Mystery of Missing Wrestling Championship Belts

Hours after Chris Jericho was crowned as the first-ever AEW Champion, his title was stolen. Although this was a strange turn of events for 72 hours, it wasn’t the first time a championship belt came up missing or stolen. Many have never been recovered!

1. Chris Jericho and the Stolen AEW Championship Belt

Like many champions before him, Chris Jericho had his championship belt stolen. There was some speculation that this was a work, but Jericho contacted the Tallahassee, Florida police and filed a report.

Chris Jericho Joins a Long List of Champs Whose Title Belts Went Missing
[Photo: Sports Illustrated]
"The victim reported the theft of his championship wrestling belt while he was eating inside Longhorn Steakhouse," the report states.

"The victim [Jericho] stated he arrived at the Millionaire Club Airport Terminal and placed the belt inside his rented limousine. The limo driver shuttled the victim to Longhorn while the limo driver returned to the airport.

“The victim had taken the wrong luggage from the airport, and the driver took it back to the terminal. When the driver picked up the victim from the restaurant, the belt was missing. Responding officers searched the limo and the airport for the belt without success. On-call CID was consulted, and forensics responded to the scene."

Police report of Chris Jericho's stolen AEW belt.
Police report for Chris Jericho’s stolen AEW belt. [Thank you to /u/KelvinCastle on Reddit for the photo]
Just under 24-hours after his belt was stolen, a good samaritan found the AEW title on the side of the road and handed it over to the police.

The Tallahassee Police Department released the following statement:

“On Sunday, September 1, 2019, TPD responded to 2400 North Monroe Street reference a theft. Officers learned that a championship belt, reported to be valued at $29,250, was stolen from a limo recently occupied by the belt’s owner. On September 4, 2019, a citizen returned the championship belt to TPD headquarters, reporting that it was found along a local roadway.

“This case has been assigned to investigators with TPD’s Burglary Unit and is still an active investigation. Investigators are asking anyone with information about this case to please call them at (850) 891-4200 or Crime Stoppers at (850) 574-TIPS. TPD will provide more information when it becomes available.”

The AEW title theft news made its way across the pond to the BBC. Good or bad news, the whole debacle certainly brought more eyes onto AEW!

2. Bruno Sammartino Loses His First WWWF Championship Belt

On September 27, 1965, Bruno Sammartino defeated Tarzan Tyler in the main event at Madison Square Garden. Later that evening, Bruno went to dinner in Manhattan, as he customarily did.

Bruno locked the WWWF Championship belt in his car. When he came out of the restaurant, he found that someone had broken into his car and stolen the belt. The belt was never recovered.

In 1965, Bruno Sammartino had his coveted WWWF belt stolen from his car.
In 1965, Bruno Sammartino had his coveted WWWF belt stolen from his car. [Photo:]
That’s probably the most famous time a championship belt has come up missing, but there have been others.

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3. Pedro Morales and his Stolen WWWF Championship Belt

A few years after the title was stolen from Bruno, another WWWF belt was reported stolen by then-champion Pedro Morales, and a new one was made.

Former champ, Pedro Morales.
Former champ, Pedro Morales. [Photo: Pro Wrestling Illustrated]
Like Bruno, Pedro reported that his title belt was stolen while he was in a restaurant. However, Morales’ story has been called into question since then, however, since wrestling historian Tom Burke purchased Morales’s title belt from a pawn shop in New York. The rumor — and at this point, it is only a rumor — is that Morales sold the title to pay off gambling debts.

4. Fabulous Freebird Michael ‘PS’ Hayes’ Loses One Half of the NWA World Tag Team Title Belts

Freebird Michael Hayes lost one of the NWA World Tag Team Title belts, which is why you saw Hayes and Jimmy Garvin occasionally coming to the ring with only one title belt during their run with the tag team championships.

The Fabulous Freebirds
The Fabulous Freebirds (Michael ‘PS’ Hayes pictured in white). [Photo:]

5. Jerry Lawler and the Stolen Southern Jr. Heavyweight Title

Some of the most interesting stolen belt stories involve one man: the King of Memphis, Jerry Lawler.

