for display at the Queen’s Gallery in Charlotte.

Since that time, Millican has become one of the best-known belt-makers in the wrestling business, with his clients including his childhood hero Lawler as well as TNA and UFC. Countless fellow belt marks have secured Dave’s services, often purchasing several high-quality, ring-worthy replicas of NWA, AWA and WWF belts, many of which were originally made by the “King of Belts,” Reggie Parks.

In fact, it was Parks who gave Millican his big break in the belt business. In his late teens, Dave had graduated from cardboard construction of his belts, with help from an uncle who had access to huge sheets of steel at work. Millican began making belts made of stainless steel and trophy metal for wrestlers on the outlaw circuit—small, local promotions not affiliated with wrestling’s major organizations, which often ran in towns where an established promotion like’s Jarrett’s Memphis group was already operating. Most of the outlaw guys either had no belts or ones that resembled Millican’s early work on cardboard, so they greatly appreciated Dave’s advancing handiwork.

Millican was aware that Parks was the belt-maker to the stars; however, because wrestling’s inside information was more closely guarded in the days before the Internet, he had no way of contacting him. An outlaw wrestler showed up one night with a belt in a black velvet bag, a trademark of Parks. Dave got Parks’ number from the guy and contacted him to order a replica of the AWA World title belt worn by Curt Hennig and Lawler. Nervously, he mentioned to Parks that he also made belts, which piqued Reggie’s curiosity. He sent pictures of his work to Parks, who admitted the young man had potential but asked him, “Why don’t you make belts like I make ‘em?” Millican answered, “I’d love to, sir, but I don’t know how.”

Parks took Dave under his winged eagle (a little belt humor there), offering to make the plates for a belt once Millican had his next order, so he could he evaluate his new apprentice’s leather work with real plates.

While Reggie is usually lighthearted and easygoing, he sternly asked Millican, “You wouldn’t put the Mona Lisa in a shitty frame, would you, son? If I see these plates on a shitty-looking strap, then maybe you’ll go back to doing them the way you used to do them. Because if I don’t like what I see, I’ll cut you loose. Deal?”

After Millican agreed to those terms, Lawler let him releather the USWA tag belts that the King and Bill Dundee held at the time. Just one problem: “As soon as I got those belts from Lawler, I went over to Tandy Leather in Memphis, and they didn’t have any good tooling hides in the store—which is kinda like KFC running out of chicken. They only had this really, really thick leather that I had to beat the crap out of to get any kind of impressions. But when I put them in Bill and Jerry’s hands, they loved them. And I breathed a big sigh of relief. I mean, I was thrilled just to be around Bill and Jerry, but you don’t want to come off like the mark that you are when you start off in the business. Everyone knows you’re a mark but you can’t act like it—just one of those weird dynamics of the business.”

Under Parks’ watchful eye, Millican honed his craft until his work was on par with the master belt-maker. Now known as the “Ace of Belts,” Millican is grateful for his break in the business.

“I once asked Reggie, ‘Why me?’ He said that he knew he couldn’t do this forever, so he wanted to make sure someone picked up the slack and made belts the right way after he was gone.”

Much like Millican years later, Dick Bourne, who helps run the Mid-Atlantic Gateway site, became enamored of the NWA World title following a 1975 angle on Jim Crockett Promotions TV that was similar to the Flair/Lawler scenario in Memphis.

“Jack Brisco wrestled on Mid-Atlantic Wrestling television in 1975 in a non-title match against Wahoo McDaniel,” Bourne says. “Wahoo pinned him to set up title matches around the territory. The title was treated with the utmost importance from the moment I saw Jack Brisco with it on television, and Bob Caudle and Ed Capral, our main announcers then, put it over big each week on TV. It was always special when the champion was in to defend the title. The NWA champions then–Brisco, Funk, Race–always made it clear how much they wanted to keep the title, and our guys made it clear how much they wanted to win it.”

Of course, Bourne and fans throughout the Carolinas were pleased when the local boy—the Nature Boy, Ric Flair that is—captured the belt from Dusty Rhodes in Kansas City in 1981.

