The Evolution of Wrestling Titles from Leather Straps to Custom Plates

Wrestling Titles

Wrestling has a rich history that stretches back centuries, and one of the most iconic elements of the sport is the championship title belt. These belts symbolize greatness, honor, and the pinnacle of achievement within the squared circle. Over the years, wrestling titles have evolved from simple leather straps to intricate custom plates that reflect the personality and prestige of the champions who wear them. This evolution tells a compelling story of the sport’s growth and the changing tastes of both fans and wrestlers.

A Humble Beginning

The origins of wrestling titles date back to the carnival and circus sideshow era of the late 19th century. In these early days, championship belts were modest affairs, often simple leather straps with a single brass plate in the center professional wrestling championship. These belts were more akin to boxing titles than the extravagant designs we see today.

The first recognized world champion in professional wrestling was George Hackenschmidt, who held the title from 1905 to 1911. Hackenschmidt’s title belt was a plain leather strap with a single rectangular plate, inscribed with his name and the word “Champion.” It was functional and unadorned, reflecting the no-frills ethos of the time.

The Golden Age of Wrestling Titles

The Golden Age of professional wrestling, which spanned from the 1930s to the 1950s, saw the titles evolve but maintain a degree of simplicity. The belts still featured leather straps, but the plates became more ornate, often adorned with engravings of wrestling holds and scenes.

One of the most famous championship belts of this era was the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Heavyweight Championship belt. It featured a globe in the center plate and intricate scrollwork on the straps. The design was symbolic of the NWA’s ambition to be a global governing body for professional wrestling.

The Arrival of Custom Plates

As professional wrestling grew in popularity and television broadcasts reached a wider audience in the 1960s and 1970s, the championship title belts began to evolve further. The once-simple leather straps were replaced by more luxurious materials, such as alligator or snakeskin. However, it was the arrival of custom plates that marked a significant turning point in the evolution of wrestling titles.

One of the pioneers in introducing custom plates to championship belts was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who held multiple world championships in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His “Smoking Skull” WWE Championship belt became an instant classic, featuring a skull with smoke emanating from its mouth. This design captured Austin’s rebellious character and resonated with fans. It marked a departure from the generic world title designs of the past, as it was tailored to a specific wrestler’s persona.

The Attitude Era and Beyond

The late 1990s and early 2000s marked a period known as the “Attitude Era” in professional wrestling. This era was characterized by edgier storylines, more risqué content, and a shift toward catering to an older audience. As the product evolved, so did the championship belts.

The WWE introduced the “Big Eagle” WWE Championship belt, a design that featured a large eagle with outstretched wings on the center plate. This belt was more massive and more ornate than its predecessors, reflecting the grandiose spectacle that professional wrestling had become. It was a departure from the understated designs of the past, embracing a more extravagant aesthetic.

A New Level of Customization

In the 21st century, the level of customization in wrestling titles reached new heights. Wrestlers and fans began to expect belts that not only represented the championship but also told a story about the champion holding it. This demand for personalized title designs led to an explosion of creativity in the world of wrestling belts.

John Cena’s “Spinner” WWE Championship belt is a prime example of this trend. Featuring a large spinning WWE logo in the center, this design perfectly captured Cena’s character and his “Never Give Up” mantra. The spinning aspect added an extra layer of interactivity and uniqueness to the championship, making it instantly recognizable.

The Ruthless Aggression Era and Beyond

The 2000s and 2010s saw a proliferation of unique championship designs, with WWE introducing belts like the “Rated-R Spinner” and the “Undisputed” WWE Championship. These designs represented the wrestlers who held them, creating a visual identity for the title and its holder.

As professional wrestling expanded globally, other promotions followed suit. New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) introduced the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, featuring intricate designs and even gemstones. Impact Wrestling (formerly TNA) created unique titles like the “TNA World Heavyweight Championship,” with its distinctive circular design.

Customization went beyond aesthetics; titles became an integral part of storylines. Wrestlers like Daniel Bryan unveiled eco-friendly versions of their titles to promote sustainability, and The Fiend Bray Wyatt introduced the eerie “Universal Title” with its menacing face.

A Return to Tradition and Modern Luxury

In recent years, there has been a return to more traditional designs, coupled with modern luxury materials. The WWE introduced a new Universal Championship belt, which features a classic, clean design with a large “W” at the center wwf championship belt. The plate itself is surrounded by leather with a slightly worn, vintage look. This design pays homage to the classic wrestling titles of the past while incorporating modern craftsmanship.

Furthermore, belts are now crafted with higher-quality materials, including genuine leather, gold, and gemstones. This luxurious touch highlights the prestige of being a champion in the world of professional wrestling.


The evolution of wrestling titles from simple leather straps to custom plates reflects the ever-changing nature of professional wrestling. As the sport has grown, so too have the titles that symbolize its greatness. Championship belts are not just props; they are essential components of the storytelling and spectacle of professional wrestling.

From the humble beginnings of George Hackenschmidt to the extravagant designs of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and John Cena, championship titles have become iconic symbols of wrestling greatness. The journey from basic leather straps to personalized, intricately designed plates mirrors the growth and transformation of professional wrestling as a whole.

In the world of professional wrestling, titles are not just belts; they are the embodiment of dreams, hard work, and achievement. They are a testament to the evolution of a sport that continues to captivate audiences worldwide, with championship titles evolving in step with the changing tastes and preferences of the fans and the wrestlers who compete for them. As wrestling’s popularity continues to rise, we can only anticipate further creative and innovative designs for the titles that represent its pinnacle of success.