One of professional wrestling's most celebrated championship belts is examined in meticulous fashion in a new book that is bound to whet the appetite of grappling purists.
"Big Gold," authored by Dick Bourne with an assist from acclaimed beltmaker Dave Millican, looks at the creation, crafting, recovery, salvage and legacy of what many consider the most famous pro wrestling belt ever - the original "Big Gold" belt that was used by the National Wrestling Alliance, New Japan Pro Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling from 1985 until 2001.
Bourne, who runs the popular Mid-Atlantic Gateway wrestling site, puts on his detective's cap in unearthing the history of the elaborately crafted belt. And Bourne leaves no stone unturned, as he unearths fascinating details, large and small, about the origin of the belt and those who played a role in its creation.
It's an amazing journey - from North Carolina to Nevada to Florida - as Bourne traces the history of the belt's construction and all of the subtle changes that were made over its existence.
He also recounts the history of the world championships represented by the iconic belt, as well as how some of the missing pieces were recovered to complete the story of the Big Gold.
Bourne, who lives in North Carolina where the belt's final touches were applied in 1986, was the ideal choice to write such a book, especially since he penned "Ten Pounds of Gold" in 2009, a history of the NWA world title belt that preceded "Big Gold."
That "domed" belt was worn by such luminaries as Harley Race, Jack Brisco, Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair.
The "10 Pounds of Gold," however, received a rather unceremonious sendoff as it disappeared from the spotlight in favor of the "Big Gold," a strap that became synonymous with Flair, the NWA and, more specifically, Crockett Promotions, as the territories became extinct during the late 1980s and Crockett anticipated a head-to-head battle with Vince McMahon and his WWF expansion.
To that end, it wasn't surprising, as the book intimates, that Crockett asked the beltmakers to exclude the initial "NWA" lettering from the design, leaving only "World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion" on the belt.
Bourne neatly weaves the history of those two grand championship belts, covering a period of 27 years (1973-2000), in his books. It's a unique and important piece of wrestling history that has been rarely covered in such exhaustive detail.
The 200-page book includes more than 120 color photographs along with rare archival documents and first-person accounts from those who had a role in the strap's creation.
Many readers might be surprised to learn that the late Nelson Royal, a longtime headliner for Crockett Promotions, played an integral part as a middleman (thanks to his son's connections with a Nevada-based jewelry manufacturer) in the transaction that saw the belt delivered to Jim Crockett Jr.
The "Big Gold" belt is commonly referred to as "the Flair belt," since the 16-time world champion held the strap for a majority of its first six years (it was originally presented in 1986 to Flair at the NWA Battle of the Belts). It's also the belt that Flair and one of his most famous rivals, Ricky Steamboat, feuded over in one of wrestling's most classic series.
For the first time since 1991, the original "Ric Flair" nameplate is back on the belt.
So it's only fitting that the Nature Boy lends his voice in a special interview, sharing his memories of wearing and defending the belt, and gives his reaction to holding the prized belt for the first time in 14 years.
Also chipping in with their personal expertise were the "Voice of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling," broadcaster Bob Caudle, who delivered the foreword, and Hall of Fame manager James J. Dillon, who managed Flair and the Four Horsemen during the apex of the Big Gold belt.
With champions ranging from Flair to Ronnie Garvin to Randy Savage to Bret Hart, the belt made the rounds. From 1986-2000, Big Gold represented the NWA, WCW and WCW International world titles. It even made it to the WWF in 1991 when Flair took the "Real World Championship" belt with him when he bolted WCW. (It was there that manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan jokingly stated that comparing Flair's title to Hulk Hogan's title would be like comparing ice cream to horse manure).
In fact the belt was held by 26 different champions throughout those years. It continued to represent the WCW world championship until it disappeared from the scene in 2000. It was replaced by a cast replica that had been made of the original belt.
Bourne provides all the background on the companies and craftsmen that were involved in making the belt, both the plates and the leather.
This labor of love from one of Mid-Atlantic wrestling's biggest boosters also includes a complete title history of the belt, including all three different championships it represented over 14 years.
Fans who follow the history of world titles and belts should find "Big Gold" fascinating.
Like the famous belts Bourne writes about, this book shines with a luster worthy of its own championship crown.
"Big Gold" can be ordered at www.thebiggoldbelt.com and via Twitter.com/ TheBigGoldBelt.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517.
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