“The belt had been defended in our area for eight years before Flair got it,” he says. “Flair holding the title certainly had special meaning to Mid-Atlantic Wrestling fans. We were glad to see our guy get the sport’s top prize.”

Through Michael Boccichio at the Web site, Bourne was able to arrange a deal with Flair to photograph the 10 pounds of gold on October 28, 2008, at the Queen’s Gallery. Along with Millican, Bourne took approximately 400 shots of the belt, including pictures of the championship with the blue-and-silver robe worn by Flair when he won the title for the second time at Starrcade ’83.

Millican also brought items from his personal collection of wrestling belts and memorabilia to shoot with the NWA title: the Parks-made U.S. title belt (a.k.a., sometimes referred to as “the 10 pounds of silver”) worn by champions like Magnum T.A. and Tully Blanchard in JCP in the early ’80s, and Kerry Von Erich’s actual ring jacket emblazoned with the words “In Memory of David,” which he wore the day he defeated Flair for the championship in front of 32,000 fans at Texas Stadium on May 6, 1984. In all, Bourne and Millican spent about five hours with the one belt that arguably best represents a bygone era in professional wrestling.

“It’s not a stretch to say that about two of those hours were spent with just Dave and I sitting there talking about it,” Bourne says. “When you hold the belt and think of the guys who held it—and all the guys who stood across the ring challenging for it, and all the places it was defended and the miles it traveled—it’s just a special feeling. It would be no different to me than if we were sitting there holding the Lombardi Trophy or the Stanley Cup – that belt is that special.”

Millican agrees, saying that he can feel the history of the NWA belt any time he’s even near it.

“I’ve spent a fortune collecting as many historical belts as I can get my hands on,” says the Ace, who also owns the ring-used NWA Southern title (Florida) and the ’80s-era World Class tag belt. “I’m in the business because I’m the ultimate belt mark. To get to hold that NWA World title belt—it might sound corny, but…it’s a different experience than any other belt I’ve ever held in my hands.”

Bourne says he was planning to produce a photo book documenting their visit for their own personal use, but then decided to self-publish it as Ten Pounds of Gold: A Close Look at the NWA World Championship Belt.

“With Dave’s knowledge about the history and construction of the belt, it suddenly dawned on me that with the unique photos we had taken and the insights we could put together, it might make an interesting book, for belt aficionados at least, and, hopefully, for fans in general."

The end result is a gorgeous 80-page historical record of wrestling’s greatest title belt, complete with photos provided by eight-time NWA titlist Race and his wife BJ that show the champ receiving the new gold belt from NWA president Sam Muchnick on July 20, 1973, in Houston. Race, of course, went on to drop his new trophy to challenger Brisco that same night. Also included are brief profiles of the eight men who wore the championship: Race, Brisco, Shohei “Giant” Baba, Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Tommy Rich, Flair and Von Erich. (Nope, no profile of Jack Veneno.)

Most fascinating are the details of the belt’s construction and subtle changes over the years. For example, the wide-cut leather strap on the belt was originally encased in red velvet. For years, I was under the impression that Race had been presented with a black-leather strap that night in Houston, as most of the photos I’d seen were in black-and-white. About seven years ago, I saw color pictures of Brisco defending the title against Baba in Japan and was surprised to see the red belt. While the red velvet looked nice and rather regal, it wasn’t durable for the long haul and sweat stains began to tarnish its appearance. Brisco had the belt re-leathered with a brand-new black-leather strap, with a tighter cut around the buckle—which, in my opinion, enhanced the appearance of the NWA belt. Another interesting tidbit is that shortly after winning the belt, Brisco was honored with a nameplate under the word “WRESTLING” on the buckle, similar to the nameplate on the Big Gold strap made famous by Flair years later. The first nameplate read “Jack Brisco,” while the second version simply read “BRISCO” in all caps. When Funk won the title, the intended “tradition” was disregarded. Even Race was unaware of this aspect of the belt’s history.

