How did you get involved in making championship belts?
Growing up as a wrestling fan in the 80s, we didn’t have a ton of wrestling on TV, and there was no internet, no YouTube, no WWE Network. We had to wait until Saturday mornings to catch our favorite grapplers in action. Options were limited during the week, so we mostly had to use our imaginations to get our fix; action figures, drawing, making cardboard belts, bashing our friends over the head with folding chairs to win said belts. I quickly became the go-to cardboard belt guy in our neighborhood whenever our “Fed” needed a new championship.
As I got older and full-scale replica belts became available, I started buying those to get my belt fix. But I quickly became disenchanted with the thin, cheaply made plates and their stiff “simulated leather”. I began “surfing the world wide web” (as us cool kids liked to say back then) and realized that there were people making real championship belts; the same guys who made the belts I saw on TV. And I could just buy one! They were expensive, sure, but still, this was a step in the right direction. It seemed that Reggie Parks and Dave Millican were the guys who were creating most of my favorite classic WWF belts. I somehow convinced my wife to let me buy one, and I immediately fell in love with it. The thick, deeply etched metal, real 24k gold plating, authentic, hand-crafted leather; they were exact replicas of the belts I had grown up drooling over.
From there I took my graphic design training and started designing my own belts, just for fun. Most of them were heavily inspired by the classic belts I grew up on and the amazing work done by Reggie and Dave’s business partner Rico Mann. After designing belts for some startup belt-makers for a year or two, I decided to take matters into my own hands and learn how to make real belts. It started with “releathering” the aforementioned toy replica belts, which means removing the thin metal plates from the stiff pleather and crafting a custom, hand-tooled, REAL leather strap. Once I felt comfortable enough with leather, I designed and sold my first custom championship belt (see North American gallery). It was horrible, but it was a belt. And I got paid for it!
These days I make a living designing, crafting, and marketing championship belts to private collectors and companies all over the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with Dave Millican on some projects for WWE, 2K Sports, NXT, and Bellator MMA. I even got my name mentioned on CNNMoney.com as the guy Millican has taken under his wing, appeared in a feature story on AL.com (The Huntsville Times) with Dave Millican, and got to see some of my work for Spike TV's "Lip Sync Battle" belts (again, with Millican) appear on NBC's The Today Show. I've also gotten some local press in my hometown newspaper, appeared on some podcasts, and met a bunch of really cool people (including Ric Flair!) along the way. Not too shabby.
How did you learn how to make belts?
I learned the old-fashioned way, by trying to emulate the belt-makers who inspired me. If I saw something I liked, I tried to copy it. There was a ton of trial-and-error in the beginning, which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to get into leather-work. Apart from that, the people at my local Tandy Leather answered a lot of my questions, and I read through tons of old threads and reached out to experienced belt-crafters on various championship belt message boards.
Can you teach me how to make my own belts?
This is very much a niche industry and the guys who have had success don’t want to give up their trade secrets to just anyone. I don’t mind answering a question here and there, but I’d rather not give step-by-step instructions (unless you pay handsomely, bwah ha ha).
What was the coolest belt you’ve ever worked on?
Easily the white WWE Intercontinental Championship that is currently being used on television (held by the likes of Curtis Axel, Big E Langston, and Wade “Bad News” Barrett). This was a collaboration with Dave Millican, who was kind enough to let me work on one of my all-time favorite belts. Dave sent me the unpainted metal plates, and I took it from there. You can see photos of this belt here.
Will you be adding more questions to this FAQ?
Yes, eventually. If you have any questions you would specifically like answered, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and put "FAQ" in the subject line. If you are looking for information on ordering, please see the Ordering FAQ. Thanks for reading!
Glossary of championship belt terms
Many of these terms originated from belt-makers and various online belt-collecting communities over the years. Knowing them may come in handy while navigating this site.
Backing: The material that covers the rough side of the leather and the bolts or screws that attach the plates to the strap. Garment leather is generally used for backing, but other materials such as suede, vinyl, or special request such as crocodile or snakeskin textured backings.
