While many wrestling fans have heard of Reggie Parks, the man known in the industry as the “King of Belts,” few have ever had a chance to visit the enormous factory where Parks’ leather and gold creations are designed and built to factory-line precision. The reason for that is pretty simple — there isn’t one.
In actuality, Parks assembles all of his belts in his house, nestled in a quiet residential area of Tuscon, Arizona. Only a couple of hours away from Phoenix, this writer had a chance to visit Parks over Wrestlemania weekend earlier this year.
After stops in the backyard, where Parks proudly showed off his vegetable garden, and the garage where his Harley Davidson motorcycle was parked, the next stop on the tour was the small den where he creates his gold and leather magic.
The room is surprisingly small, furnished with only a couple of desks. The desk surfaces are cluttered with Parks’ tools of the trade, as is the floor. Leather pieces, gold buckles and bolts, and paints and paintbrushes are scattered everywhere. Open on one desk are binders full of hand-drawn designs of the hundreds of belts that have been formed here. The walls are adorned with belts, pictures, and other trophies, including the championship belt that Parks was awarded at a past Cauliflower Alley Club awards ceremony.
“That was really something,” he said about receiving the CAC award. “That was really nice of them.”
This coming weekend, Parks will be inducted into the NWA Wrestling Legends Hall of Heroes during the NWA Wrestling Fanfest weekend in Charlotte, NC.
Though Parks was genuinely touched by the CAC award, and indeed all of the accolades that he’s received over the years, he was humble and soft-spoken when talking about them. Preferring to let his work speak for itself, he showed off a stack of the international wrestling magazines, thumbing through them and pointing out pictures of his products worn around the waists of wrestling’s past and present legends.
While his career didn’t necessarily take as many twists and turns as Ventura’s, Parks didn’t become the King of Belts overnight either. He started off as a wrestler, competing in his first pro match at 16 years old, back in 1951, starting off with Stampede Wrestling under Stu Hart.”That one,” he said, pointing at one, “I did for Dallas World Class Wrestling.” About the tag team championship belts worn by the East-West Connection (Adrian Adonis and Jesse Ventura), Parks chuckled. “Those are some of the earliest belts I made. And to think that guy became the Governor.”
“I knew a couple of guys that worked some preliminary matches in Calgary, so I started with them. Then Stu Hart took me to Seattle when I was ready to go. From there, I went to Portland, and I went from there to there, traveling all over the country.”
“I wrestled as the Masked Avenger all over Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. But one night in El Paso, Texas, there was a masked guy in every match,” he recalled. “So I went out and I didn’t wear my mask, and nobody said a word. I did it again the next night, and again, nobody said a word. So I figured, what the heck, I’m going to keep the mask in my bag, and I never wore it again.”Working under a mask, Parks made a name for himself both as Reggie Parks, and for a time as the Masked Avenger.
Eventually, Parks found himself in Omaha, Nebraska under promoter Joe Dusek. It was there that the road to royalty began.
“Joe had this huge championship trophy that was so big, it couldn’t even fit into a person’s car. So he thought it would be better to have belts instead of hauling it around. He said, ‘If you can make something presentable, we’ll use it.’ My belt was presentable, and he ended up using that.”
“From there, the promoters in Minneapolis saw it, and they called me and asked me to make them one. And it went on and on and on.”
Since then, he estimates he’s made hundreds, including belts for WWE, UFC, and countless independent companies. Of course, with all of the work that goes into constructing a belt, it wouldn’t be possible for a single person to do all of the work and still keep up with demand. In fact, Parks has a team of people that help him out with certain aspects of the job.
“I cut the leather, and dye it, do the stamping and place the plating and all of the metal on the leather, polish it, put the snaps in the back, and put the belts together, turn it over, grind it down, put the backs on them. It takes some work. But I have people who make things for me, like the end plating. I have people who do the metal engraving, and I have a couple of jewelers who add the stones to the belts. For my part, it’s actually pretty easy,” he confided.
Ultimately, the results of all of that effort has to speak for itself, and his do, as evident by the sheer number of belts that he has created, both within and outside of the wrestling business.
In fact, one of his most famous belts was the one Madonna wore on her Hard Candy album cover.
“One of of my people has connections with all of these show business people,” he explained as to how his creation was highlighted. “She wanted to wear a belt on the cover, and they used mine. She’s a tiny little thing,” he said, holding up the life-sized paper template he used for the design. Indeed, the belt seems almost child-sized, with a notation that the Material Girl’s waist is only about 25 inches around.
Other famous organizations that have called on Parks’ products are the football teams Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans. His belts caused some controversy in the NFL, a situation which he laughed about.
Of all the belts he’s created, Parks wasn’t able to name a favourite. He did, however, share one of his fondest memories, the ‘Blessing of the Belt’ ceremony that he participated in for Hawaii Championship Wrestling. This was a formal ceremony that took place at the company’s debut show in 2003. Parks was brought in to unveil the belt.”The Titans were going to use it as a ‘Sack Championship’ — whoever sacked the quarterback the most times would get to wear it for a week. But the NFL found out about it, and said that they couldn’t do that — it would be like putting a bounty on the quarterback. But isn’t that why these guys are getting paid millions of dollars — to sack the quarterback? Either way, they put the squash on it.”
“It was a traditional ceremony. Everyone was all dressed up,” he recalled, “in formal wear and in native costumes. Because I made the belts, I was the first person that was allowed to hold them. That was really something.”
For Parks, those kind of events are clearly fun to be part of, but lately he has been getting even bigger thrills while snowmobiling. Since Arizona doesn’t have the best climate for that particular hobby, he has to travel to get in a ride, either up in the mountains, or occasionally back up north.
“I really love to ride,” he said while thumbing through a snowmobiling magazine. “It’s just great to get out there, find a good trail. It’s peaceful, just to get out there and just ride.”
The lure of a good snowmobiling trail is enough for Parks to shut the door to his workshop, and clear his mind of belts, at least temporarily. With a chuckle, he said that it’s those moments that remind him, as the cliché goes, “it’s good to be the king.”
The NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend is Thursday to Sunday, August 5-8, at the Hilton University Place Hotel in Charlotte, NC. Three huge days and four nights featuring dozens of legendary heroes and villains, along with many superstars of today. For more information visit www.nwalegends.com.
- Apr. 13, 2009: CAC to honour ‘King of Belts’ Reggie Parks
- July 9, 2001: Reggie Parks: Wrestler to belt maker extraordinaire