In the book, Millican also explains how the belt’s “domed globe,” from which the strap gets that common nickname, was replaced at some point in 1976 during Funk’s reign. The NWA letters were mounted straight across on the first version and arched downward on the replacement globe. Although the first globe was dented and the paint on the black front panels had begun to chip during Brisco’s reign, the belt’s appearance really took a turn for the worse midway through the Funk era as NWA kingpin. At that point, the black panels had completely chipped away (though Millican suspects Funk did this himself as opposed to carrying around a belt with partial panels) and the belt was eventually restored with a new globe (which ended up with a significant dent by the time Rich won the belt on April 27, 1981) and new black onyx panels that were a huge upgrade over the black paint used previously.

“They should have made those panels with onyx to begin with, because it was not only durable but shinier and almost looked like glass in the lights,” Millican says.

The book also reveals what is known about the Mexican jeweler who made the belt, what aspects of its construction surprised him, who he believes coined the term “10 pounds of gold” (the belt actually weighs about 7 pounds) and why the previous belt held by champions like Dory Funk Jr. and Gene Kiniski was replaced to begin with.

The book’s close-up photos are beautiful, revealing minute details, including a clear look at the initials “KVE,” which apparently Kerry scratched onto the buckle before dropping the belt back to Flair in Japan. I was also amused to find that the depiction of the grappling scene to the right of “WRESTLING” on the buckle includes a heavyset wrestler who looks amazingly like Dusty Rhodes. (Millican agrees with me, but Bourne apparently doesn’t see the resemblance.)

All in all, Ten Pounds of Gold: A Close Look at the NWA World Championship Belt is a true labor of love that old-school fans will find fascinating. Pick it up today by clicking here.


Scott Bowden's Kentucky Fried Rasslin'
Scott Bowden Passes Away at age 48 (2020) (

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Thesz Belt, Awarded in 1937

Image from Japanese magazine. Courtesy Bill Murdock.

Above: St. Louis promoter Tom Packs (at right) presents new World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz with a new championship belt the morning after Thesz defeated Everett Marshall for the title in December 1937.

The following is an edited excerpt from the book Crown Jewel by Dick Bourne (available via the Gateway Book Store.)

The belt that Lou Thesz wore as World champion until 1957 (when the first NWA-owned World Championship belt was put into service) was a belt Thesz personally owned that came with his purchase of Tom Packs’ St. Louis promotional office in 1949.

That belt is commonly known today as the “Thesz Belt,” named for the man who held the World Championship longer than any other. The belt was presented to him in 1937 by Packs after Thesz defeated Everett Marshall for the World Heavyweight Championship in St. Louis. When Thesz was made champion of the year-old National Wrestling Alliance in 1949, that belt became the NWA’s recognized World Championship title belt, and was so until the Alliance finally purchased and presented a belt of their own in 1957.

The Thesz belt was as much jewelry as it was championship belt. A series of plates held together only by chains, with only short leather attachments at each end to secure the belt around the champion’s waist. It was adorned with jewels. The center plate featured an imperial crown up top, a ring with two wrestlers in the center, and a large oval with a star at the bottom. The belt read “Worlds Heavyweight Wrestling Champion” and had his name “Louis Thesz” made right into the plate. There were three side plates on either side of the center buckle (total of six) that depicted wrestlers in various move combinations.

A 1937 article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporting on the new belt declared that the belt was “studded with 456 diamonds, 176 rubies, and 144 sapphires with six large diamonds in the centerpiece of the seven links.” According to Lou’s friend Koji Miyamoto, it was crafted by a jeweler in St. Louis, who likely made other belts during that era, as Marshall had a similarly designed belt of his own.

Prior to the formation of the NWA in 1948, there were a number of championships around the country recognized as “world championships” going back to 1905 and the days of the legendary George Hackenschmidt, who brought world title recognition with him from various European championships. Several of these U.S. titles were based out of states in the Midwest over these years, including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, but also in cities like Boston and Los Angeles.

The title Thesz won from Everett Marshall in 1937 was the Midwest Wrestling Association title, originally based out of Ohio in 1931 and promoted by Al Haft, but by 1937 basically controlled by St. Louis promoter Tom Packs and partner Billy Sandow.