Lawler was signing autographs one afternoon along with the historic Southern Jr. Heavyweight Title, which had been the top championship in the Memphis territory since the days of Sputnik Monroe, Billy Wicks, and Jackie Fargo.

As he prepared to leave, Lawler put the title in his bag. He then went to the restroom, leaving the title unattended. When the King returned, the belt was no longer in his bag. It has never been found.

Jerry Lawler with the NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (Mid-America version) title (circa 1974-1977) and his manager Sam Bass. (Previously, this belt was also used as the NWA Southern Jr. Heavyweight title from 1952 to 1974.) The title moved from NWA Mid-America to the Continental Wrestling Association on March 20, 1977. The title was renamed the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship in July 1978, when the CWA established a working relationship with the American Wrestling Association.
Jerry Lawler with the NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (Mid-America version) title (circa 1974-1977) and his manager Sam Bass. Previously, this belt was also used as the NWA Southern Jr. Heavyweight title from 1952 to 1974. [Photo: Classic Memphis Wrestling on Facebook]

6. Jerry Lawler AWA / World Class Unified Title Stolen By “The Snowman” Eddie Crawford

Jerry Lawler had the AWA World Title in his possession after unifying that title with the World Class title, defeating Kerry Von Erich at SuperClash III. However, AWA promoter Verne Gagne changed his mind about the title unification and demanded the physical belt back.

Lawler agreed to send it back but would not do so until he was paid for SuperClash III. Verne refused to pay him (big surprise), and Lawler kept the AWA world title, which he used as the USWA championship for several years before unveiling a new ‘unified’ world title.

And about that unified world title: Eddie Crawford worked around the South — notably in Memphis, Texas and Mid-South as the Snowman, a Black man wearing all-white tights and mask. He had good size and was considered a pretty good hand (and he should have been: Lawler trained him).

Eddie "Snowman" Crawford.
Eddie “Snowman” Crawford with the unified title.

Crawford had something of a reputation as a malcontent anyway, so when he began to publicly call out Lawler for holding him down because he was a black man, it was a believable angle.

The Snowman defeated Lawler for the unified world title, but his time in the USWA wasn’t productive. Despite being the champion, the Snowman was mired in the mid-card while Lawler stayed in the main event.

Eventually, the Snowman’s storyline anger became real, and he disappeared with the title, forcing Lawler to get another belt made. The belt was eventually purchased by a private collector and hangs with pride on his den wall.

7. Original Big Gold Belt

Another famous story of a stolen title is what happened to the original Big Gold belt, which was kept by one of the later champions in WCW. That title, originally designed by silversmith Charles Crumrine at Nelson Royal’s request, was authenticated separately by two noted beltmakers and sold to a private collector whose name has never been publicly released.

8. Bobby Jaggers, Ricky Vaughn (Lance Von Erich), and Their Stolen Pacific Northwest Tag Team Titles

A final instance worth noting is when Bobby Jaggers and Ricky Vaughn (Lance Von Erich) had their Pacific Northwest tag team titles stolen in 1985. They went as far as asking for the public’s help in finding the stolen belts on television. Though what really happened to the “stolen” PNW Tag Team Titles is a story for another time!

Bobby Jaggers and Ricky Vaughn (Lance Von Erich) ask for the public’s help in finding the stolen Pacific Northwest tag team titles in 1985:

YouTube video

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Bobby Mathews is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories as well as a veteran journalist whose byline has appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Birmingham News, The Denver Post, as well as other newspapers around the country. He's won multiple awards for reporting and opinion writing, and his sports journalism has garnered several Associated Press Managing Editors Awards. He has covered Division I college athletics and professional sports including MLB and NFL games. He has won awards from press associations in several states, including a General Excellence award from the Georgia Press Association while sports editor at The Statesboro Herald. He currently lives in suburban Birmingham, Alabama and can be reached on Twitter @bamawriter.