Bootleg: Illegally produced belts made without the copyright holder’s consent. For instance, classic WWF belts of lesser quality may be produced and sold by an individual or company who is unable or unwilling to generate revenue based on their own original designs. Many bootlegs are currently being made in Pakistan with stolen artwork; avoid these cheap knockoffs at all costs. There are many quality belt-makers who use their own designs and make their belts right here in the USA.
Collaboration: A joint effort between more than one designer and/or belt-maker. See examples of collaborations here.
Custom: A belt or design that is original and created for a specific person, promotion, or event. See examples of custom belts here.
Extender: This is a separate piece of leather with male and female snaps that connect to each end and extends the length of the belt itself so it can be worn around a larger waist.
License-deal: These belts are officially licensed by a major company or brand. You can find examples of officially licensed WWE championship belts here.
Logo plate: An additional, smaller plate with a company logo on it. This usually sits to the right of the farthest right-hand side-plate.
Plates: The metal “buckles” or “medallions” that are attached to the leather strap. Belts are usually comprised of 3, 5, or 7 plates, which are typically gold- or nickel-plated. See also relief plates and logo plate.
Real Belt: Real or Authentic championship belts are what you see used on television in professional boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts. These belts are individually hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind. See examples of real championship belts here.
Releathering: Replacing an existing leather or simulated leather strap with a hand-crafted, custom, real leather strap.
Relief (or stacked) plates: Smaller plates can be stacked on top of existing plates to add depth and weight. You can see an example of relief plates here.
Replica Belt: Generally describes a belt that is mass-produced and of much lesser quality than an authentic, hand-crafted championship belt (see Real Belt description), but a very good alternative to spending thousands on a real belt. These generally cost in the hundreds and are available widely at places like eBay and WWE Shop.
Snaps: The “buttons” that fasten the belt together so it can be worn around the waist.
Snap-box: Slang for the tooled area of a leather strap in which the snaps reside. See a snap-box example here.
Stones: Various colored Swarovski crystals or rhinestones that can be placed in designated areas on a plate. These can be added to a custom belt order or you can have your replica plastic “stones” replaced with these eye-catching rhinestones.
Strap: Another word for belt, basically just describing the leather on which the metal plates are attached.
Tip: Gold- or nickel-plated metal tip (or buckle) that goes on the one end of the leather strap. These are available for real and replica belts. You can see an example of belt tips here.
Tooling: Any designs in the leather are “tooled” in by hand using a mallet and various leather-working tools. See an example of tooling here.
About MN Belts
MN Championship Belts is an individually owned and operated custom championship belt shop founded by Mike Nicolau (MN). Mike is an experienced graphic/web designer who grew up watching, and has a bizarre passion for, professional wrestling.
Mike is regarded as one of the rising stars in the niche industry of championship belt making. Having worked with legendary belt-maker Dave Millican on projects for WWE, 2K Sports, Spike TV, and Bellator MMA, Mike has gained invaluable experience from his friend and mentor. Nicolau was described in a recent CNNMoney.com feature covering Millican’s belt-making enterprise as the man being groomed by the championship belt giant in much the same way that “The King of Belts” Reggie Parks took Dave under his wing when he began his foray into the belt world.
In addition to working with Millican, Mike has created custom championship belts for organizations all over the world, with clients ranging from big-time missile-defense company Raytheon to smaller independent promotions like Vanguard Championship Wrestling. Discerning private collectors have come to expect the highest quality work from MN Belts and many custom championship belts have been created to fill their shelves.
Mike first entered into the championship belt game in 2006 as a graphic artist who took his passion for belts and began designing his own titles just for fun. Soon afterwards, he began posting his work on a popular championship belt forum. It didn’t take long for several up-and-coming belt-making outfits to contact Mike and inquire about his design services. After creating several designs for these other businesses -- which included clients such as EA Sports, the International Fight League, and NFL quarterback Jay Cutler -- Mike’s credibility as a belt designer began to grow.
In 2008, Nicolau began expanding his operation to include the actual crafting of championship belts. Once he was comfortable enough with his leather-working skills, he began offering custom championship belts in addition to the design services he was already providing.
These days, Mike is thankful to earn a full-time living designing and crafting championship belts that can be seen on worldwide television and in magazines, while also receiving a smattering of national and local press, all while getting to work alongside the people who inspired him.