Thesz’s victory over Marshall took place on December 29, 1937 at the Municipal Auditorium in St. Louis, Missouri. The original plan was simply for Thesz to go to a time limit draw or some other disputed finish to allow him to continue his climb in the ranks as a top contender. Promoter Tom Packs saw stardom and box office potential in Thesz and was grooming him to eventually take the top spot. But as Thesz described in his autobiography, when the show nearly sold out in advance weeks ahead of the match, Packs and Sandow re-evaluated their plans. Marshall had not been drawing huge crowds of late as champion, so when the title match with Thesz popped the box office, the plan was changed to put the title on Thesz.

“Deciding the champion was a strictly cold-blooded business decision,” wrote Thesz. “The wrestler who could draw the most money at the gate was the one who got the belt.”

By the time he first became NWA World Champion twelve years later in 1949, he was already a three-time world champion having held different versions of the title around the country. During the next several years Thesz would defeat a number of these other champions to effectively unify wrestling’s World Championship under the National Wrestling Alliance banner.


Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store

Lou Thesz, Dick Hutton, Pat O'Connor, Buddy Rogers, Gene Kiniski,
Dory Funk, Jr., Harley Race.

The storied history of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from 1959-1973,
and a look at the belt itself, the "crown jewel" of championship belts.


For more NWA History in the mid-20th Century, see also:

Walking With Ghosts: A Visit to the Birthplace of the NWA
Waterloo: The First Ever NWA World Heavyweight Title Defense
NWA History: Orville Brown and the First NWA Title Belt (1948)

c. 2022 Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Monday, August 1, 2022

Field of Dreams


July 23, 2022 - Waterloo Convention Center, Waterloo, Iowa

Thank you so much. I am so honored to be receiving the James C. Melby award from the Tragos/Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Jim Melby set the standard for all of us who write about wrestling history. I also want to congratulate all those receiving awards tonight, as well as those being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

When I look at the list of people who have previously received the Melby award, I am very humbled. I don’t see myself in their company. All of them have been inspirations to me in one way or another, and several of them have become friends, and they have been such a help to me over the years. It’s an honor to be included with them.

My friend David Chappell -- who is a prosecutor in Virginia, and a lifelong Mid-Atlantic Wrestling fan like myself - - we started our wrestling history website, the Mid-Atlantic Gateway, back in 2000. In 2008, I published my first book with the help of belt expert and good friend Dave Millican. It was titled “Ten Pounds of Gold” and it was really more of a photo essay about NWA World Heavyweight Title belt that Jack Brisco and others wore in the 70s and 80s. But with the success of that first book, I learned how to publish, and that led to the more historical writing about title histories, which is my main area of interest now. 

Both the website and the books are my way of documenting some of the rich history of pro wrestling, to preserve the great stories that you guys told us as fans.

I want to thank just a handful of folks. First of all, Jim Miller and Gerald Brisco, and everyone at the Dan Gable Museum. Chad Olsen and all the volunteers who give up their time selflessly to make that museum such a special place and this such a special weekend. I want to also thank David Chappell and all our many contributors to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway website. And the great Bob Caudle - - the voice of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling for over three decades - - who has enthusiastically supported us since the beginning. Also to Dave Millican, Bill Murdock, Conrad Thompson, and Tim Hornbaker. To all of those folks, I would not be receiving this award without their help and support. 

Before I finish up, I want to tell you it is such a thrill - - and a bit terrifying - - to be standing here in front of some people who are my heroes. Many of you were very important to me as a fan growing up, and along with the rest of you here tonight, part of this great Hall of Fame, I have such respect for you all.

Lastly, I want you to know how much I’ve enjoyed coming to Iowa for the first time, to Waterloo, such a beautiful city. I’ve had such fun here over the past three days. Tomorrow, I’m going to take a ride over to Dyersville to see the Field of Dreams movie site. Dyersville might be the Field of Dreams for baseball fans, but my Field of Dreams will now always be right here in Waterloo, right down the street at the Dan Gable Museum. That is a special place. 

I will never forget my trip here, receiving the Melby award - -  it is one of the highest honors I’ve ever received, and I thank you very much.

The 2022 Tragos/Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame    (Mid-Atlantic Gateway)

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