Published on April 15th, 2017 | by Bobby Mathews1
Pieces of History: An Appreciation of Wrestling Title Belts
Belts that symbolize professional wrestling titles have been around since the 1800s, at least. And while Millican and Parks are now the recognized masters of the craft, Alex Mulko–better known as Nikita Mulkavitch–was making beautifully detailed cast-plated belts made of heavy bronze in the 1960s and 1970s, most notably for the WWWF. Mulko provided Pedro Morales with a version of the WWWF title that lasted through Superstar Graham’s reign, and into Bob Backlund’s run on top. He also created United States titles for The Sheik’s Detroit territory and Jim Crockett Promotions, as well. These cast belts were heavy, featuring 3-D elements like soaring eagles and entangled grapplers jockeying for position. Mulkavitch’s belts were durable and had a reputation for exceptional quality. He might have made more, but moved his craftsmanship into another direction, spending his time creating violins.
And then there was George Levy, whose trophy business grew enormously and still exists in Tampa, Florida. At one time or another, Levy supplied title belts for multiple promotions, including Georgia, Florida, Jim Crockett Promotions and Southeastern/Continental. He was also influential in the Tampa sports world, helping bring the Hall of Fame Bowl (now known as the Outback Bowl) to Florida and helping to secure the city’s bid for Super Bowl XXV. In addition to creating wrestling title belts, Levy’s company designed the 1996 college football national title trophy. Levy died in September of 2016, at 83 years old.
But neither the Mulkavitch nor Levy belts have the same cachet as a belt made by Reggie Parks. The Canadian grappler was a headliner in Amarillo, but often worked in the middle of the card or in tag teams in other territories. He was a mechanic, a veteran wrestler who could help teach younger wrestlers the ropes of the business, in more ways than one. In either a tag team with a younger partner or used as a foe to get a youngster ready for the big time, Parks was a well-respected grappler.
But crafting title belts made him a legend.
Millican owns the first belts Parks ever made, the AWA Midwest tag team titles. They still shine like they’re new, and the leather is supple and soft. They could be put on TV at a moment’s notice, and they’d look spectacular. The titles were made in 1967 for the Nebraska territory affiliated with Verne Gagne’s AWA. My God. These belts are 50 years old. Millican tells me a great story: Harley Race and Larry Hennig were AWA world champions at the time, coming into Nebraska to face Midwest tag champs Parks and Doug Gilbert (also known as Doug Lindzy, not Eddie Gilbert’s brother). The AWA world tag titles at the time were essentially wooden plaques fastened to leather straps. Race and Hennig got a look at the Parks-made titles and told him they weren’t going to wear the world titles to the ring if Parks and Gilbert wore their belts.
It’s sort of funny that Parks only made the Midwest tag belts because he didn’t want to carry around the trophy that represented the title. Belts were easier to carry. Suddenly, a career was born.
Soon, Parks was making titles for AWA owner Verne Gagne. From there, business took off, and Parks was creating belts for territories all over the country for the next couple of decades. One of his high-profile assignments came when Greg Valentine destroyed the Intercontinental title won by Tito Santana in the early 1980s. The WWE called on Parks to craft the new belt. The design was an obvious upgrade from the trophy-style belts the WWE had used for the IC belt in the past. Superstars like Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, Curt Hennig, Honkytonk Man, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, and Razor Ramon made the design iconic. Despite being replaced during the Attitude Era with the ‘Intercontinental Oval,’ the timeless design–this time crafted by Millican–was brought back to WWE viewers by Cody Rhodes.
Watch Mean Gene Okerlund presents Tito Santana with Reggie Parks-made Intercontinental title:
At this point, I’m faced with a dilemma. It’s obvious how much Millican respects Parks. They’re not only friends, but also business partners. The journalist in me wants to talk to Reggie. The fan in me does, too. But Reggie will be 83 years old this year. He’s had some health problems. I weigh the pros and cons. I’ve got Reggie’s phone number. Do I call? It would be the right move from a reporter’s position. But Reggie still works at creating belts. A phone conversation with me would pull him away from deadline work. In the end, I feel like it’s more respectful to not pick up the phone, and I choose not to call.
Almost everything I could ask him, I can already see for myself. Reggie’s legacy is there in the title belts he made. In the 1980s and 1990s, almost every major promotion had a Reggie Parks-made championship belt. The WWE, AWA, WCW, NWA, World Class, Continental, Pacific Northwest, Memphis, and Florida all used Reggie belts at one time or another. It’s a startlingly complete and complex view of how one man affected an industry and changed the way the public viewed title belts.