PARTS UNKNOWN: Wrestling titles worth more than their weight in gold

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First Posted: 2/17/2014

Some people just don’t get it.

We all know pro wrestling isn’t a “real” sport, at least not in the sense of being a competitive contest between two sworn enemies engaging in one-on-one combat. If anything, wrestling is 50 percent sport, 50 percent art. It’s all about telling stories through complex and physically demanding, half-choreographed, half-improvised displays of athletic skill. It’s blue-collar ballet.

Of course, some people think only in terms of black and white, of “fake” or “real.” To them, wrestling fans are not willing participants but hapless rubes. That big hunk of metal attached to a leather strap that all these guys in spandex are play-fighting over? It’s just a prop.

How can a championship mean anything when the match outcomes are all predetermined?

“It’s always a big deal when you win a title,” Andy Header, the Grand Slam Wrestling Heavyweight Champion, says. “The person who holds the belt has to be a good wrestler in the ring, and also a good talker on the mic. Whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy, getting a lot of cheers or a lot of boos, it’s got to be someone who is consistently entertaining.”

Header defends his title regularly at GSW shows in NEPA, such as the one to be held this Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Moosic Youth Center (606 Main St., Moosic). A charismatic performer with a fast-paced, high-flying style, you could argue that Header didn’t actually “beat” any opponent to get the championship, but you can’t say he didn’t earn it.

Wrestling titles are less like Olympic medals and more like Most Valuable Player trophies. For a young company such as GSW, whose heavyweight championship is just four years old, the title-holder is even more: he’s the embodiment of the hopes and dreams the promotion was founded with.

“When you win the main belt, a world belt or heavyweight belt, that’s the promotion making you the main attraction. You’re the guy everyone came to see,” Header says. “I’ve always tried to have the best match of the night, even before I got the title. But when you win a title, you don’t have a choice. You can’t just have an OK match”

On the opposite end of the spectrum from GSW, Orang-K Pro Wrestling may not even be a year old, but the lineage of its heavyweight championship is inexorably entwined with the history of the local wrestling scene.

“This title goes all the way back to ’97, all the way back to (NEPA’s first indie wrestling promotion, Valley Championship Wrestling). It’s been through about five different promotions over the years,” Ritch Howe says.

Howe, who retired from wrestling last year, was the last to hold the belt when it was the main title of the now defunct Keystone Wrestling. He will be on-hand next Friday, Feb. 28 at Grant’s Martial Arts (404 W. Main St., Plymouth) for the “Gold Rush ‘14” tournament, which will crown a new champion, the first under the Orang-K banner.

“None of the guys in the tournament have ever held this belt before. A lot of these guys are young kids who went to VCW shows. Now they’re in a tournament for that belt,” Howe says.

“The cool thing is, if you look at the belt from across the room, it’s just as beautiful as any big belt you’d seen on TV. But if you hold it in your hands, you can see the dings and dents. That’s years of history. Every ding and every dent is a story.”

Until next time, remember: when fact is stranger than fiction, wrestling is as real as anything else.