Steve Cvjetkovich is not one to do things the easy way. He bucked the trend, learning to wrestle years after his brother and pals were in the business. He was the odd Canadian who learned the lucha libre style in Mexico and brought it home to the indy scene, working as Kobra Kai. His skill-set improved, he trained others and promoted shows. And now, he’s taken the NFT (non-fungible token) trend to heart and is pioneering the unique collectibles in the wrestling world.
Growing up in Orangeville, Ontario, about an hour north of Toronto, it was Cvjetkovich’s brother, Nick, and their pals, Jay Reso and Adam Copeland, that were hugely into wrestling. Younger than the rest, Steve didn’t see pro wrestling’s appeal; instead of bolstering his fandom, they extinguished it.
“I remember kinda making fun of them. I took karate class and there’s a huge difference between local karate class and the ninja movies that I love. I thought their wrestling wasn’t like the real WWF stuff on TV,” Cvjetkovich told SlamWrestling.net.
Curiosity and romance helped get Cvjetkovich back on the path to pro wrestling. He dated a girl in high school who turned him onto wrestling that had previously been off his radar, such as ECW. “Mindblown,” is how he recalled learning about non-WWF wrestling. Cvjetkovich joined her family to watch pay-per-view often.
By the time Cvjetkovich decided to try wrestling himself in the 1990s, as a young adult, he was “Fight Clubbed” and told he was “too old, too fat, too skinny” by Ontario schools. Instead, he bought a ring from Windsor’s Scott D’Amore, set it up in a karate school in Toronto, and was shown his first bumps by Rob Fuego.
He describes himself as “the nightmare student who nobody wanted to work with.”
Filmmaker Michael Paszt, a pal of Fuego’s, needed help with a production on a film in Mexico City, and Cvjetkovich found himself in a new role. When he could, Cvjetkovich studied lucha under Silver King, Tony Salazar and others. As an early adopter to bringing lucha libre to the Canadian indies, he said many in the business discouraged him and did not understand the style.
The artistic side of Cvjetkovich had always been there, as has the collector.
“I liked to doodle, draw. [They] were very inspirational, motivational. I always had my head buried in a comic or drawing pad. As this golden age of big comic conventions was starting, I had 21 comic long boxes,” he recalled. His comic collecting would come to an end when a flood destroyed the whole collection. It was also the beginning of his minimalist lifestyle. “I just don’t like owning things anymore. I could pack up everything I own and fit it in the trunk of my car. If I can’t eat it, drink it, smoke it or **** it, I probably don’t want it.” He still reads comics, but does so on his iPad.
As Kobra Kai, Cvjetkovich found a confluence between his interest in comic books and lucha libre that manifested in merchandising success. His 8×10 photos and shirts were always imaginative and he was able to perform merchandise alchemy thanks to his cobra motif. “Kenny Lush always called me Snake Money for the merch I sell at shows. I used to go buy rubber snakes at the dollar store and print Kobra Kai. The fans would twirl them over their heads like a soccer fan would twirl a towel. And I sell [replica] money as my other character Dwight Privilege.” He had plans to have fans staple the bills to him for a fee but the pandemic halted that from materializing.
In 2021, Cvjetkovich has found a new confluence in digital NFTs. Like his pro wrestling journey, this venture finds him again as an early adopter of a concept strange that is alien to most. “If I tried to explain to my parents what TikTok is they’d call me an idiot, it would go right over their head; I barely get it, but at the same time there are these kids that are TikTok millionaires.” Incidentally, TikTok was actually where Cvjetkovich first found out about NFTs.
Non-fungible token is a fancy term for something most people are already familiar with. For example, a Canadian dollar is replaceable, you can trade one for another, and it’s still the same currency. It’s a fungible token. An NFT is something more like a painting that is unique or an action figure that is one of a finite amount.
In short, the same technology behind digital crypto currencies (digital fungible tokens) — block chain — is what makes digital NFTs possible. Through the block chain, a given file, although copyable, is verified as an original. Essentially, the rationale behind owning a digital NFT is bragging rights. To brag, some people display theirs on digital frames or TV screens in their homes.
And do people like to brag. “Gas fees,” that on average are $20, are attributed to every action from buying to selling NFTs and more. There are already NFTs that have sold for millions of dollars. During WrestleMania 37, WWE released Undertaker themed NFTs that 907 people paid up to $10,000 for. By our math, WWE beat Cvjetkovich by two days to be the first ever wrestling NFT (but maybe there was one we did not know about!).
Over the past couple of years, Cvjetkovich dabbled in crypto currency. It was not a big leap for the artist into NFTs.
For NFTs, Cvjetkovich is achieving a number of firsts with his products. He did claim the spot as first ever lucha libre NFT, and wants to be remembered as the first in regards to many unprecedented NFT milestones. Cvjetkovich sees NFTs as a way for “brands, celebrities and people to engage with one another.”
Similar to The Undertaker NFT, which came with additional incentives, LuchaCoins include a social media shout out or video message from the featured wrestler and free admittance to any wrestling events Cvjetkovich produces, which are transferable.
There is variety too. Cvjetkovich’s releases include trading cards based on his Rickshaw Wrestling promotion and lucha libre inspired 3D coin icons, the LuchaCoins Noir series comes complete with augmented reality capabilities. “You can literally put on your headset and see it on your table or pick it up and take it to the beach and go on a date with your LuchaCoin if you want to,” he said.
Cvjetkovich’s years of friendships and connections in pro wrestling paid off for the complimentary BlockChamps trading card releases; names featured include Gail Kim, El Phantasmo, Angelina Love, Allysin Kay, FunnyBone, and his fiancée, filmmaker/wrestler Calamity Kate.
The Vancouver-based Cvjetkovich’s mission is to make his NFTs accessible. Like his eclectic, punk rock opera wrestling events, he says his NFTs are popular among a certain niche of collectors. “In the Venn diagram of who my customer is, in the one circle is the NFT crypto-savvy collector, the other circle is a lucha libre or wrestling collector, in the third circle is somebody who wants the first of something. Someone in the middle of those three circles is my customer.”
The teammates on the NTFs are Barbie cartoon lead animator Wakefield on LuchaCoins, and Steve Kitchen on the trading cards. As with opening a pack of new hockey cards, they came up with a mystery card which provides first dibs on future releases should one pull it.
On the horizon, Cvjetkovich has a take on a popular NFT series called Crypto Punks. The pixel art icons go for millions of dollars. With the reputation of everyone wanting to cash in on NFTs, there are many other copycats. For his Wrestle Punks, the slogan is a direct response to the cashing in concept “cash in and bro down.” They will be giving away many and charging the lowest fee possible that only accounts for gas fees.
NFTs and crypto currencies have come under fire online for the toll they and their dedicated servers take on the environment. But Cvjetkovich claims to have a miniscule carbon footprint as an independent creator compared to “server-filled skyscrapers churning out a billion of these at a time with multiple contracts on multiple block chains.” He has obviously given it some thought, and added, “Twitter, where this complaint was lodged, for every one of my every NFTs their tweet left a hundred. We must be aware that these kinds of problems exist, but is it time to hit the alarm button? Yes. But we should stop literally everything else. Every time they fart they leave more of a carbon imprint.”
And, since there is a Kobra Kai LuchaCoin, Cvjetkovich has left a legacy all his own.